Lord Trees (CB)
My Lords, I want to make some points about defence, international trade and international development. The defence I shall speak about is the defence against pathogens and the challenges to biosecurity inherent in international trade and globalisation. Biosecurity is something we have too often taken for granted, probably because of our island status, but no man is an island in the age of globalisation, nor, indeed, is any animal or plant, and it is animal and plant health security I shall refer to particularly.
The latest and most potent challenge to our livestock health is African swine fever, which has killed millions of pigs in China, is spreading remorselessly west through continental Europe and now commonly occurs in Romania and Poland. Yet, very recently, Her Majesty’s Government have for the fourth time delayed introducing important border checks on animal products from the EU after Brexit, checks which strengthen our biosecurity safeguards against diseases such as African swine fever. Will the Minister confirm when such checks will be introduced?
What about plants and trees? Although I am a vet, your Lordships may not be surprised to learn that I am also interested in the health of trees. We have huge targets for tree planting to mitigate climate change. The Climate Change Committee advocates planting 90 million to 120 million trees a year until 2050. That is an excellent but very challenging aspiration; but where, I ask, are the saplings coming from? Over the past 30 years, more than 20 imported tree pathogens and pests have devastated the UK’s native woodland, particularly our ash and oak trees. It is estimated that Ash dieback alone will cost the UK £15 billion in consequential effects.
All our efforts to reforest could fail in the face of disease unless we can completely avoid the import of tree pathogens. The best way to do that, I suggest, is to grow our own saplings. The Minister may not be able to answer this, but do we have the nursery capacity in the UK to provide all the saplings we need, and what are the Government doing to ensure that? Biosecurity is like insurance: it has a recurrent cost, and the benefits are not immediately noticeable until a catastrophic event occurs. Let us be wise before the event, not after it.
On trade and animal welfare, we must guard against importing products produced to lower animal welfare standards. That is not simply protectionism against what would be an unfair playing field but is about maintaining and applying our ethical standards globally. We will have time, I hope, to consider that elsewhere when we debate the Australia deal under CRaG. Suffice it to say that there are some concerns with the Australia deal, particularly if it is a template for many other subsequent deals.
Concern about welfare also extends to environmental standards. As your Lordships will be aware, the metric of net zero does not include emissions from imported products. It would be easy for us to try to meet net zero by exporting emissions. Take beef, for example. In the UK, we produce it on largely grass-based systems, on land ill-suited for crops, yet our greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of beef are half the global average. However, we risk destroying that industry at a time when, whether you like it or not, global demand for meat is set to rise.
The Government’s recently published international development strategy has considerable implications for the control of tropical diseases. Time forbids me discussing this further, but I note that the Government remain committed to a return to spending 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance. When will the Government next review this situation? The UK has a proud history of research into and collaborative support for the control of tropical diseases. Apart from the fact that supporting health improvement in the most disadvantaged countries in the world is a humane thing to do, data show that it is one of the most cost-effective forms of aid. At a time when mass migration and global pandemics are two of the most serious global challenges, it is surely in our own interests to address global health inequalities, which are a major impediment to social and economic development in low and middle-income countries.