Examination of witnesses (Questions 240-259)|
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001
240. If, as many people now think, the disease
is endemic of sheep, how do you stop the disease getting outside
this controlled area, particularly with reports that deer have
(Mr Brown) The question of wildlife is a different
question. The sheep are hefted, they are territorial, in other
words they are not going anywhere. What seems to me to be a workable
proposal is to leave them in the territory to which they are wedded
in general, I accept that some sheep stray, but mostly they do
not and as they are hauled in in the autumn, which would be the
conventional agricultural practice, we can test them in advance
of that very thoroughly once they are all brought together. All
the while that they are living extensively rather than intensively,
the risk of disease spread is reduced. It is not a perfect strategy,
but it is probably better than culling them all out under this
contiguous premises approach, which would be the alternative,
and is actually more applicable for conventional side-by-side
farm holdings rather than the very special circumstances of extensively
241. You are effectively saying that sheep self-inoculate
by getting the disease and it coming through them. How do you
stop that getting into the wild animal population, such as deer,
and it then coming down further into the country and cattle population
which have not been vaccinated?
(Mr Brown) I have not had any advice that the disease
is in deer yet but I am aware that the story is going around.
It is a bit like the story about that escaped virus from Porton
Down and the deliberate infection of the animals and all these
other stories that turn out not to be true. Now, how to deal with
wildlife. The advice I have is that one should not cull out wildlife
because it actually risks spreading the disease.
242. Right. What are your explanations going
to be to dairy farmers, for instance, further south, my area Shropshire,
Cheshire and Staffordshire, who are going to see their brother
dairy farmers being vaccinated after this very long delay. How
are you going to protect yourself from legal claims against them,
possibly under Human Rights legislation, that they do not have
the right to go for vaccination when those in Cumbria have?
(Mr Brown) The purpose of having a vaccination strategy
for North Cumbria and possibly Devon was very area specific. It
is to do with the density of the infection and the possibility
of using the vaccination strategy not to put the disease on hold
so that it be culled out. Although that is a perfectly arguably
strategy it is not one the Government has been exploring. The
strategy the Government has been exploring is that in the very
special circumstances that pertain in these areas of high infectivity
we give the animals this added protection so that they may endure
the disease outbreak rather than risk getting the disease. That
is the case for it. You are saying what is the case for differentiating
243. No. I have seen your response to the NFU
question. You are saying if you do not vaccinate in North Cumbria
you are going to lose between 70 per cent and 99 per cent of the
(Mr Brown) That is the epidemiological advice to us.
(Mr Brown) This is based on mathematical modelling,
whether it turns out to be true or not depends on what intervention
the Government makes. The key interventionand Professor
King is very, very clear on this and I believe him to be rightis
that we need to get to the infected premises within that 24 hour
target and cull out the animals which show signs of infectivity
at once, take out their cohorts next and then take out the contiguous
premises. But, of course, because the number of daily cases being
reported is steadily coming down, as has been forecast by Professor
King and the teams that are working with him, it is clearly right
that veterinary officials keep the way in which this policy is
implemented under review, and of course they are doing that. As
circumstances change we have to fine-tune the policy. Can I just
ask Jim Scudamore if he can say something to you specifically
about the wild deer. Now, as I understand the situation we have
not found the disease in wild deer and in any event if we did
the advice would not necessarily be to try to cull it out using
marksmen which would be the necessary approach.
245. The reports I have heard have been of deer
being found dead with very obvious foot and mouth symptoms: blisters
on the tongue and lesions on their feet. The ELISA Test does not
(Mr Brown) If this were true it would be reported
in to the veterinary authorities. I will ask Jim to tell you what
has been reported in to us and what tests are available, clinical
or otherwise, to ascertain whether it is foot and mouth disease
or not. Jim?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes. Like you we have had reports from
Devon and from Cumbria in particular about deer with what look
like vesicles on the mouth. We have taken samples of quite a lot
of those now and they have always come back negative for the virus
and antibodies. There are two questions really. One is have they
got foot and mouth disease, which we are investigating, the second
is have they got a different condition altogether which has nothing
to do with it. At the moment we are still investigating these
but all the results I have seen to date have been negative for
the virus and antibodies. Obviously there is a lot more work to
do with them. If they were infected with foot and mouth then you
would have to look at the virus or you would expect to find antibodies.
So it is a question mark at the moment. The second point is on
what we do with them? The advice we have had from Pirbright with
wild deer is that if we actually go around shooting lots of wild
deer we will actually disperse them and they will be more trouble
than if we leave them alone. As the disease in wild deer goes
through the deer they should not become carriers and it should
gradually disappear. I think in answer to your question there
are reports. We have had nothing positive back yet but we are
still investigating. If there is an infected farm with deer on
it then we might kill one or two of them to have a look and see
if we can find anything.
