Examination of witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
BROWN, MP, AND
40. If you take those out do they count towards
the case numbers?
(Mr Scudamore) No, because they would be generally
considered to be the dangerous contact list. They are kept as
a separate list which we call dangerous contacts. As I said, in
the total number we have 394 confirmed premises and 341 dangerous
41. Where you have slaughtered?
(Mr Scudamore) Where we have slaughtered the animals
because we think they are potentially infected. Some of those
will be in the same ownership. For example, one of the dealers
had 14 premises. One had disease on it so we slaughtered that
and that was confirmed as a premises. The other 13 were removed
as dangerous contact premises but when we killed the animals on
a number we found disease and they then get switched and go into
the confirmed premises list.
42. Do you think from now on you should publish
on a daily basis the holding cases and the contact cases as two
(Mr Scudamore) They are available and we do give them
out to the media.
43. The public is under the impression we have
had 394; it now turns out we have got a hell of a lot more.
(Mr Scudamore) 394 confirmed and the other ones are
potentially infected but there was no obvious disease at slaughter.
There are 341 of those.
44. Could I move on to the question of the speed
of slaughter. I was on the telephone after 11 o'clock last night
with the divisional veterinary manager down in Worcester desperately
trying to persuade her to come up to a case reported yesterday
evening in my constituency to slaughter half a dozen cows who
were foaming, frothing and had very obvious lesions. In 1967 according
to the 1969 Report they would have been slaughtered on the spot
by a vet with a pistol, referring to the Secretary of State's
earlier comment, and then the next day the rest of the flock or
the herd would have been slaughtered and there would be a much,
much quicker reaction to removing those very obviously infected
animals immediately by the vet. I have talked to vets who worked
in my constituency (and I live in the heart of it) and they are
absolutely exasperated by the delays. They totally support your
slaughter policy. I have a meeting with them on Friday to go over
the detail of how it was done so much more quickly. What can you
do to ensure that vets have powers to put down obviously infected
animals immediately and then ensure the next day that the remainder
of the herd can be put down?
(Mr Scudamore) You have raised a number of different
issues and they are problems. The first is report and getting
report cases and the second is when the disease is confirmed and
getting the animals killed. We have faced a number of problems
with the escalating number of cases we have got. We have "dirty"
vets and the difficulty is that if a vet goes onto a farm and
there is disease there, there is a timelag before he can go back
onto another farm. We started off with five days. If a vet went
to a farm with the disease he could not go to another farm which
did not have the disease for five days and he had to be decontaminated.
We then took on board the international specification and we dropped
it down to three days. So if a vet was on a farm with a disease
he could not go to a clean farm for three days. We have been looking
to see whether we can reduce that even further so that we can
rotate vets around a lot faster. We would wish to get out to report
cases as fast as we can and obviously that is one I will have
to look into when I get back to the office. The vet will examine
the animals and he will ring up and he will be given a confirmation.
When we started dealing with the disease they would have to take
samples and put them in the laboratory because we were not clear
what we were dealing with because some of the conditions were
not obvious. Now if a vet is on a farm and they ring to get confirmations
we will confirm on clinical grounds, so if the vet rings up and
he is on the farm and he has got five cattle with blisters on
their tongues and high temperatures we would confirm that without
requiring the samples to be taken. We are trying to speed up confirmation
rates. The second thing is vets in most parts of the country are
authorised to kill animals on the farm. However, if there are
a small number of animals they will use Euthetal, one of the drugs,
to kill the animals because we do not (unlike 1967-68) go around
with guns. There are lots of difficulties with staff having guns.
They are not always equipped to shoot animals on farms but in
many cases they should use one of the drugs to put animals down
as we do with BSE cases. If those animals are dead we would want
to get a slaughter team in as soon as possible. There have been
delays in doing that. We would want to try and get animals dead
as fast as possible but there have been logistical problems with
doing that. I should say in the case of pigs that they have top
priority. With the case in Devon not long ago they worked through
the night to kill the animals to make sure they were all dead.
The interval from diagnosis to death is critical and it is too
long at the moment.
45. Could you make it mandatory that vets use
this drug administered by injection when they visit a farm and
see half a dozen very obviously diseased cattle? This site is
in the heart of the largest dairy-producing area in the country.
It is absolutely critical that they are put down as fast as possible.
Farmers agree with that entirely. There is great frustration among
the elderly vets around that there are delays. The Report was
also quite clear when it said: "Diagnosis should not depend
on confirmation on the telephone from the veterinary headquarters
at Tolworth". Vets on site had much more executive power
to make decisions on putting animals down on the spot. Can you
give them that power under the current restrictions you are operating
under with various regulations like the EU Foot and Mouth Directive?
Do you have the power to do that?
(Mr Scudamore) We do not have the power to do it but
we could look into it. At the moment we would want the vet on
the farm to investigate the case, to make a telephone report to
our operations room, where we have a team of vets that take these
reports, and if that report describes foot and mouth disease the
vet is given permission to go ahead and slaughter. There was criticism
at the beginning that it was taking too long but we are confirming
90 per cent of them now on clinical diagnosis and also the time
lag is greatly reduced. So I do not know that confirmation on
the farm is necessarily going to achieve a great saving in time.
We do need to make sure (because we have a lot of new vets working
for us) that we are confirming disease and it is correct and we
are not confirming cases where there is not the disease. We have
a lot of TVIs (temporary vets) working for us in practice and
it is useful for us to discuss with them the cases. We have speeded
up the whole process from the time they arrive to the time the
disease is confirmed. It is my understanding they would normally
kill the animals with lesions when they are on the farm and then
would arrange for a slaughter team to come in later. I will look
into this case specifically for you.
