Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2001
20. Looking at the disposition here, I thought
that as the temperature went up we would see things slow down,
but that did not occur. During the summer we continued to have
disease reported, and I do not understand how it was that the
disease pool survived what should have been a natural deterrent.
Can you explain why?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes. The disease survived in animals.
The problem we hadand I think this was an unprecedented
outbreak in the worldwas that we were dealing, in veterinary
terms, on first principles, because nobody has ever had a widely
disseminated sheep foot and mouth problem. They have had pig problems
and cattle problems. So we are actually having to learn a lot
ourselves, in veterinary terms, as to what all this means. The
situation is that the virus will survive in the animals, the animals
will continue to excrete that virus if they are infected, and
people and vehicles can still transmit it. The difference between
the summer and the winter is the temperature. As the temperature
gets higher and it gets drier the virus will last for a shorter
period on the pasture and in the environment. So it does mean
that if you have infected sheep excreting virus in the summer
the virus will last, say, for three days on the pasture, but if
you have those same sheep excreting virus in the winter it might
last for 30 days on the pasture. So the big advantage of the summer
is it stops the environmental survival of the virus. The difficulty
we faced (which I can answer questions on if they arise) was that
it was in animals. The outbreaks we had over the summer were due
to it coming out in animals. Just for interest, I thought you
might like to have a look at the comparison with 1967 because
everybody is comparing it to 1967. I would say that comparisons
have to be made very carefully, because, as I said, this is an
unprecedented sheep problem that has spread into cattle. The 1967/68
outbreak was basically a cattle problem, so we are looking at
an entirely different problem. What is quite interesting, I think,
is that the blue line, which is the outbreaks we have had, is
well below the number of cases on the red line for 1967/68 at
the beginning. So we actually did not reach the peak that they
had in 1967/68, in spite of the difficulties we have had. What
this graph does not show is the number of animals killed, and
if it showed the number of animals killed the graph would be the
other way round. It is quite interesting that in the early stages
we had below 50 cases very quickly but the tail has gone on for
a lot longer, and there are explanations for that. The reason
the tail has gone on for longer is we had a series of small outbreakswe
have had a Thirsk, a Whitby, a Settle and Brecon Beaconswhich
has created some of the peaks and some of the troughs.
21. You have quite rightly said that on the
pattern of cases confirmed we seem to have had a better experience
than in 1967 when, of course, everybody knowsas you have
just saidif this was the number of animals killed it would
obviously be a completely different pattern. Why do you think
it was that we had to kill so many more animals to get the epidemiological
peak and then long tail, whereas in 1967 we managed to control
the disease without having to kill so many hundreds of thousands
(Mr Scudamore) I think there are a whole lot of reasons
and, again, I can draw on my own experience. I dealt with a number
of outbreaks in 1967/68 and there were 50 cows. The first thing
is the size of the farms and the way in which the farms operate.
In that period there were quite a lot of small farms on the Cheshire
Plain that had small acreages and had 50 dairy cows, so an infected
farm did not involve killing a great number of animals. The second
thing, I think, is in that area a lot of the farms were single
premises. One of the difficulties we faced was that some people
have a lot of farms over a lot of property, and they have people
going backwards and forwards with equipment etc. So there are
a lot of bigger farms with parcels of land and animals all over
the place. So that involved more animals as well. Thirdly, to
get ahead of the disease we did have the contiguous cull, which
meant we were removing contiguous farms, whereas in 1967/68 they
removed some of the contiguous farms but they went and inspected
the others regularly.
22. So it was the contiguous cull which pushed
the numbers up?
(Mr Scudamore) Partly. I think it will be interesting
to go back and draw the graphs of how many animals there were
on the infected premises compared to 1967 with how many animals
on the non-infected farms. I think it was a combination of the
type of farming, the size of farms and the fact that, for example,
one dealer had 13 farms, all of which were potentially infected,
whereas in 1967/68 you would not have had that sort of figure,
I do not think.
23. What proportion of the original suspect
cases where culling took place ultimately proved negative when
tests were analysed by whoever analysed them?
