Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2001
60. Do you accept the fact that the contingency
plan taken out of filing cabinet in the beginning part of February
proved to be wholly inadequate?
(Mr Scudamore) That was, so to speak,
a threefold plan. First of all, there was the national contingency
plan which we submitted to Brussels which really is a framework.
Secondly, we have our instructions to staff which are called an
inset which cover all the foot and mouth disease, and I believe
the contingency plan and the instructions were put in the House
following a number of PQs earlier this year, so that was available.
The instructions to staff were dated 2000 and they are constantly
updated and they have been updated regularly since the beginning
of this outbreak because what we have is a standard instruction
that we issue emergency instructions when we want to change the
basic policy, so those were issued right the way through. So we
did have a contingency plan. The contingency plan was based on
certain scenarios, and I think I mentioned in a previous meeting
that we were looking to have ten outbreaks and the plan was based
on that. The plan actually worked in a lot of counties so in a
lot of counties, Leicestershire, Wiltshire, Northamptonshire,
the disease was controlled very quickly with very little spread
so the plan did work in the circumstances the plan was developed
for. Regarding the future, one of the lessons is that this needs
to be a national contingency plan; we do currently have a stakeholder
group which comprises farmers, vets, retail, everybody in the
industry who has an interest in foot and mouth disease, and that
group meets every Friday or has done more or less since the beginning
of the outbreak. I think what we need to do is develop a nationally
agreed contingency plan that everybody sees and contributes to,
and that we could use in the future.
61. Can I just take you back quickly to the
idea of local inquiries? There are two members from Gloucestershire
here and we would not have been against local inquiries. What
worries me about the non appearance of DEFRA is that, if Devon
is anything to go by, it is skewing the local inquiry and I have
to say they have missed the key points and it would worry me that,
if we get such inquiries taking place, you are going to get the
wrong questions being asked and possibly ending up with the wrong
answers. Is it possible that that is something that you would,
even if you do not take part in the inquiry, have a comment on?
(Mr Scudamore) I think we agreed that we would respond
to inquiries and there was a request from Devon for information
that one of the ministers replied to and I think that is attached
to Devon inquiry report, so we would respond to the inquiry along
the lines that we responded to the Devon one. I think if questions
are raised, written responses would be provided.
62. Can I add that if we do secure a local inquiry
from Gloucestershire I do hope that DEFRA does make itself available
for the same reasons David has given. You were under pressure
with resources which may be one reason why there were allegations
of insensitivity on the part of MAFF officialsunder pressure
it is very difficult to work. Could you say something about the
size of the state veterinary service? At the outbreak of foot
and mouth disease in February, how sizeable was it throughout
England and what size do you think the state veterinary service
needs to be to be able to provide an adequate role when outbreaks
like classic swine fever or foot and mouth or anything else occurs,
and how does this correspond with the size the state vet service
may have been ten years ago?
(Mr Scudamore) That is an interesting question. I
think the answer is very difficult because there are three scenarios.
Do you establish a state veterinary service to deal with peacetime?
Do you establish one to deal with a few outbreaks, or do you establish
one to deal with a lot of outbreaks? That is one of the questions
that needs to be resolved. To answer the detail of your question,
at the beginning of this outbreak we had 23 animal health divisional
offices based in England, Wales and Scotland, and we had around
about 421 veterinary people, of which 304 were in the veterinary
service and 117 were TVIs. So we were operating from 23 offices
with round about 300 permanent veterinary officials and round
about 117 TVIs. That was where we were operating then. If we go
back a number of years, for example to 1994, we had 39 animal
health offices and round about the same number of vets. If you
go back even further, we ran with about 60 animal health offices
with not that many more vets. We had full time veterinary officers
in 1982, there were round about 260-270. Our full time veterinary
officers complements are round about 220/230.
63. So you are saying that there has been a
running down of the state veterinary service over the years. Could
you tell us how many vets were actually employed on a full time
equivalent at the height of the foot and mouth disease if we take,
say, 16 April when we had our largest number of outbreaks recorded
on any one day?
