Examination of witnesses (Questions 480-488)|
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
MR BEN GILL
480. Finally, if we do not have vaccination
in the longer term then we need to look at other ways of perhaps
preventing the spread of disease so fast; what is your view on
relocalisation, as the Centre for Alternative Technology suggests,
where animals are slaughtered and rendered more locally? And,
secondly, what is your view of the 20-day standstill?
(Mr Gill) Can I correct one misapprehension here.
It is not the absolute journey time, per se, that is responsible
for the spread of foot and mouth, it is the repeated mixing of
stock that took place, of sheep that went from near Heddon-on-the-Wall,
I will not go through the chain, Chairman, you know it; that is
the point that we have to look at. On the issue of the 20-day
restriction on movements, that is something that needs serious
examination; but, I have to say, my members are obviously concerned
what implications it has, and we need to examine that very carefully.
At the end of the day though, we have to ensure that a system
is in place that addresses the key problems that have been thrown
up by this dreadful scourge on Britain.
481. Do you perceive this as the 20 days set
tight for an entire herd, or just the animal which has been brought
onto a farm?
(Mr Gill) Again, that is part of the discussion we
are having with our membership at the moment. We need to consider
the proper effects, that we do not make it impossible to trade,
and I am very cognisant of what is happening in other countries
around Europe at the moment.
482. Some very quick ones, Ben, on this, because
I think we have covered turning out of cattle, to a large extent,
already. Has the NFU provided advice to its members on turning
(Mr Gill) Yes, we have, and we have sought to persuade
Government to do much more. Indeed, we believe that is terribly
important, as it was touched on, I thought was not perhaps clear
from Professor King's statement, because he has not the practical
husbandry experience, but there are many ways you can mitigate
the risk when you turn out. If you take a pure dairy farm, for
example, that has had no other species on the farm, and if, for
example, and I notice you have got farms behind you, Chairman,
at least I assume those are farm maps. Yes, of course. If you
imagine, for the sake of just the example, you had a farm premise
of, say, 300 acres, with a couple of hundred dairy cows, not unusual
in parts of Cumbria, if the farmer can identify whether there
are sheep in any of the boundary fields on his neighbouring farms
then simply keeping his cattle off his field adjoining those will
provide a barrier, a couple of hundred metres provides a barrier.
That is good housekeeping. Making sure you actually check all
vehicles. Simple, practical problems can be solved. For example,
I had an electronic component went on a tractor, over the Easter
weekend; normally, the mechanic comes onto the farm, take the
tractor out to the road, preventing all those things. Lots of
things you can do.
483. So lots of commonsense things. Any possibilities
of keeping cattle indoors for a little longer, bearing in mind
you have rightly highlighted the fact that the risk period from
exposure to sheep is perhaps rather shorter than people had thought?
(Mr Gill) Yes, there is, in some cases; of course,
the constraining factor is the availability of forage. And one
of the compounding problems we had this particular year is the
very bad weather we had last summer and autumn, the fodder stocks
on some farms were actually not substantial to allow the degree
of cushion to carry them on longer. And we did talk to Government
extensively about the establishment of a forage transfer point,
to prevent disease risk, particularly in Cumbria, and the siting
of that point would have been in Carlisle, we went into some detail
with Government, and we feel that perhaps that might have been
pushed more forcibly as an alternative, as a more practical solution
than playing down the other risks that were suggested.
484. Is there still some scope in that?
(Mr Gill) I think there is still scope in it, for
a limited number, as, indeed, our continued dialogue with the
vets to improve biosecurity on individual farms.
485. One of the issues that is often raised
is the representational role of the NFU in arguing for the overwhelming
majority of farmers who are not occupying infected premises but
are impacted by the restrictions in place; what steps are you
taking to ensure that they are properly represented to Government?