(Mr Scudamore) We do not know because the problem
we had at the height of the outbreak was that we were removing
contiguous premises and we were not sampling them. We did not
have the resources to do that. We had to get them dead and removed
within 48 hours. Therefore, we did not sample a lot of contiguous
premises. What happened with those was that if people were visiting
the farms as part of the routine work and they found disease they
automatically became infected farms straight away. Secondly, when
they went to slaughter on those farms, they looked at the animals
and if they had clinical disease then they would convert those
into infected farms. The difficulty with the other type of farm
was that we did not have the serological capacity or the resources
to sample the sheep, so they could well have been diseased sheep
and not noticeable. Secondly, the animals could be incubating
the disease and we did not have a test for that.
24. Do you not have even just a feel for the
level of false positives, if that is the right term?
(Mr Scudamore) I am not exactly sure what figures
we have got at the moment on the number of contiguous ones that
25. I am not necessarily thinking about the
contiguous, I am thinking about the cases as confirmed by the
clinical examination by the vet.
(Mr Scudamore) I am sorry, I think we might be talking
at cross purposes. There were the farms we declared infected,
based on clinical evidence. These were slightly different. If
the vet went out to a farm and he felt there was disease on the
farm, it would be confirmed on clinical grounds. We would then
take samples of that farm and look at those retrospectively. I
have not got the detail but I can get the figures, Chairman, but
somewhere around 70/80 per cent of cattle and a lower percentage
26. Were confirmed.
(Mr Scudamore) In the laboratory.
27. So 20 per cent plus were not in 2,000 cases.
(Mr Scudamore) Something like that. It is probably
more than that. Again, I do not have the details with me. I think
there are a number of issues. This is a rapidly spreading disease
and we confirmed on clinical grounds. We then took samples from
most of the cases to check whether the clinical diagnosis was
right. There are a number of reasons why those samples would not
give a positive result. The first one is they took the wrong samples,
or the samples were damaged on the way to the laboratory. The
virus can be damaged. The second thing is that if it was in sheep
there might be old disease, and if we did not take blood samples
for antibody testing we would get a negative result back. So there
are reasons why on clinical examination you can confirm it but
the laboratory result comes back negative. There are other cases
where clinically the diagnosis was foot and mouth disease and
the laboratory results were negative.
David Taylor: Could Mr Scudamore write to you,
Chairman, on what the actual figures are?
28. We will get that information.
(Mr Scudamore) We can give you details of the confirmed
cases and the laboratory testing results.
29. Thank you for that very helpful and interesting
presentation. Can I begin by going right back to the beginning
of the outbreak, where it is generally believed that the origin
of the infection is in an imported product? I am not going to
ask you about the particular farm where it started, because I
understand the sub judice status, but I was very interested
in a reply given by Mr Morley on 24 October, which is at column
267W of Hansard, listing the countries from which we import meat.
The list of countries includes countries where FMD is endemic
and which have had outbreaks in 1999, 2000 or 2001. He says, quite
correctly, that "Community legislation permits the importation
of meat from certain countries where foot and mouth disease is
present but only where the disease is restricted to specific areas.
Imports are permitted only from parts of the country that are
free of disease or under strict conditions that ensure the meat
does not come from any animal that may have come in contact with
foot and mouth disease before, during and after slaughter."
I look down the list and I see amongst other countries that in
1999 we imported 5,000 tonnes of meat from Zimbabwe and that in
2000 we imported 5,500 tonnes and in 2001, up to now, we have
imported 4,000 tonnes of meat from Zimbabwe. You will be as familiar
as we all are with the circumstances which prevail in Zimbabwe.
As a vet, are you satisfied that we can have absolute confidence
that meat coming from Zimbabwe fulfils those conditions set out
in the International Animal Health Code of 2001? What would your
advice be to ministers if they sought it?
(Mr Scudamore) The rules for the importation of beef
and meat are laid down in Community legislation, as you said.
That legislation is actually based on the Northumberland Report,
to a large extent, that you can import meat provided that it meets
the conditions you mentioned. If we look to Zimbabwe, there is
a whole series of issues that need to be checked before you can
safely import beef. In fact, the people who do that checking are
the European Union, through the Food and Veterinary Office. The
type of checks one would want to know are: do they have a veterinary
service that can deliver the certification that is needed? Secondly,
what controls have they got in their state to deal with foot and
mouth disease, and what assurances do we have on the tracing of
that meat from the feed lot through the system into the abattoir?