(Mr Scudamore) By about mid-April the total vet resource
was about 1635. That would include TVIs, overseas vets and our
own full-time staff. Coming back on the running down of the vet
service, if we look at the state vet service in 1967 which is
quite easy to refer back to, that was a service that dealt with
foot and mouth every year prior to that. It was a service that
was eradicating brucellosis and that was beginning to deal with
tuberculosis and one of the questions is what size of service
do you have to deal with the current work, and if you have too
many people and not enough work they all leave, so the balance
between the number of veterinary staff and the number of offices
is quite difficult and must be linked to the amount of work you
have. The two deficiencies we had were the number of veterinary
managers and the number of field vets, and we are looking to see
whether we can develop some arrangement with the veterinary profession
where we have people to come in to manage if we need them and
others trained to come in if they are required. The full time
state veterinary service, however, has to be a service that can
deal with its current workload and expand up slightly to deal
with the problem but have the facility to expand very rapidly
if it needs to.
64. But we had a problem in this outbreak that
we could not get enough vets to do the work because the culling
had to be done by vets, and one of the problems was where many
of the local farmers were saying there was a problem with insensitivity
and belligerence is you maybe had a vet that did not speak the
same language or a vet that might have been a small animal vet
who had never seen in a sheep's mouth let alone looked at foot
and mouth disease, and they are real problems when you are trying
to get co-operation and confidence of local farmers into the system
and the policy. Would you agree with that?
(Mr Scudamore) Not necessarily. I think we employed
a lot of vets and a lot of the small animal vets are excellent
and they did a very good job. We had to call on every veterinary
resource we could find. We had as many vets as we could find in
the country because you have to remember that the large animal
vets who did not come and work for us had their own practices
and animals to look after, so we had as many from large animal
practices as we could get; a lot of small animal vets who assisted
and they did a very good job; we had vets from universities and
overseas; we had a lot of people coming in from America and Australia,
so we had a lot of vets working for us and we more or less got
as many as we could find to do the job.
65. Can I just say that in my constituency the
prime need is for veterinary officers to be integrated much more
effectively into the overall structure because you had vets managing
vets and that did not work. They are not trained to do that, they
are not managers, and they need to be integrated more effectively
into the main stream. Getting the integrated teams together perhaps
took longer than it ought. Secondly, there was a shortage of junior
vets so vets were doing a lot of jobs which they were over-qualified
to do, so there was a shortage in the lower tier.
(Mr Scudamore) Yes, but we had to dissect out what
the vets were doing and then change what they were doing. So the
vets will do the clinical diagnosis, the welfare and the slaughter;
other people will do the valuations and all the other work, and
we are doing that now. Also we have to review what we should use
the vet staff to do in the future.
66. Because it was not necessary for the vets
to do the actual culling, the slaughter, was it?
(Mr Scudamore) There was a question about supervision
of culling with respect to welfare that was also an issue so we
did need a veterinary input into all of that, in terms of the
supervision of the culling and the slaughter.
(Mr Hathaway) What we did have to do very quickly
at the start of the outbreak was to bring in non vets and extra
administrative and logistical support to do the jobs that vets
were doing so as to release the vets to concentrate on veterinary
work, and to set up the new infrastructure in so many different
parts of the country at the same time in order to liberate the
vets for the veterinary work was a major undertaking across government.
67. Just taking us back briefly to one element
which relates to cross-border movement of livestock, we did have
a story right at the start of the outbreak that the French had
detected foot and mouth antibodies in sheep which had been imported
into France from the UK earlier in February. At the time the Agriculture
Committee last asked about this there seemed to be some uncertainty
as to whether the French had produced any evidence for that statement
or not. Has anything emerged about that?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes. We investigated that with the
French veterinary authorities and we had a letter back saying
that the results were negative. They did one test that gave positive
results and when they re-checked and did another test it gave
negative results. There is no indication at all that the sheep
that went out to France prior to the 20 February had any antibodies
in them at all.
68. So that puts one of the myths to bed of
quite where this disease might have been, because certainly there
was a view that it was endemic in at least part of the sheep population
before it was at Heddon-on-the-Wall.