Chairman: A couple of brief interventions from
Owen and Lembit and then we will come to Austin.
246. Minister, you rightly said that you would
not proceed with a policy of vaccination without the consent of
the farming community. What would be the mechanism for determining
that? Would it be the national NFU? Would it be the local NFU?
Would it be the whole of farms and, if so, what figures would
you need to activate it?
(Mr Brown) I think it would have to be a very high
consensus. Remember the policy will work if people are co-operating
with it. If people want to resist the policy it is not for me
to set out all the measures that people might adopt but it seems
to me that there is quite a range of things which people could
do. The whole purpose of bringing the disease to an end is to
help the industries that are being compromised by it, not just
the livestock sector and the farming, it is all the other rural
enterprises whose businesses are being affected by the existence
of the disease. It would require a high measure of support and
that would mean support from the leadership of the different farming
unions. It is not just the NFU and the NFU's policy committee
that are opposed, the Farmers' Union in Wales, the Scottish Farmers'
Union, the Ulster Farmers' Union are all opposed to a vaccination
247. Does that therefore mean it is pretty unlikely
that vaccination will be pursued because you are not able to reach
any level of near unanimity?
(Mr Brown) If one was to secure the farmers' agreement
to this strategy, and in theory there is a compelling case for
a vaccination strategy, particularly the vaccination to live policy
strategy that I have described earlier, it would be also be necessary
to offer assurances about the acceptability of a product to retailers
and by the processors that sell in to the retailers. The retailers
have perfectly fairly made the point to Government that although
they will, of course, co-operate with the policies of the Government,
their own businesses are actually determined by the responses
of consumers. If consumers argue for a differentiated product,
and one is seen as better than the other, they will not be stocking
the product that consumers will not buy. If consumer resistance
is actually stronger than that and ended up compromising whole
product ranges, then that would have pretty damaging effects on
the retail trade and would compromise existing export businesses
that are of considerable value. The dairy industry alone accounts
for something like £1.3 billion in exports and all that trade
is still there. There are a great many uncertainties in all this.
248. Dr Paul Kitching for the Institute of Animal
Health at Pirbright said in an interview on Saturday night on
I think it was Channel 4 News: "The data which the
modellers really require to input the model has not been made
available and if there is not good data going in to a model one
has to question the value of the data coming out". Now it
seems to me on the question of vaccination that a lot of the assumptions
leading to determination on whether to vaccinate or not are dependent
on what that model is telling us. Now if Dr Kitching is concerned
about that surely we should all be concerned. What are you doing
about the quality of the data?
(Mr Brown) I rely on professional advice and I think
trying to turn myself into an amateur scientist would just be
a mistake. These are very serious questions. For veterinary advice
of course I rely on the Chief Vet, Jim Scudamore. For the interpretation
of the epidemiology I rely on the four groups that are working
under Professor King's guidance, who is the Chief Scientist. I
think to try and substitute a political judgment on what is after
all a scientific question would be a mistake, although I would
say that those doing the modelling actually congratulated the
Department on the quality of the statistical information that
is coming forward.
249. Lembit, you can have the first question
to Professor King who is coming on Wednesday.
(Mr Brown) I think it is my obligation as a political
head of the Department if I dispute a scientific recommendation
to say so publicly and to say why.
250. I think you were very sensible to say that
you did not know anything about this matter and that was not what
you were paid for.
(Mr Brown) That was not quite what I said.
251. Somebody else is paid to give you the advice
and since one of the people who is paid to give you advice is
going to be in front of this Committee on Wednesday I thought
Lembit ought to ask the question.
(Mr Brown) We have done our best to put the advice
available to Government and, indeed, the alternative views in
to the public domain. I did take the unprecedented step of laying
on a presentation on these questions of vaccination and epidemiology
both for the journalists and for Members of Parliament.
Chairman: I am sure as gifted amateurs we all
struggle for the same goal.
252. Having marked my territory for Wednesday
I will ask another question. Very briefly, there is a school of
thought which has been presented to me by someone called Janet
Hughes, and others, who think that there is a very strong case
for vaccination in the long term. Do you have any viewpoint about
whether a vaccination strategy might meaningfully be discussed
on a Europe-wide basis thereby taking away some of the problems
with regard to export, though I accept that will be a completely
different approach to managing the illness?
(Mr Brown) Yes. I intend to discuss this with Laurens
Brinkhorst, the Dutch Agriculture Minister, when we meet tomorrow.
