Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. As I have been pottering around the country listening to radio stations and some of the phone-ins on this issue, one of the common themes that keeps popping up is the argument that if it is going to cost the UK economy £9,000 million as a result of this outbreak, is that a loss that is worth sustaining in order to safeguard the long-term future of the livestock industry in the UK and the ability of the livestock to export? We have always assumed up until now that is a price worth paying but I think increasingly that is going to be one that the Government is going to need to justify. I would be grateful if you could give me any comments on that.
  (Mr Brown) I am looking very hard at what the shape of the industry, particularly the sheep sector, should be as we devise a recovery plan. I think there are questions around the export of animals, particularly the export of live animals, that we should be thinking about very carefully. There are also issues around the role of the subsidy system, the Sheep Premium and the way in which we support hill farms that need looking at very carefully. As the Committee will know there is a task force looking at the Hill Farm Allowances and how we make more use of the Rural Development Regulation set up and working now. These are important questions. I have seen the estimates of the total cost of the disease and of course they include estimates of losses to the broader economy, not just to the livestock sector, but when the Prime Minister and I met representatives of the tourist industry earlier on this week it was also very, very clear that there are people not coming in to our country from abroad because we have foot and mouth disease. Until we clear up the foot and mouth disease the other industries are going to be compromised, subjectively perhaps but nevertheless compromised, by the existence of that disease in our country. We were told that people were not coming to London because of foot and mouth disease. There is no reason why you cannot come to London and enjoy London because of foot and mouth disease and yet bookings are down. I heard somebody say on the radio this morning that people were not coming to Bath because of foot and mouth disease, yet Bath is a perfectly viable tourist destination and the city itself does not have farm livestock in it. Then, of course, there is the domestic tourist industry. The domestic tourist industry is worth about twice as much as the overseas tourist industry in terms of money to the economy. These are very broad figures but it is about right. Yet it is clear that for two reasons our fellow citizens are deterred from visiting the countryside. One is the existence of the disease and the second is the desire to help get through this and in order to help people are not going to the countryside even though there will be no risk of spreading the disease by their doing so. The advice is to stay away from farm livestock and frankly that is it. It is clear that the existence of the disease itself has compromised tourism and the way to deal with that for the tourist industry and for the livestock industry, they have common cause in this, is to eliminate the foot and mouth disease.

Mr Paterson

  81. Do you have a vaccine for this particular strain? If so, how many times a year will it have to be administered? What will it cost? Who owns it?
  (Mr Brown) I think we, the Government, own it, as it were, or the European Union has reserves as well on which, of course, I can draw. My understanding is it requires an initial vaccination just against this strain and there are seven main strains as I understand it but you are only vaccinating against one. It then has to be boosted four months later. It takes three weeks to take, so you would have the illusion of protection without the reality for three weeks. Then it has to be renewed annually. Is that about right?
  (Mr Scudamore) Yes.

  82. The cost?
  (Mr Scudamore) The cost is around about 60 to 80 pence per cow for the first two doses plus the cost of administration which would be around about £5, so it is quite expensive. The vaccines, as the Minister says, are available from the international vaccine bank where we have 500,000 doses, from an EU vaccine bank and then we have to go to commercial manufacturers to buy.
  (Mr Brown) We can multiply it up quite quickly. The reason for not adopting the policy is not shortage of the vaccine. Chairman, could I just correct something that I said earlier when I said that you got a daily note. You do all get a daily note on the progress of the disease. It is available to all Members of Parliament equally but you have to collect it from your respective Whips Offices or collect it from the Library of the House, it does not turn up in your individual post.


  83. It is not on the screen?
  (Mr Brown) I think this is special for MPs and NFU officials. I think it is a sort of executive note which is available to yourselves.

  84. Your website is actually usually 24 hours behind the time.
  (Mr Brown) Like me. We are doing our best but these circumstances are moving very rapidly.

Mr Drew

  85. We always blame the Whips Office.
  (Mr Brown) Yes, it is always a good idea.

  86. Just very quickly. Obviously you have mentioned the support for the industry. It would be very useful just to encapsulate what support is now available for those not directly having animals slaughtered? I know you use the words consequential losses. Also the timescale by which payments are being made?
  (Mr Brown) The two main payment routes have already been agreed and the opening of the welfare disposal route, which is a voluntary scheme but it does help people who are affected by movement restrictions, and the cost to the Government is not light because, of course, we pay both for the movement for the disposal as well as making a cash payment to the farmer. The second main support measure is although we are unable to undertake on farm inspections or to confirm to the European Union that the on farm inspections have been completed, we are requesting from the Commission complete protection for the five premium payments that are made to the livestock industry in these constrained circumstances. I have permission in principle from Franz Fischler to use the force majeure rules because this outbreak is force majeure so the farmers will be getting their payments. There is also, of course, the agrimonetary payment.