(Mr Gill) I ensure it by taking soundings through
the system of democracy we have within the organisation, and have
talked, on a repeated basis, to the key committee chairmen, have
been in teleconferencing facility on a daily basis, virtually
since the start of this outbreak, and, indeed, I and my colleague
officers have visited some of the areas, to talk to the people,
486. Has the NFU struck the right balance between
the fighting of the disease and the assistance of those who are
inconvenienced by it, if you see what I mean? And one is constantly
assailed with stories of very long-winded licensing processes,
unduly restrictive, areas of restriction, and so on; to what extent
are you tackling those sorts of issues, which are of concern to
many of your members not directly impacted by foot and mouth itself?
(Mr Gill) We have had great concerns about some of
the delays in licensing. Having said that, if you remember, the
blanket movement restriction came on Friday, 23 February, that
we had negotiated with Government the basis of limited licence,
by a week later, and in particular this was for meat, in non-surveillance
terms, to go into the meat chain, under licence. That actually
caught a lot of those in the intermediary trade by surprise, they
thought we were going to be tied up for very much longer, because
they had bought in a lot of imported stock, which then clogged
up the market and had severely depressed the market-place. But
we have been very concerned about the delays in the Welfare Disposal
Scheme, it has caused unnecessary strain on my members, that is
apart from the suffering to livestock, for which, ordinarily,
my members would have been severely fined and prosecuted in court,
and indeed even possibly restrained from keeping animals in the
487. Do you think one of the prices of assistance
in a crisis of this kind in the future will be the demand that
farmers properly insure themselves against risks of this kind?
(Mr Gill) Obviously, looking at insurance is a key
element in all these aspects, and we have been in discussion with
Government about what procedures we should have in place, not
just for animal disease, for plant disease as well; after all,
we now have a potato disease, brown rot has come into Britain,
ten years ago it was Egypt, and that was about it. We have got
rhizomania in Britain, in the sugar-beet industry; we have had
insects, pests, overwintering in horticultural crops in the last
few years, causing individual disasters of up to £100,000,
that I am aware of. As well as classical swine fever, we have
got other sorts of problems. The problem is, how do you set it
up, and it risks on the premium involved and whether anybody is
prepared to take that on; but we are discussing that with Government
for the future. In this particular case, members have been insured
against having foot and mouth, not very many, in today's difficult
financial circumstances, when you are looking at your insurance
bill and you think, "Well, we haven't had it in the country
for 34 years," there is not a major incentive to keep that,
because every optimism was that we would not have it again. And
I think what we have to do is look at that in partnership, the
point I made earlier, of border controls on illegal imported meat.
Mr Borrow: I had a 'phone call last week from
one of my local TV networks, who were putting together a programme
on the future of MAFF, and they were having no real difficulty
in getting people prepared to go on camera, speaking as to why
MAFF should be abolished. I think they were having more difficulty
finding defenders of MAFF. I wonder if the NFU are ready to enter
the debate on this issue?
Mr Mitchell: We can still get you a slot.
488. A debate for the last three minutes.
(Mr Gill) I have been asked this question on a number
of occasions, and, clearly, we have to recognise in all this that
the size of this foot and mouth outbreak, as has been stated by
the FAO, of the United Nations, is unprecedented in world terms.
I think there is much that has got to be learned, I think some
people have been found to be wanting, but I have to say that I
have found many MAFF staff have worked an inordinate amount of
time to catch up on this. I think there is a general comment,
that has been made by many, indeed, a number of people who have
written to me were involved in the foot and mouth outbreak of
'67, that one of the key problems was the shortage of state vets
at the outset, we had cut our State Veterinary Service down to
a little over 200; that was of concern, on the whole. As to the
future of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, what
I require to have is a Government Department that adequately and
properly represents our industry, not only here in Britain but,
crucially, in Europe, in the very convoluted Common Agricultural
Policy, which we have to live with.
Chairman: That was a very judicial answer,
if I may say so, and I have no doubt that in private it may be
somewhat less judicial. Gentlemen, I am sorry it has been a rather
rushed session, but you do all appear before us on a fairly sort
of periodic basis, and no doubt that will continue. Thank you
for coming in on this occasion.