The Dutch have a similar problem to ourselves. They have foot
and mouth disease. They have contained it using similar strategies
to ourselves except that because of the nature of their industryit
is intensive and there are difficulties with the disposal routesthey
have adopted for a vaccination strategy to avoid culling all of
the animals out at an early stage. I want to explore with the
Dutch Minister his exit strategy from his situation. It is localised
at the minute. They have not got the spread we have here. I also
want to explore his views, and indeed the views of other Ministers
later on in the day when we have the full Council, as to whether
a vaccination strategy for the future, in other words not just
in the present context, could play a part in a European Union
response. It seems to me that if this is to be the caseand
I certainly think it is worth exploringwe need to be very
clear indeed about what we believe is right for the market place,
for the products of animals that are being vaccinated, and then
explain ourselves very carefully indeed to our fellow citizens.
Because, just as a strategy can only succeed, I believe, with
the broad support of the farming community, that support can only
be obtained, I also believe, by absolutely ensuring that the strategy
will be acceptable to consumers and, therefore, to retailers and
processors. I do think that the starting point for this is the
public health argument which is very clear. Professor Krebs could
not have been clearer, but there are consumer questions. In this
debate the consumer truly is king.
253. You are going to take that up in Europe?
(Mr Brown) I shall be exploring that tomorrow morning
with the Dutch Minister and in a more general discussion later
on in the day at the Council of Ministers.
Chairman: I think that is enough on vaccination.
We need to move on a little bit. Austin Mitchell.
254. That is a shame because I want to ask a
couple of vaccination questions to start with.
(Mr Brown) I was expecting fishing.
Mr Mitchell: Fishing is a forgotten industry
in all this. It has got a similar crisis.
255. Many a word spoken in jest, Minister, an
unwise interjection, if I may say so. We are not going to pursue
(Mr Brown) I am sorry, I had a considerable sum of
256. On the European side, is it correct that
vaccination is not really feasible because, for the purpose of
exports, Europe is regarded as one nation, therefore if one part
of that market vaccinates it invalidates the exports from everybody?
(Mr Brown) No. It would be perfectly possible to regionalise
the European Union, just as it is possible to regionalise individual
Member States within the European Union and just as other countries
worldwide, for the purposes of international trade, regionalise.
257. The second question is really are you effectively
saying that the NFU has a veto on vaccination?
(Mr Brown) No, I am saying the consumers do. If anyone
has the veto it is public opinion.
258. Effectively you have conceded one. Government
has shifted feet on the issue.
(Mr Brown) Not really. As the situation has evolved
the use that we make of the different policy instruments that
are at our disposal has been reconsidered in the light of the
developing situation. It has moved fairly quickly indeed. The
bottom line is this. I do not think it would be right as a political
head of the Department to try to force in a policy that was going
to be faced with substantial consumer, retailer and farmer resistance.
Unless there is a consensus for it, or at least an overwhelming
measure of support for it, I think in the very difficult circumstances
in which we now find ourselves, trying to put a policy of this
kind into place by compulsion would be a pretty difficult thing
to do. I also believe it would be the wrong thing to do. As I
said in answer to an earlier question, there is an awful amount
of hurt and uncertainty and fear, just sheer human pain already
caused by this disease. To set communities against each other
and to have local disputes between those who want a vaccination
and those who do not, and to have people trying to resist a first
vaccination because they believed it was wrong in principle, to
set all that going and on to an uncertain world I think would
be the wrong thing to do. As I said in my opening address, the
fact is that the number of new infected premises is steadily coming
down. Comparing the last seven days with the previous seven daysthe
previous seven days shows a steady and remorseless declinesuggests
that the present policies, painful though they are, and I know
they are, are biting. With the decline in the number of new cases
so the immediate case for vaccination declines. In response to
Lembit's question, do we need to thoroughly review all the courses
that outbreaks might take, remember this one has been unprecedented,
and have a very thorough review led by David Byrnes' Directorate
in the European Union? Yes, I think we should do that and I think
we should play a part in instigating those discussions and making
our contribution to it.
259. Thank you. I had better move on now to
my designated area which is managing the crisis. The obvious question
is who is really in charge of the management of the outbreak?
As Beaverbrook would have put it who is in charge of the clattering
(Mr Brown) Whatever this resembles I do not think
it is a clattering train. Who is in charge? Well, the Prime Minister
is in charge. Given that the response has required a number of
different Government Departments, and all that has had to be co-ordinated
and delivered, I think it is absolutely right that the Prime Minister
has intervened in the way in which he has. Indeed it is difficult
to see how we could have delivered as much as we have delivered
as quickly as we have delivered it without his personal leadership.