Examination of witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
BROWN, MP, AND
100. Looking at the longer term issues, clearly
the sector will suffer from an export ban for quite some considerable
time and this will distort the marketplace for many months. What
steps are we taking to look at price support mechanisms that will
preserve a marketplace that is viable?
(Mr Brown) These are precisely the issues that I am
looking at in the recovery plan. The recovery plan has to be tailored
to the market circumstances for the foreseeable future. If we
are going to look to a longer term export market, and this issue
is particularly important in the case of the sheep sector, then
we do need to have a very firm grasp of the time frame. It seems
to me that re-establishing the export market for sheep is going
to take longer than I think perhaps people have realised so far
because, of course, there is the breeding cycle to be considered
as well as the opening up of the markets.
101. Bearing in mind that a lot of farmers will
be facing a clean sheet of paper position essentially in which
they can review the future of their business because they have
now had losses, is this not an opportunity to engage with farmers
on other potential futures?
(Mr Brown) Yes is the answer to that.
102. What are we doing?
(Mr Brown) I am hoping that we will be able to pull
together the work of the Hill Task Force, work that we have under
way on support mechanisms in the Sheep Premia, the Hill Farm Allowances
and the marketplace. There is other work that we are examining
with the sheep sector which the Select Committee has looked at,
including the genotyping programme. It does seem to me there is
an opportunity to draw these different strands together and create
an industry that is more effectively supporting farmer income
rather than sheep numbers.
103. There may be farmers who may wish to see
a future outside farming altogether who may need assistance to
diversify as well.
(Mr Brown) That is a perfectly clear point. I have
always been a supporter of the early retirement scheme. Like every
other minister in the European Union who did not already have
such a scheme as part of the social security arrangements we found
it impossible to introduce such a scheme under the Rural Development
Regulation because of the deadweight cost. I do wonder, and I
can go no further than this, if such a scheme might play a part
in our response to the very specific circumstances that now confront
104. Are we making sure that the social security
advice is available to farmers on a proactive basis? There are
many farmers who are facing despair and have little experience
of claiming benefits. Are we ensuring that social security is
brought into the loop of farm assistance?
(Mr Brown) I hope so. I have seen the advice that
has been distributed around Government and I hope that that is
going out to the appropriate agencies.
105. Is "hope" enough?
(Mr Brown) We are doing what we can. The front line
advice is certainly there.
106. Just getting the timescales for when farmers
can start to restock. Can someone, either you or Jim, run through
exactly when a farm may be able to restock?
(Mr Brown) I will get Jim to run through the veterinary
constraints and then perhaps say something about broader market
considerations because there are two aspects to this.
(Mr Scudamore) On the veterinary side we would destroy
the animals and remove the carcasses either by burning or burial
or rendering and then there would be a preliminary cleaning and
disinfection which is to dampen down any weight of infection to
make sure it has disappeared. The problem then is we have to get
contractors in to thoroughly clean the property from top to bottom.
That is what we are not doing at the moment. We are having to
concentrate on dealing with the ever increasing number of outbreaks.
What we would have to do is we would have to have the whole premises
cleaned. It would require steam cleaning of buildings. It is a
very intensive cleaning because the virus can last for a long
time, for example faeces, dung or even dried blister material.
Once that was completedand that time would vary depending
on the type of farm, some of the farms you are seeing would take
a long time to clean up, others would be quite quickwe
would then want to leave the farm empty for a period and again
this would depend, I think, to a large extent on the type of farm.
If it was an indoor unit and it was cleaned and disinfected then
it could be restocking quite quickly. An outdoor unit, the survival
of the virus on pasture for example varies tremendously so it
could be 28 days in the winter, it could be three days in the
summer, so the virus itself can remain around for quite long times
in some situations. We would then want the farmer to restock.
He would be allowed to restock gradually. We would put what are
called sentinel animals in to make sure that the restocking did
not result in more disease. Again in 1967-68 some of the outbreaks
were what we would call recrudescence where the animals went in
to a farm and then picked up a disease from the farm itself. I
have not actually answered your question because it is variable,
depending on the type of farm and the length of time it takes
to clean it up to a satisfactory level which would have to be
inspected and we would have to be clear that it was absolutely
spotless and there was no virus.
107. You will be aware the farmers are asking
exactly that kind of question.
(Mr Brown) Yes.
108. At the moment they cannot receive any further
guidance on that.
(Mr Brown) That is right.
Mr Todd: What about farmers who have not actually
been infected that are in an infected area?
109. Because, of course, there has been a precautionary
kill or where animals have been killed but as part of the firebreak
(Mr Brown) Yes, I understand, you want the restocking
protocol. I will ask Jim to give you that and then I will talk
about some of the commercial considerations.
(Mr Scudamore) I have given you the general principles
but we are actually working on the restocking protocol because
I accept that farmers need to know what the rules are going to
be for infected farms, dangerous contact farms, which are within
the infected areas. We hope to get something finished and available.