  87. Obviously we are drawing down the money.
  (Mr Brown) We are drawing down £156 million of agrimonetary compensation. It goes to the sheep, the cattle and to the dairy sectors. The payments will be made in March, April and May. There is a delay on the dairy payment until May because we want to make them to people currently in the industry rather than on the basis the last agrimonetary payment was made. I still require the consent of the Commission to make two premium payments to the beef sector in one year. That is what we are seeking to do. In other words, we are trying to bring the money forward so that the farmers get it all now.

  88. Is it possible to go back to Europe again because of the losses of the whole of the farming industry?
  (Mr Brown) Yes is the answer to that. I am looking at what further we can do now to help the farming sector, in other words get support to farmers. Separately I am looking at the shape of a recovery plan so that as we move towards the firm elimination of the disease, when we are on the home straight, we can look at the shape of the industry and what will be the right thing to do to help those who want to continue in the industry and whether it will be right to introduce measures for those who want to retire from the industry in the special circumstances which have been brought about by the disease outbreak.

  89. What about a private storage scheme?
  (Mr Brown) I have that under examination. I am certainly not ruling it out both for the pig or for the sheep sector. It is not my preferred route, I have to say. I think a better route, the more market orientated one is getting the supply chain working as well as it can or using the welfare scheme as a way of alleviating welfare problems. There is of course a specific problem in the sheep sector. Private storage for sheep meat does not work as well as it does for beef because of the time limits on how long the meat can be kept in store and the difficulty of then easing it back on to the market where it will probably be providing a market overhang whilst it is in store.

Mr Todd

  90. The last major mailing you did of farmers was one I received myself actually showing you how to detect the disease and a number of hygiene factors. Is it not time to do another one, bearing in mind some of the comments that have been made about the difficulty of accessing information from the website which I would also say is out of date quite a lot of the time?
  (Mr Brown) The website has actually been quite widely praised. We do our best to keep it up to date but it is always going to be one step behind a very rapidly developing situation. In fact we have had more hits, I think we are just short of Britney Spears somebody was telling me, so it is quite a popular website. I am going to meet the President of the NFU tonight and we will be discussing this issue with him.

  91. Are the days of pig swill numbered?
  (Mr Brown) I think it is about one per cent, one and a half per cent of the industry still use under licence, the ability to take the swill.

  92. Should we not stop it?
  (Mr Brown) Provided it is heated up properly and the virus is killed it is therefore a safe procedure.

  93. Sadly those are quite big provisos.
  (Mr Brown) There are big provisos in that. The issue is under active consideration in the Department and it will almost certainly be something that we consult on.

  94. As you have said, the disease almost certainly came in from overseas. What steps are you taking to review the controls that are in place on either the accidental or deliberate import of material which may carry the infection?
  (Mr Brown) Whether it is knowingly or unknowingly it is most certainly illegal. I cannot think of a way in which this could legally have happened. I am working very closely with officials on the trade side to examine all the routes and the consequences for public policy and there will be a public consultation on this question, both about the routes into the country and also about enforcement.

  95. There is no potential for it having been brought in with the intention of re-export? There is not a legal loophole there which we have discovered in some other areas of animal products where food that is not able to be sold in this country may be brought in for resale outside?
  (Mr Brown) It is difficult to think what that would be because there is an absolute prohibition on bringing in meat from areas where there is the infectivity. I suppose you are thinking of a cured meat product.

  96. Yes.
  (Mr Brown) I am not aware of any route. Remember, it would be unlawful to bring it into the country if it came from an area—

  97. Even if it were for re-export?
  (Mr Brown) It would still be unlawful to bring it into the country.


  98. Can I just clarify that. Does that mean that, say, from an African country with endemic foot and mouth we do not import meat at all from them?
  (Mr Brown) The disease will be regionalised so it will not be the country, it will be the region that has the infectivity. No, you cannot import the meat from a region where there is the infectivity.

  99. You can import from the country but not from the region concerned?
  (Mr Brown) It is the region that is excluded, it is not the country. Or it can be, because sometimes the country and the region are the same.

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