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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. So you are trying to update something that has been around for 70 years.
  (Dr Anderson) A long time.


  81. Are you satisfied with the way the management of the State Veterinary Service links with the management of DEFRA as a whole or do you think that perhaps the semi-autonomous status of the state vets ought to be reviewed?
  (Dr Anderson) I think it has been a weakness and I think it has been somewhat isolated and I believe that has been and is being and needs to be addressed, and the integration of veterinary policy and veterinary operations and overall policy needs to be better.

Diana Organ

  82. Can I pick up a little bit about these paramedic vets that you have mentioned in your recommendations on page 160? One of the biggest problems that I experienced in my constituency was that many of the so-called hobby farmers would not accept the clinical diagnosis by the vet that foot and mouth was present in their animals because they said that vets never see this, they have not seen it for 20 years and it could be all sorts of other things and it is only slight and it is difficult to see in sheep, etc. You are not suggesting, are you, that in the middle of the so-called war that you keep alluding to that is the foot and mouth outbreak, paramedic vets would be used to do the clinical diagnosis for confirmed cases?
  (Dr Anderson) I am absolutely not suggesting that; the exact opposite, in fact. I am only suggesting that there are in the heat of a crisis so many tasks, such as the one you have just described, that cannot be delegated from a fully qualified professional vet, but there are many more routine tasks that the veterinary professionals have to cope with, a lot of very complex record keeping tasks, that I believe could adequately and properly be considered in that context.

  83. I want to move on now to certain farming practices. This outbreak went to such a huge size because it got into the sheep and prior to the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 the sheep never seemed to be, in some cases, off the back of a trailer. They were moved all over the country repeatedly, into market, sold, passed on, dealt with a dealer, put into another trailer and moved around, and as a result of that we brought in the 20-day standstill on cattle and sheep, but you do not in your report make a recommendation to keep that for enhanced bio-security. You recommend that there should be a risk assessment taken about it because you are concerned about, no doubt from the farmers' point of view, their inability to carry on the effectiveness of their business. They do complain, do they not, that the 20-day standstill hinders their ability to trade sheep, to carry out their business? You are saying that you want to take a risk assessment and you do not actually put it in. Why did you not do that when it seemed to be so effective in helping with both animal welfare and bio-security during the disease? Why did you not make a recommendation to keep the 20-day standstill for sheep and cattle?
  (Dr Anderson) It seems to me that we have made that with a qualification.

  84. Why the qualification? What evidence did you have that made you put in the qualification?
  (Dr Anderson) I think that the qualification is very simply to allow the opportunity to tie down a proper risk assessment in an economically relevant way through a proper cost/benefit analysis what the implications of that would be and it is simply a response to many submissions that come to us from across the industry that there may be other ways to provide the security and this particular way has a special economically limiting effect on sectors of the livestock industry. In the context of our inquiry that limitation is not only in terms of professional knowledge but also the timeliness that there would have to be, and we have said that there are no arguments today in our judgement for removing the restriction, so the restrictions are staying, according to our recommendation, but that there are well made arguments that would call for a sober assessment, an economically sound assessment, of the risks involved before final decisions can be taken, and I believe we are also saying that that should be kept alive in as much as if situations change, if risks change, then that should be viewed in turn one way or the other.

  85. The other point which comes into this is that you talk about the necessity for training and farm assurance and other issues to do with it, but you make a passing comment about licensing farms. If you take food production further down the food chain, any sort of outlet that is providing food to the consumer has to be licensed. Why have you fought shy of not actually suggesting that farms should be licensed?
  (Dr Anderson) I think we say it should be considered and I understand from evidence put to us that that raised quite a number of complex issues. We ourselves came up with an idea in discussion with some others that a negative licensing scheme may be particularly appropriate and a negative licensing system being designed in particular to cut red tape and get the effect that you might like, which is in essence that someone who wishes to farm livestock will be granted a licence but that licence may be revoked, so it is the negative licence element as a result of failure to perform to particular standards. I think that that is an idea that merits quite careful consideration.

  86. And those standards would be to do with animal welfare and bio-security and so on?
  (Dr Anderson) Environmental issues and so on and so forth, and that could be laid out in codes of practice. The getting of the licence would be very straightforward but failure to conform to a proper code of practice would cause the licence to be revoked.


  87. We all know that the 20-day rule is a very restrictive measure, of course.
  (Dr Anderson) That has been very clearly put to us.

  88. Did you form a view that the 20-day rule as applied in Scotland might have things to commend it as being somewhat more flexible than the one applied in England?
  (Dr Anderson) I cannot comment in detail on that. We are aware of the differences but I am not able, I am sorry, to comment on the detail.

