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On Thursday 29 November 2001 at 1.30pm, over 100 people attended a meeting in committee room 8 of the House of Commons, to condemn the Government's plans for the Animal Health Bill. The meeting was organised and chaired by Mary Critchley of

It took place as alarm about the Bill mounts in the countryside. Fears revolve around the erosion of civil liberties by the forced entry onto private premises by DEFRA officials seeking to slaughter stock, including rare breeds and pets; the lack of a real scientific basis for the legislation; the position in which it places veterinarians; and the potential loss of income to farmers. The plans have been condemned as both illiberal and unscientific. was there, and our reporter, Astrid Goddard, transcribed the speeches. Please click on the names below to be taken to their comments. Each page opens in a new window.

Peter Ainsworth MP, Conservative spokesman on Environment Farming and Rural Affairs, explains that the Bill accuses farmers of incompetence; places unreasonable burdens on those who have animal welfare at their heart; gives inadequate right of appeal; has been hastily prepared with no consultation, fails to address import controls and has been hastily rushed through in the absence of any input from a proper public enquiry.

Roger Green B.Vet Med, MRCVS, President, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, believes the legislation inherent in the Bill could be extended to any disease in any species.

Roger Windsor MBE, MA (Cantab), BSc (Edin), BVM&S, MRCVS, Council of Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, states "We were seen, by the public at large, to side with the men from MAFF rather than take a stand on behalf of the animals. This is unprecedented. What we should have done was to refuse co-operation with the government."

Barbara Jordan BA (Hons), Solicitor, gives a very comprehensive summation of the legal implications of the new Bill.

Lawrence Alderson MA, C.Biol, MI Biol, Director, Rare Breeds International, explains that the "Animal Health Bill" is in direct contravention of the Convention of Biological Diversity, of which this Government is a signatory, and in which it undertook to conserve the diversity in these islands not only of wildlife, but of domestic livestock also.

Mark Richer MRCVS, B.Vet Med, Cert Sam, Dip Law barrister, RCVS advisor to the RSPCA, states that the new Bill is unscientific, illogical, and creates a power which is so disproportionate to the need, that it not only compromises the welfare of animals, but it also removes the rights of the animal owning public.

At the end of the meeting, Janet Bayley proposed the following motion, which was carried unanimously:

We oppose the AMENDMENTS TO THE ANIMAL HEALTH BILL on the following grounds:

1 PREMATURITY - of the legislation prior to the findings of the 3 planned Inquiries into FMD, particularly the Royal Society Inquiry, which is due to consider disease control and the efficacy of current methods.

2 THE LACK OF JUSTIFICATION FOR THE BILL - in relation to the lack of published data and facts regarding the FMD outbreak - and call upon the Secretary of State to substantiate her claims of justification, made at the 2nd reading of the Bill, by publishing this data.

3 THAT EXISTING LEGISLATION PROVIDES SUFFICIENT POWERS to control diseases - and that an increase and extension is not necessary or desirable.

4 THAT THE BILL WAS MOST LIKELY PREPARED AS A THEORETICAL RESPONSE TO BSE IN SHEEP - This scenario has not developed. Therefore the need for such legislation is not justified or required.

5 THAT SUCH LEGISLATION IS NEITHER A RATIONAL, PROPORTIONATE OR REASONABLE RESPONSE - to the perceived risks posed of onward transmission of the disease - and the validity of legislation based on what a Minister 'thinks' may be infected is not a tenable or legitimate basis for legislation.

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