All of these factors have to be put together before the Zimbabwe
export of beef is put on the list. The EU runs a number of lists.
There is a list which lists countries which are eligible to export
meat, and then that list also includes the establishment in those
countries which meet the public health standards to be able to
export beef to the UK. If you take all that together, along with
the other requirements, which would be deboning and maturing in
certain circumstances, the legal import of meat under the conditions
laid down is quite adequate. The problem in Zimbabwe, I believe,
has been that there is the system where the animals go from feed
lots into abattoirs and there was a recent case in Zimbabwe where
animals were picked up in abattoirs with the disease, which was
then traced back to the feed lot. One of the questions is, do
they have sufficient controls at the moment to provide the necessary
assurances? That is an issue that has been discussed and studied
and an issue that the European Union will take forward, quite
rightly, because it does it on behalf of 15 Member States to make
sure that no meat comes into the European Union which poses a
risk to any of the Member States.
30. So that if the United Kingdom had conditions
within the United Kingdom which are the conditions which now exist
in Zimbabwe, do you imagine that the rest of the European Union
would import meat from us?
(Mr Scudamore) The conditions would be that they would
have to demonstrate freedom. It depends what sort of meat you
are importing. If you are importing fresh beef that has bone in
it and has not been matured, then you have to be free and it has
to come from a free area and you have to be able to provide the
assurance that it is free. I think that was the problem that we
had at the beginning of this outbreakwhether we could provide
that assurance. If it comes from a country where there is disease
in that country and where they vaccinate, it is expected to come
from an area where there is not active disease, the animals have
to be deboned and they have to be matured to proper pH.
31. We know what the rules are, we agree on
those rules, but, after all, to control foot and mouth disease
in this country you introduced some extremely draconian rule.
You yourself said, when we only had three outbreaks, I think,
you insisted that we should, in a sense, freeze the countryside,
for very good reasons. Even then, you might have wished you had
done it two days earlier. Yet we are still importing meat from
countries in which we cannot have the confidence that these controls
are applied with the rigour which we would like. Do you give,
from time to time, advice to ministers that these need urgent
review? Whenever we hear, for example, Lord Whitty on the subject
we get a recital of what the Animal Health Code is but we never
get any explanation of whether the Government thinks it is working.
(Mr Scudamore) It will take a little bit of time to
explain it. First of all, we have to have international surveillance.
So the first thing we need to know is where we have got the disease
and what is the risk that countries pose. In some countries which
are free of disease we need to be assured that if they get disease
in that country they report it to the international system. What
will generally happen is, for example, if a country which is currently
free and from which we are importing beef reports disease there
will be a complete block on that country. That block will be put
on by the European Union. I think, if I recollect correctly, they
have done that to Zimbabwe, there is a block on meat coming in
from Zimbabwe because there is a new disease problem and it needs
to be looked into. International disease surveillance is the first
critical point; we need a reporting system so that if countries
that we import meat from pick up disease they have got a proper
veterinary service, they have got proper surveillance, and as
soon as they find disease they inform the international community
through the OIE in Paris or through the EU in Brussels. Once that
is done, Brussels would then put in place a safeguards clause,
either at the instigation of a Member State or at their own instigation.
There is a veterinary service in Brussels that reviews all this.
So if a country that has not had disease goes down with disease,
it is reported and there would be a draft decision for discussion
at a Standing Veterinary Committee with a view to blocking that
country or parts of that country until the position is resolved.
32. Would you recommend to ministers that pending
that decisionbecause, obviously, there is a process that
takes a certain timethey should simply prevent the import
of products into the United Kingdom as a precautionary measure?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes, we can do that and we do recommend
to ministers that if we believe it is necessary to put in safeguard
measures pending a Standing Veterinary Committee discussion and
production of a legal Commission decision.
33. Can I ask why, in the current circumstances,
you do not believe there is any need to do something about Zimbabwe
at this time?
(Mr Scudamore) Again, I have not got the detail with
me, but I believe there is a Commission decision stopping the
import of meat from Zimbabwe, at the moment. Again, Chairman,
I think I had better confirm that with you.
Chairman: I quoted Zimbabwe simply because we
know the internal conditions, rather than similar countries like
Botswana which have endemic problems.