(Mr Scudamore) With your permission, Mr Chairman,
may I comment on the origin because there have been lots of myths
around. The French positive sheep was a negative sheep. There
were some articles recently about the Canadians saying we had
foot and mouth disease in October/November and I have checked
with the chief Canadian veterinary officer and that is untrue.
There are all the stories about ordering up disinfectant and sleepers,
all of which were part of our normal contingency planning, so
all of those myths, when you check them out, there is nothing
that shows that the disease was any older than that we found in
Northumberland from early February. There is no evidence at all
69. It is good that you have had an opportunity
to make that clear. Turning to the movement restrictions that
both are in place and also were suggested, you will notice that
in the Devon inquiry it was rather strangely written but I think
they indicated a support for a 20 or 21 day standstill on stock
movements. Do you actually believe that would be beneficial?
(Mr Scudamore) It is an issue that has been under
consultation. It has already existed in the pig flock. We have
already had that in pigs and the reason for having a 21-day rule
is if animals move on to the farm and they are incubating disease
you would detect that before the animals move off, so the advantage
of it, if animals were incubating disease and they move, is it
gives you a time in which the disease can develop, you can put
in place controls and you can prevent the onward moving. It also
stops this rapid movement of sheep on to farms and off farms so
there are benefits in having a 21-day rule and, from a strictly
veterinary point of view, a standstill like that would be helpful,
but there are also economic downsides in an industry which moves
animals on and off. For example, a farmer might buy pedigree rams
and might want to sell pedigree ewes next week, so there are a
lot off issues involved which are not strictly veterinary. The
21-day rule is in place now as part of the autumn movements; we
are going to be consulting on what movements we have in the spring;
I think from a veterinary point of view the 21-day rule will need
to remain but that, again, is open to discussion, and I think
the question of the long term controls is one that there has to
be a national debate about as to what is the best method of controlling
diseases like this if they occur. We need to look at the whole
range of how do we prevent disease spreading, how do we minimise
the spread, and how do we stop it exploding out like it has done
in this case.
70. Would it be helpful if that 21-day standstill
to which you have referred was extended to markets on a permanent
basis as well as on to farm holdings?
(Mr Scudamore) I think the question on markets is
how often the markets can be held and what cleaning and disinfection
takes place between them. There are a number of issues with markets
in terms of mixing animals and residual contamination of the market
so all of these need to be looked at. What we want to do is learn
the lessons from this outbreak which the Royal Society will be
doing to see what control measures will be needed to prevent the
rapid spread of disease, and to try and restrict it to smaller
areas. Also on the 21-day rule with the pig industry there was
a strict 21 day rule that applied but as the biosecurity in the
industry developed the 21 day rule was relaxed for certain categories.
For example, if people were in a pyramid and they moved and had
security then the 21-day rule was not triggered.
71. Your advice from a veterinary standpoint,
therefore, is that a 21-day movement restriction should be adopted?
(Mr Scudamore) It is beneficial in controlling and
restricting spread of disease, but that advice has to be countered
with all the other issues.
72. One of the other difficulties certainly
putting together your maps that you went through with us at the
start is tracing movements of sheep. They were the principal carriers
in this particular case. Do you believe that movements, registration
and recording could be substantially improved to the benefit of
controls or potential controls on the spread of disease?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes. I think identification and traceability
of susceptible species is critical to rapid control of disease.
With cattle we already have that with ear-tagging and the cattle
tracing system. The difficulty with sheep is the sheer numbers
and how they move, and whether the tags remain there. What we
have been developing with the national scrapie plan is the use
of electronic identification, and I do not think there is any
doubt in the long run that that is the method we will have to
look at because you can scan animals and identify them very quickly.
The question really is, in the interim period between now and
when electronic systems are in place, what mechanism we have for
identifying and tracing sheep and what is the best method of doing
73. You have asked the question
(Mr Scudamore) Well, there are lots of questions.
