Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. Clearly an approach which simply singles out one element of this for legislative action might seem to be inappropriate and one-sided in trust building.
  (Dr Anderson) I accept that and we may come to it later but we write quite extensively on the context within which these things should be considered and the appropriateness or otherwise of looking at the total rural economy as opposed to individual sections of it when these things are considered.

Mr Drew

  61. No issue crystallised the degree of controversy and conflict more than vaccination. Can I pry into your meeting with Sir Brian Follett and Sir Don Curry just to tease out from you that you are all speaking with one voice and that you sign up to the Follett recommendation that vaccination could and should be considered in both a preventive and perhaps even prophylactic use of that particular strategy? Is that your personal as well as your committee view?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.


  62. Hang on. Prophylactic means mass vaccination of the flock. You have not signed up for prophylactic vaccination, have you?
  (Dr Anderson) Chairman, that is a misunderstanding on my part. I apologise for that. I thought you were asking me if I had signed up to the Follett view. To be absolutely clear, there is in my view at this time no case to start a process of general prophylactic vaccination.

Mr Drew

  63. It is useful to clarify it. If we can look at the nature of what happened last year, is it your view that part of the problem with the strategy that was pursued and there being a possibility of an alternative strategy, which was vaccination, was that it was very difficult to get any consensus amongst stakeholders?
  (Dr Anderson) That was definitely an important element in my view. It was not the only element but it was important.

  64. How important? When you say it was not the only one—
  (Dr Anderson) At the end of the day it was absolutely clear to me from the paperwork and all the discussions that I have had internally, and we have looked at this, as you imply, very carefully, that the Government itself came to a view to vaccinate and that that was not implemented. It was not implemented because of judgements that were made at the time after consultation with other stakeholders. Other stakeholders had put up very strong resistance to that at that time.

  65. Can I be very clear, when you say that the Government was of a view to vaccinate, who in Government and who did they communicate it to and why was that not acted upon? This is the Government. If the Government makes a decision in this country I thought that that was the natural course of events.
  (Dr Anderson) Let me give you from my recollection a brief account of that. As I say, we have looked at it as a central issue very carefully. If I start on 12 March, there was an important meeting at which the Prime Minister, the Minister and the Chief Veterinary Officer and others were present, at which time the Chief Veterinary Officer advised that vaccination was not appropriate. That was 12 March. That was accepted. One week later on 19 March, following visits to Cumbria and discussions in Cumbria, the Chief Veterinary Officer wrote that now it was important and an urgent plan was needed to prepare for vaccination. On 23 March, in pursuit of preparations for that, ADAS, now ADAS Consulting, was engaged and briefed to prepare themselves for the logistical challenge of vaccinating. On 27 March that proposal and detail was put to the Prime Minister and had come already through MAFF. That proposal was accepted. It went to Europe, which it has to do. It is not possible, it is not legal, for us to take a vaccination decision without agreement in Brussels. That EU approval was secured on 30 March. On 10 April there was a unanimous decision by the Science Advisory Group recommending vaccination of cattle in Cumbria. At that point, and that is what I am now referring to, Government was completely lined up and Europe was lined up behind that. On 12 April there was a meeting, much discussed in Chequers, at which the National Farmers' Union and representatives of the food industry were opposed to vaccination and gave their arguments. These oppositions were still being considered a week later on 18 April. By 25 April the case had been overtaken by events because by such time the issue that was being addressed, which was the moving of cattle out from their winter quarters on to pasture, had perforce taken place. That is the sequence of events.

  66. So, just to make sure this is absolutely clear, you are totally convinced that the Government had taken the decision to vaccinate at one time?
  (Dr Anderson) It is a matter of record.

  67. And then it was persuaded that this was not appropriate and by the time it could have locked the policy into place it was too late?
  (Dr Anderson) As I said, it is a matter of record. There might be some room just at the margin on the last line in that I am not sure that I have read anywhere where Government changed its mind to say it was not appropriate, but I certainly have come across many times that in the absence of the support of the farming community it was not possible.


  68. I want to clarify this. It is an issue of immense controversy. There were many groups who argued in practice that when we had an outbreak of foot and mouth the Government was faced with a choice of two routes to go down. One was slaughter or stamping out and the other was vaccination. Your report does not, as I understand it, and I have read every line of it, suggest that it was a choice between plan A and plan B.
  (Dr Anderson) That is correct.

  69. You argued that there was a time at which there was scope for vaccination but you also highlight that because of the non-specific nature of the vaccines, because of the absence of field tests, because of doubts over the efficacy of the ability to distinguish between vaccinated animals and foot and mouth disease, and because of the international trade laws, and all those factors have changed somewhat over the last 12 months,—
  (Dr Anderson) That is correct.

  70.—you saw a particular role in the particular circumstances but at no stage did you suggest that the Government could quite simply have solved this crisis by vaccination. Am I right in that?
  (Dr Anderson) That is correct. That is what we said.