34. Is it fair to say that between 1967 and
this year the international surveillance system you have referred
to has worked and helped to protect the EU and Britain? Have there
been throughout that rather long period of time examples of the
banning of importing of meat from countries where those conditions
do not apply?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes, there are a lot of examples. One
of the conditions under which the EU and ourselves will import
meat or products from a country is that they have to have in place
a national surveillance system which enables them to identify
disease and report it through into the international community.
From 1967 to now there are constant reports of disease occurring.
There was a case in South Africa in September of the same strain
as we have got, which the South Africans reported very quickly
and the South Africans brought in their own ban on export of their
own volition before there was any international control put in
place. So there is a lot of discussion on surveillance. There
are regular meetings in Europe to discuss foot and mouth disease,
there is the World Health Organisation in Paris which co-ordinates
a lot of this and, in fact, gets involved in training and recording.
So since 1967 we have had no outbreaks. It is interesting to look
back in history, though, and see that from 1918 to 1967 this country
had outbreaks of foot and mouth disease every year bar two, and
from 1967 we have had one in 34 years. So I think the controls
that were introduced on the importation of meat after the 1967/68
outbreak have worked very effectively.
35. Just diverting slightly, does that mean
that foot and mouth is not endemic here, it comes from abroad?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes, I think there is no doubt that
this strain has not been found in the UK. It has not been found
in Europe, apart from Greece in 1996, so the strain must have
come in through an imported meat product or imported meatprobably
Mr Jack: Can I ask the Chief Vet if he has seen
the National Pig Association video which registers their concerns
about controls on the importation of meat both legally and illegally?
If he has, does he think the video makes valid points? If it does,
what has been done about it?
36. If you have not we will let you off.
(Mr Scudamore) Thank you very much. I have not actually
seen it but some of my people have seen it. I think there are
valid points about importation. The first question is legal importation.
If it is legally imported, meets the conditions and comes in with
the correct certification then the risk is minimal. So the question
then arises what is the importation that poses a risk? That importation
probably falls into three categories: there are the private importations
by individuals who bring meat back with them; there is large-scale
private imports where people bring suitcases back with them and
then there are illegal imports where people are actually trading
in illegal meat. So there are actually three different issues
which all need to be addressed. We are well aware of the potential
problems in this and a number of initiatives have been put in
place in terms of publicity, in terms of looking to see how enforcement
can be altered, in terms of developing cross-departmental work
to look to see how we can deal with these three different issues,
because they do crop up in different areas. Some will occur through
airports. The other problem is on illegally imported meat. We
have somewhere round about 2.5 million containers coming into
this country every year, and to open all of those would not be
a practical proposition. Even if you opened them, the meat, if
it was illegal, could be at the back of the container, so you
would have to turn them all out. What we are having to look at
is what is a practical proposition in terms of enforcement. We
are actively aware of this and I think these are issues that will
be discussed by the various inquiries and lessons to be learned.
37. So Minister Brown, who told us at the end
of the summer that new plans were going to come forward, was still
in the thinking stage about new plans, was he?
(Mr Scudamore) There are a lot of plans coming forward,
but I am afraid I cannot list them all at the moment. There are
initiatives coming forward on publicity, on enforcement, on survey
38. When will we have the joy of reading these
(Mr Scudamore) Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future,
but I cannot give you a date. Again, I will have to write and
confirm exactly where we are.
Chairman: Some people get their joy in fairly
precarious ways, it has to be said.
39. The video which Michael has referred to
and the associated documents showed massive confusion between
the various agencies that seek to control the import into this
country of potentially illegal meat. It even showed that those
who do this can escape without penalty when there are offences
detected. It seemed reasonably plain to most objective observers
that relying on, often, ill-funded local authorities, who attach
little significance to the small port or the import activity for
which they are responsible, is clearly a mistaken approach. Have
you sought to give some advice to ministers as to the obvious
loopholes that have been exposed in this process?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes, as I said, there have been interdepartmental
discussions because I think it is, as you quite rightly point
out, an issue which falls between different departments. The FSA
have an interest in public health aspects, we have an interest
in the animal health aspects, then you have got the enforcement
through Customs and local authorities, border inspection posts
and various groups of people. I think what we are working towards
is what do we needto look at the three categories of meatto
detect illegal imports? How do we actually discourage them and
how do we deal with them? Enforcement is one of the major issues
which ministers will be having to look at.