Dangerous contact farms I think we will treat in the same way
as infected farms because the reason we have killed them is because
we believe the animals are potentially infective. The question
there is whether we treat them exactly the same because there
has been no disease on that farm, whether we can do less of a
disinfection on those farms. With respect to the infected area,
the requirements are that I think it is 30 days from the time
that preliminary cleaning disinfection is completed on the farm
we are eligible to lift the infected area, but at the same time
we would want to do some form of serological surveillance to make
sure we have not got sub-clinical disease in sheep in that area.
At the moment it would be 30 days after the preliminary cleaning
or disinfection on the farm, not the five for cleaning and disinfection,
and with an assurance that there is no disease in the area, then
we could lift that infected area. What is happening with quite
a lot of these infected areas, they are all running together so
the clock does not start ticking until the last case has occurred.
110. What about abattoirs where a case has been
(Mr Scudamore) Yes. One of the constraints the abattoir
industry told us with moving back to slaughtering animals was
that if they received animals direct from farms and they had evidence
of disease they were concerned they would be put under restriction
and left under restriction for 30 days. In order to get the industry
moving, because we do not believe there is any risk, if animals
arrive at an abattoir and they are direct from a farm, under the
licensing arrangements they are due to be slaughtered very quickly
and if disease was found in those animals, we would put a restriction
on the whole of the abattoir and then we would look at the risks,
in the lairage, in the slaughter hall, in the cutting room, and
if it was only in the lairage we would reduce the restriction
just to the lairage and then we would kill the animals. We would
hope to have the abattoir back in business in about 24 hours.
111. Could I have a clarification. It is a very
important issue. For example, in North Yorkshire there is a cluster
of outbreaks at Hawes but there are no other outbreaks in North
Yorkshire at the moment.
(Mr Scudamore) Yes.
112. Farms up to 25 miles away are under restriction
in infected areas. Now, have I interpreted your words correctly
that restrictions on those farms will not be lifted until the
total disinfection procedure has been carried out on the farms
which did get the disease?
(Mr Scudamore) No, the restrictions would not be lifted
until the preliminary disinfection. That is the big difference.
With the preliminary disinfection we remove the animals for slaughter
and then we spray the premises with disinfectant or material to
dampen down the virus weight. Once that is completed then the
clock starts ticking for the 30 days. Complete and final disinfection
can take a great deal of time in premises where it is really dirty
and where there is a lot of manure and a lot of problems. It can
take a great deal of time to clean those up. We are looking at
preliminary cleaning and disinfection and 30 days from that. Equally,
if we have a very big infected area and we are content that the
disease does not exist in that area we can alter the size of infected
areas as well.
113. I realise that they are not hard and fast
rules but it would be terribly useful to have them written down
because it is a question that we are constantly asked by farmers.
(Mr Brown) Let me try to get this set out in the briefing
note that MPs get. As I say, it is available in the Library as
well as in the Whips Offices.
114. We are also hitting some issues which farmers
really do need to be told about in formal terms. When I raised
the issue of another mailing, we are seeing some of the contents
(Mr Brown) I am willing to do another mailing out.
I want to talk to the President of the NFU about what it is that
farmers would like information on. I do not want to send a generalised
note, I want something of practical help.
115. Can I check on the export ban as to what
our view is of how soon it might be that we might be able to see
that lifted? I recognise that it is a matter for our trading partners
as well as ourselves.
(Mr Brown) We may be able to regionalise the outbreak
in the United Kingdom and seek the lifting of the ban on some
parts of the United Kingdom before others. The prospects in Great
116. Take the example of Northern Ireland perhaps.
(Mr Brown) Northern Ireland is a very good example.
There is one case, it is contained and it has been just one case
for three weeks now. There is every hope that Northern Ireland
will be a disease-free zone soon and in those circumstances of
course we would try to get trade resumed, at least for Northern
Ireland. It is too early to set a timescale for that. Our trading
partners are going to be risk averse, just as we would be if it
was the other way around. That does not apply just to the European
Union but internationally. There are international protocols and
they talk about three months and they talk about six months. Even
when we can demonstrate that we are disease-free, and as the Chief
Vet says the clock starts ticking, it is still going to be some
time. For the sheep sector they will also need to restock and
then there is the breeding cycle to be considered before there
are actually products to export. At least in some sectors we are
in for a very long haul.
117. I want to ask a question about the origins
again. Are we likely in due course to know what the origins of
this outbreak were?
(Mr Brown) We are doing everything we can to provide
118. Is it likely to remain a mystery or is
the advice that we are likely eventually to know?
(Mr Brown) We are certainly likely to have a very
good idea. I think I would perhaps like to leave it at that. Jim,
do you want to say anything more explicitly or is "a good
(Mr Scudamore) We are still doing the investigations.
The outbreak looks as if it started in swill in Northumberland
and obviously we want to make sure that there are no other possible
outbreaks or any other source. If it remains that one then the
question is where the meat that would carry the virus came from,
so that is under investigation as well.
(Mr Brown) We are trying to get a take on that issue
119. You said it was highly likely that it was
because of illegal activity.
(Mr Brown) It is very difficult to see how it could
have been legally brought into the country given the law. I am
not saying knowingly, that is a slightly separate point. It is
perfectly possible to unknowingly commit an illegal act.