I think this is something that the science review would look at
but the ear-tagging of sheep is already a requirement so if animals
leave a flock of origin they have to be ear-tagged to identify
the flock of origin. The real question is whether we put in place
individual identification of sheep. We will need to discuss with
a lot of people because there are a lot of issues here. It is
not just animal health but also public health, food safety, traceability
of carcases and animals, so it is much broader than just animal
health and it is something we need to take forward jointly with
other organisations. At the moment, however, the sheep have to
be identified with the flock of origin when they leave that flock.
The question is how we individually identify them, and should
74. There was a 48 or 72 hour delay between
the first outbreak being identified and movement restrictions
being put in place. I cannot rememberwas it two or three
(Mr Scudamore) We confirmed on the 20th and put the
movement restrictions on the 23rd. Two to three days.
(Mr Hathaway) That is true if one is talking about
movement restrictions over the whole of Great Britain. Whenever
you find even a suspect case of foot and mouth there is a local
movement restriction that goes on absolutely immediately.
75. Sure. So there was a restriction in Essex,
for example, straight away but not a national restriction for
72 hours or thereabouts.
(Mr Scudamore) Yes.
76. Your map on which you showed when the movements
had taken place indicated that actually that delay did have a
material effect and that quite a large number of movements took
place in that critical window of timenot enough to have
prevented a widespread outbreak but certainly making the task
harder. What made you not introduce a national restriction at
(Mr Scudamore) There are a number of issues there.
The first is we had the Essex outbreak in pigs and we were tracing
the pig movements into the abattoir to Buckingham and York and
the Isle of Wight. That is all we had to go on. We were then tracing
movements of other pigs which had gone into the abattoir and at
that stage we only had one outbreak in Essex. To put in a national
movement control would be very draconian and would involve stopping
all movements of all animals anywhere. At that time we believed
we would put the local movement restriction on and we would continue
the tracing. We had to do 600 tracings from the abattoir and we
gave priority to all the swill plants in the tracing, and we got
back to Heddon-on-the-Wall on the 22nd in the evening and confirmed
it on the 23rd, and at that stage all we had to go on were the
cases I have shown you, and my recommendation at that stage was
that we needed to put a national control measure on the whole
of the country to stop all movements until we could find out what
the problem was. At that particular stage we thought we had a
problem with pigs because all the outbreaks we had were pigs.
There was no indication then that we had a sheep problem.
77. It is immensely easy to do all this with
hindsight, but did not the existence of the virus in pigs immediately
prompt you regarding the plumes and the possible impact on other
livestock near to an infected pig farm? It is easy for me to say
now but would that not seem logical?
(Mr Scudamore) We were working completely in the dark
at this stage. When we picked up these pigs in the abattoir we
did not have any indication as to where it was or what had been
happening. We went back to the three farms on the 20th and 21st
and there was no disease in those at all, so what we had was an
outbreak which had just occurred out of the blue with no indication
anywhere that anything else in the country was involved.
78. Most of us know that of the various species
that could have foot and mouth the impact on pigs is much more
profound in terms of the potential spread of the virus to other
species and beyond. I am just puzzled that that did not immediately
set off an alarm bell.
(Mr Hathaway) Based on my recollection of those dates,
we were in touch with the Met Office about the issue of plumes
and when we put the 10 km zone, so-called, around the early Essex
cases, the shape and size of that was actually drawn up taking
account of Met Office advice in relation to plumes.
79. So in other words the local restriction
was put in place with the possibility of a plume. Since the outbreak
in Essex did not originatelogically probably would not
have originatedin Essex, being from a movement from somewhere
else, because it was in an abattoir, did not this prompt some
further thought as to risk?
(Mr Hathaway) It did. I think Jim has explained that
600 tracings took place and, as soon as we found anything as regards
those tracings, local controls go on but when we found the one
in Northumberland two days later the national control went on.
(Mr Scudamore) There was a lot of criticism at the
time that we had stopped all movements. The important issue I
think is, looking at those plans and maps, the question for the
future is if we get one outbreak of foot and mouth disease do
we stop all movements in the whole of the country immediately?
That is quite a draconian measure when you think of the number
of animals that are moving, so I think again it is another issue
that needs to be discussed.