Mr Todd

  89. We assume that you start, understandably, with the preparation of contingency plans and there has already been a brief discussion about whether we comply with the European Union obligations or not. In your subsequent discussions with Ministers and officials have you gathered that they have understood the need for a much more heavy-duty contingency plan which deals with a much wider range of potential outbreaks?
  (Dr Anderson) I hope so, certainly. We have had some very important discussions along that line. I think that the step in the direction of the interim plan was a good step but it has got quite some way to go still, particularly in engaging many external bodies and agencies not simply to review drafts but equally in consultation at the process of designing what contingency planning should be about. For example—just to give an example of what we might have in mind in that respect—in the interim contingency plan—I accept that it is labelled as such, interim—there is or was no reference to the involvement of the Pirbright Laboratory. I would think that would be a very important part of the preparations. There was virtually no reference in contingency planning terms to the issues raised by the livestock welfare disposal issues and it would seem to me that would be very important also.

  90. I think we have explored already pretty modest references, if any, to the way in which local authorities would carry out their functions on movement control. I think we found little evidence of that. You did highlight some good performance. I am glad to say in my part of the country, in Staffordshire, the Veterinary Service covered the outbreak in South Derbyshire, and I share the view in the report that control of the outbreak, was done extremely effectively, although I did run into some arguments when we attempted to get restrictions lifted at the end of the process and the director was pretty adamant about his timetable on that. It does demonstrate that hidden away within the MAFF organisation were some people who did understand roughly how to address this at the local level.
  (Dr Anderson) Absolutely.

  91. Was that the only example you found or were there others?
  (Dr Anderson) No, there were some others, yes.

  92. Okay. The Drummond Report, you touch on—did seem to hit a glass ceiling in MAFF and did not lead to the conclusion which was reached which was that further steps were needed to improve the contingency plans—it did not reach the highest levels within the Ministry. Do you think that would have made a substantial difference if it had?
  (Dr Anderson) Who knows, with hindsight, I am not sure but I would like to hope it might by changing priorities. Priorities struck at the highest level. One thing that is clear, and I have said in the Report, is that contingency planning as a whole, and all of the things which support contingency planning, was not a priority in MAFF prior to this.

  93. Without wishing to draw you into personalisation, which you have sought to avoid, you do report that the Chief Veterinary Officer was aware of the lack of progress on contingency planning. I think the Drummond Report had reached his level within the organisation. Do you feel that greater urgency should have been shown by him and his team in responding to that?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, I do. I think this Report is a very important statement in the context of the history of the epidemic. It was provoked as early as 1998 when discussions within the State Veterinary Service raised concerns of potential weaknesses. It was published in February 1999 and was reviewed at intervals all the way through until July 2000 without any substantial progress being made but always with calls for the need for that progress to be made. Then in July 2000 as you know it was overtaken by events. I think that is unfortunate.

  94. Even more unfortunate when the external warnings of foot and mouth disease spreading in Asia and Africa and the potential implications of that were known in the veterinary community and within the veterinary community in MAFF?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, that is correct.

  95. Does the word "unfortunate" need to be replaced with "culpable"?
  (Dr Anderson) I do not believe that I would use that word but of course that is for you to decide. I think it is unfortunate. I think it reflects the atmosphere and the culture. The SVS is, and in many ways rightly, very proud but rather an isolated organisation. It was dealing with its own affairs and obviously it felt that the risks involved justified their actions. In the event the unfolding of this epidemic, which no-one had anticipated, was not anticipated.

  96. To some extent the silo culture that you defined as a problem within Government, I think you say it pretty explicitly in the Report, was a problem also within MAFF itself.
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.

  97. The Veterinary Service saw itself as a little group of people who knew what they were doing and did not need to tell anyone else too much about what they were finding out and the concerns they might have?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, I think it was isolated. It is a very proud and professional organisation. I have come across it before in other contexts. I do not think it is unique to the veterinary professionals or to MAFF, I have seen it before, as have others obviously, from the nods around the table. I do think in the light of this experience that needs to be broken down.

Mr Breed

  98. On page 58 of the Report under "The ban on animal movements". You say "Between 20 and 23 February the number of animal movements was substantial". In your view was that a normal three day traffic at that time or was it a heightened figure, bearing in mind some people may have anticipated the fact that a ban was going to happen very shortly?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, I think that is the implication. As I say it is anecdotal but that is the implication.

  99. The implication is there was a lot more extra on those three days than would normally go through?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.


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