Mr Drew

  71. Can I take us forward from last year because clearly one of the issues the Government has to think about, and this came out in the previous discussion on the Animal Health Bill, is how it builds a consensus given that you could argue that one of the problems for the Government if it had a policy was that it could not implement it because it could not get the stakeholders to agree to that. I wonder if you could take me through how you think you could build a consensus so that a policy could be more acceptable to the many different stakeholders? I might come back in a minute on who you think those major stakeholders are, but how would you go about building a consensus to get policy agreement?
  (Dr Anderson) That is very clear and I understand the importance of your question. I would like to refer back to a point we were making earlier this morning on what is possible in wartime and what is possible in peacetime. My starting position now would be that it is important to address these extremely complex issues in the relative peace and quiet where people can, with measured reflection, take into account all of the issues and take time over coming to a view. I believe that that has the potential to deliver consensus. I am not suggesting that consensus is something struck easily. These things have been done. There is a challenge and it has to be done but in an attempt to do it in the heat of the epidemic I think would be virtually impossible. I would not know how to do it personally. I would not know how to do it. One thing I have learned as a result of the meetings and the discussions and all the things read about vaccination is that it is a very complex issue, one of the most complex of all that we have tried to address and develop some understanding of throughout the inquiry. I find that it is difficult even for professionals to get their mind around all of the dimensions that are involved and for a layman such as myself and many of those involved almost impossible. In wartime, in the heat of the crisis, I think it could not be done.

  72. Is part of the problem now, and this is really comparing with mid-1967, that there was some degree of homogeneity about the farming community and they would generally speak with one voice, which meant that they could see that a policy option introduced by the Government could be administered and there was a fair chance that it would be accepted, but that homogeneity does not exist nowadays? There are people on the land "farming" for very different reasons, some because it is their livelihood, others because it is a choice and they do not necessarily have to earn their main income from that. Those groups will take very different responses to what appears to be the position, one way or the other, either for vaccination or against vaccination, and the worry would be, if we were to get into this situation again, that you could see those forces being implacably opposed to one another and therefore, even though you may have prepared the ground for consensus beforehand, that consensus could never be arrived at. What are your views on that?
  (Dr Anderson) I do not think that my concept of consensus is one in which 100 per cent of the people sign up fulsomely to every single thing that is done, but that it is a process where people can acknowledge that the information required has been properly gathered and properly communicated and that the decision-making process has been fair and open and done in a proper construction. One of the things that needs to be added at this time and which is picked up in another section of the report (not the vaccination section) is that these decisions need to be based on a proper cost/benefit analysis, taking risk assessment into account, and that needs to be done in the context of the most appropriate economic framework. I believe that following these principles—openness, engagement in the proper economic context and laying out the arguments on the cost-benefit—is the way to get consensus and to get the support necessary to proceed.

  73. But ultimately the Government should have the right to impose a solution on people who will not necessarily agree to it if it is for the betterment of the wider community?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.

Mr Lepper

  74. You told us earlier, Dr Anderson, that when in the early days the Prime Minister asked MAFF, "Is there anything more that you need?", more vets was the one thing that MAFF asked for at that stage. Your report describes to us the State Veterinary Service, which I believe you tell us now has two-thirds the number of vets that it had in 1967, where there are something like 220 vets now employed by the state in the front line. The numbers have fallen gradually since 1979 and the 1999 review of the State Veterinary Service talked about the need to balance the number of vets employed directly by the state with work done by those in the private sector and by agencies. You also described I think the number of vacancies at the headquarters of the State Veterinary Service, ten posts vacant out of 27, at the time you wrote the report. A very simple question, I suppose: do we have enough vets in the State Veterinary Service?
  (Dr Anderson) While manifestly not if the vacancies exist, which I believe is still the case, I think that I can hardly do any better than repeat the recommendations from the 1968 Northumberland Report. I think they are as pertinent today as they were then, and it may be my language a little bit, but they are the backbone of our defences against such matters as we are discussing. A strong State Veterinary Service is a sine qua non and it seems to me that that is exactly what we must and should maintain. It is now regrettable, as a matter of record, that that service was somewhat depleted.

  75. More than somewhat depleted if we have two-thirds the number that we had in 1967 at the time of the last outbreak, a steady decline, rather than action on the recommendations that followed the 1967 outbreak. You talk in your report about a system of veterinary paramedics as one idea for the future. Could you say a little more about what you are suggesting there?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, I am happy to do that and it is something that came up as we were going around the country. Given that the highest level of veterinary training is such a specialised matter, and given that there will always be a shortage, and it is probably a national shortage, there are many tasks that could possibly be given to people with a training in the veterinary sciences but not fully qualified vets and that that could take quite a burden off and relieve the highest level of professionals at times when their resources are most stretched. Since that idea came up and was put to us it had a certain appeal and it is therefore for those who know more about the veterinary profession than I do to reflect upon it.

  76. But no substitute perhaps for attempts at recruitment to the service?
  (Dr Anderson) It is not intended to be a substitute whatsoever. I would repeat that the backbone of the whole process that we are talking about is the fully qualified State Veterinary Service. I am now talking about adjuncts to that which may be able to provide a role in the event of an outbreak but in peacetime may also be able to provide a role more in surveillance activities, for example, and, possibly depending on the way some of the assurance schemes work, could be involved in that area as well.

  77. Do you feel that there are things that could be done to improve co-ordination between the state service and vets in private practice?
  (Dr Anderson) I think it is probably down for a review on that. I believe that that is likely to happen now with the profession in the private sector. I think it is a timely review and the background of 2001 provides a good platform for that.

  78. You do have something to say in your report about the need to overhaul the local veterinary inspectorate and the way that operates. Am I right in that? It is in chapter 17.
  (Dr Anderson) I think that what we are saying here is that there is an opportunity in a timely way to update the arrangements that have been in place for a very long time.

  79. Since the 1930s.
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.


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