Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs First Report


List of conclusions and recommendations

43. Our principal conclusions and recommendations are:

(a)There are strong arguments in favour of holding a full public inquiry, principally that it would have allowed those affected by the outbreak to see that their concerns were being properly investigated in depth. The Government has, however, chosen another approach. The advantage of the Royal Society and the Lessons to be Learned inquiries is that they may more quickly lead to facts being established, and lessons being learned, than would have been the case if a full public inquiry was undertaken. However, that advantage will have been wasted if the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries do not conduct themselves transparently, taking evidence from as many sources as possible in public unless there are very clear reasons not to do so, and if their reports to Government when completed are not published in full and without delay, and are subject to critical analysis and debate. It will also be vital that the Government's response to these reports co-ordinates their findings in such a way as to provide the basis for an improved strategy to counter a future outbreak of foot and mouth or other animal disease (paragraph 10).
(b)The purpose of this Report is twofold. First, we wish to publish the evidence we have received, all of which is reprinted with this report. It will be of general interest, but will be of particular value to those participating in the Lessons to be Learned and Royal Society inquiries into the outbreak of the disease. Second, we do not seek to duplicate the work of the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries. Instead we seek to draw attention to key questions and concerns raised by the evidence we did receive. The Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries must address these key issues. We intend to examine the reports of the inquiries when they are published to ensure that these key issues have been addressed, and to maintain a strong interest in the conduct and progress of the inquiries (paragraph 11).
(c)The Lessons to be Learned inquiry and particularly the Royal Society inquiry must establish whether such warnings were received; whether the Government monitored the international situation; who was responsible for this work, what contingency plans existed to deal with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease and how this was reviewed; and what steps were taken, or should have been taken, to adapt contingency plans to meet this new threat, since it has been reported that the Government assumed that its own contingency plan did not need to be reviewed (paragraph 12).
(d)We recommend that the Lessons to be Learned inquiry urgently identify vulnerabilities and failings in the existing regime governing meat imports, or failings in the enforcement of that regime, which allowed illegal importation of infected meat, so that deficiencies can be addressed at both the domestic and the European level without delay. The role of meat importers should also be investigated and in particular the standards of quality and inspection to which they operate. We also recommend that the inquiry consider issues arising from the disposal of waste food products from, for example, airlines, schools and restaurants, and their use as pig feed (paragraph 13).
(e)We are concerned about the efficacy of the European Union regime which permits imports of meat from 'disease-free' areas of countries where foot and mouth is endemic. We recommend that the Government initiate a review of the operation of the regime. It should specifically examine the procedures dealing with health threats abroad, for example in Zimbabwe as a result of lawlessness in that country, with a view to recommending ways to identify risks and respond to them urgently. It should satisfy itself that the European Union is able to monitor effectively what is happening on the ground in supplier countries (paragraph 14).
(f)We recommend that the inquiries explicitly address the impact a more rapid imposition of a national ban on livestock movements after 20 February would have had on the spread of the disease. We further recommend that the inquiries consider whether the immediate imposition of a national livestock movement ban should form part of the response to any further outbreak of the disease (paragraph 17).
(g)Whatever view is taken of the desirability of a standstill restriction, it is surprising that the Government has concluded that a general twenty-day standstill restriction on livestock movements and restrictions on the operation of livestock markets have no role to play in preventing future outbreaks of foot and mouth without advice from the inquiries it has commissioned into the disease. Nevertheless we recommend that the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries consider what impact a standstill restriction put in place for sheep and cattle would have had on the spread of foot and mouth disease if it had been in place when the outbreak began, and also the role played by livestock markets, and by livestock dealers, in the early spread of the disease, both in terms of sales inside and outside the ring. They should also consider what effect a twenty-day standstill rule and associated changes to the regulations governing livestock markets would have on the activities of the livestock farming industry, and particularly what impact they would have on the ability of farmers to carry on normal commercial practice, which benefits farmers in the uplands in particular (paragraph 21).
(h)We recommend that the Department urgently construct a single database about the farming industry, based, inter alia, on the most modern mapping techniques, and that landowners be obliged to provide data to keep it up to date. Topographical and stocking information gathered for the purpose of obtained European Union subsidies will be directly relevant in this regard (paragraph 23).
(i)The contiguous cull was a response to a desperate situation, not a pre-meditated response to a known, assessed risk (paragraph 27).
(j)The Lessons to be Learned inquiry should examine the reasons for this apparent delay [in making use of the Army] and recommend future practice. Brigadier Alex Birtwistle should be asked to produce a report on all the logistical aspects of dealing with a major foot and mouth outbreak (paragraph 30).
(k)The Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries must look closely at the role in controlling the disease played by culling animals, and establish the reasons why this central part of the Government's policy changed twice. In particular, it should consider whether greater discretion should have been given to local vets in deciding whether a contiguous cull was necessary, what effect the delays in carrying out culls on both infected and contiguous premises and in disposing of carcasses had on the spread of the disease, and whether or not a more prompt cull of livestock on infected premises would have been enough to limit the disease without further slaughter on contiguous premises. Equally, it must assess what problems would arise if it appeared that different policies were being pursued in different parts of the country, and how that would impact on farmers' co-operation and the likelihood of a legal challenge, even allowing for the draconian powers contained in the Animal Health Bill. Attention should also be given to the way in which policy to respond to the outbreak was developed given the shifts of responsibilities between Downing Street and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (and MAFF). Looking forward we recommend that the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries assess closely what role culling livestock should play in any future efforts to restrict foot and mouth, or any comparable, disease. In making their judgements the inquiries should have regard to our comments about vaccination below (paragraph 32).
(l)We recommend that the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries look closely at the impact that the availability of vets had on efforts to contain the disease. The Government should commit itself to finding the resources necessary either to fund an expansion of the State Veterinary Service if it is recommended by the inquiries or to identify and train a 'territorial reserve' of private vets able to be mobilised rapidly. It should also examine the availability of trained people able to carry out tasks which do not necessarily require fully qualified vets (paragraph 33).
(m)The Lessons to be Learned inquiry should consider why there was this apparent delay [in seeking the advice of the Chief Scientific Adviser], whether it was material, and recommend future practice (paragraph 34).
(n)It is crucial for the Royal Society inquiry to come to as authoritative a conclusion as possible on vaccination as a response to foot and mouth disease, because policy cannot move forward in this area until there are not only scientifically-validated products available but also international agreement on the circumstances and methodology of their use. All aspects of the Dutch response to foot and mouth disease, including its impact on exports, should be examined by the Lessons to be Learned and Royal Society inquiries. The nature of consultations between the Dutch Government and the European Commission, and the rulings and advice given by the Commission, should be obtained by the inquiries and published by them (paragraph 39).
(o)We are entirely sympathetic to the difficulties faced by those farmers not directly affected by the disease, but who have nevertheless experienced considerable hardship as a result of the outbreak. We accept, however, that there are limits to what the Government can do to help. Therefore we do not recommend specific compensation for those indirectly affected, but we do recommend that the Government continue to review their situation, and offer whatever further financial or practical support it can, such as continuing help with rates relief and a sympathetic tax regime. In particular the newly-agreed reform of the sheepmeat regime enables the Government specifically to promote programmes to help this sector. We urge the Government to table as soon as possible proposals to do so for consultation. We will wish to address this issue in future meetings with Ministers. We also urge the Government to continue to investigate the provision of insurance for farmers and others affected by diseases such as foot and mouth (paragraph 41).
(p)As well as those matters set out separately above, the Lessons to be Learned inquiry in particular should examine the way in which MAFF responded to the outbreak in terms of mobilising staff. For example, it should consider what rules governed the recruitment of officials into the emergency regional teams; whether the depth of administrative and scientific expertise of the Ministry was adequate for dealing with the outbreak; whether all parts of the Ministry were called upon to contribute resources; whether staff brought in, especially Regional Operations Directors, had received any training as part of contingency planning. It should also examine how effectively the Ministry assembled multi-functional teams engaging the resources of other Ministries, and how effectively the chain of command worked, and, in particular, whether the administration and organisation of the State Veterinary Service lent itself to the integrated command structure necessary to implement policy in the regions. The inquiry should also consider why there were such delays between the announcement of policy in London, such as the various movement schemes, and their implementation locally, including whether the ability to implement schemes was undermined by a lack of detailed instructions. Trading standards departments of local authorities had the responsibility to implement many movement regimes, and their evidence will be vital to the inquiry. The inquiry should consider whether the complex authorisation processes both for some movement schemes and for payments, often involving the transfer of documents between several different MAFF locations, both damaged stakeholder confidence and slowed responses (paragraph 42).

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