46. We have all been inundated with cases around
the country where there has been delay. If you could go back to
the 1967 system where experienced vets had autonomy you would
speed up this process. There was another case in South Devon where
an experienced vet who worked in 1967 did his own autopsies, killed
five sheep and was 95 per cent certain, but it was not until two
days later that the main flock was put down. And in my constituency
it was a further two days. That delay is too long.
(Mr Scudamore) I worked on the 1967-68 outbreak as
well. We were given 32 revolvers with which to go out and shoot
animals. On health and safety grounds it would not be advisable
in this day and age. Even then we rang in. We went out to farms,
we saw the disease, we rang headquarters, gave a brief summary
of the disease and they confirmed it. We then killed the animals
that had the disease and then the slaughter teams came in the
next day. There are two issues. The first one is the reporting
and diagnosis and killing of the few animals with obvious disease
and the second issue is getting the slaughter teams in to kill
the rest of the herd. There are two blockages there. One is the
evaluation of the animals and the second is the slaughter teams.
We have been looking at the whole process from the time we get
the report to the time animals are disposed of to try and reduce
the time intervals, which I agree with you are too long and which
we have got to get down.
47. It would be very helpful if you could push
that point on administering the lethal injection to very obviously
infected animals. On disposal the 1969 Report is again completely
clear. It says that burial is preferable to burning and it gives
additional information on how much quicker burial is and a much
higher proportion of those that were buried were covered within
the next day or the day after, while funeral pyres take a day
to build and two or three days to finish the job off. Also it
warned of the risk of thermal air currents putting the virus into
the atmosphere. I have a note here from the Environment Agency
which says that the order of priority for foot and mouth disposal
is rendering, incineration, burning on site, landfilling and burial.
I would suggest to you that is an exact 180 degree mirror image
of what should be happening according to the recommendations of
the Report. It is the placing of burial as the last option which
is causing immense frustration amongst the vets I have talked
to that worked in 1967. What can you do to ensure burial goes
to the top of the pile rather than the bottom of the pile?
(Mr Scudamore) There are a number of technical issues.
We would prefer burial, incineration and burning in that order
because, as you say, burial is by far the easiest and quickest
option on the farm. There are a number of points to make. First
of all, the situation now is not like 1967and again quoting
from my own experience we dug a hole and put 30 cows in it and
that was itin that we are dealing with 300 or 400 cows
or 6,000 or 7,000 sheep, so the scale of the burial operation
is much, much larger than it was then. The second thing is there
are issues of ground water and issues of pollution and issues
of seepage from these burial sites with very large numbers of
animals. It is extremely important that the water table and the
quality of water being used from these areas is protected. In
order to deal with this, though, we have been in discussion with
the Environment Agency who have been particularly helpful and
we are in discussion at two levels, first of all at the local
level where as soon as a farm is diagnosed as having the disease
the local contacts are made to see whether it is practical to
bury them. There have been a number of farms where burial has
taken place, not very many. We have also been in discussion with
the Environment Agency at a much higher level to see whether the
rules are completely inflexible or whether there is some degree
of assistance they can give to us. Those discussions are continuing.
We would, if we could in safety, wish to bury animals but again
we have to look at environmental protection. I think the situation
now is different to the situation in 1967-68.
48. If you do not dispose of those animals by
burying you are creating another environmental problem. The Minister
last week said 25 per cent of the 205,000 animals are not buried.
That is 50,000 animals lying out in wet and snowy weather at the
moment with water running off them and running the virus into
the waterways and brooks. You have a major pollution problem now
by trying to burn them because you cannot keep them on top.
(Mr Brown) It would be useful if the Chief Vet explains
to the Committee what happens to the virus in the animals once
the animals are dead.
(Mr Scudamore) The reason we want to kill the animals
is we want to stop them producing the virus. Once they are dead
they are no longer producing virus and all you have left is the
virus in the animals which gradually decomposes as pH changes
take place and rigor mortis sets in, so eventually the virus will
disappear. I agree entirely that the ideal world is to have the
animals killed and destroyed and buried as fast as possible.
49. Was the 1969 Report wrong then when it said
on page 55: "Body excretions continue to exude from the carcasses
and add constantly to the risk of the virus being disseminated"?
(Mr Scudamore) The Report is correct but the virus
is exuded from the carcass but not produced. In other words, there
is no increased production of virus from the animal because it
is dead but the virus is still there and it will still exude,
50. On what basis will the farmers be compensated
because again in this Report it shows that as the number of animals
came down the market value went up as it took place and it recommended
(Mr Brown) The compensation rates are at market valuation
and we are trying to get the payments to the farmers as quickly
as possible. The average time is something like seven days.
51. Minister, the point I am making is, as the
Report points out, as the 1967 outbreak went on and reduced the
number of available beasts, the price went up.
(Mr Brown) The valuation has not fluctuated and I
am determined that we treat the farmer fairly. The question you
ask is a very shrewd one in the context of the sheep sector where
the price has been affected. I am trying to pay the compensation
at the pre-disease outbreak rate which is the higher rate.
52. Can I ask you about the valuation process.
Clearly I know farmers have been quite annoyed about the criticism
they took in the House of Lords last week about them delaying
the process. I think it would be useful for you to take us through
what happens in terms of the valuation process and what possible
delays there are when agreement is not reached between parties.
(Mr Brown) Mostly agreement is reached. I do not want
to get this out of proportion. In circumstances where the state
is intervening (perfectly properly) in somebody's business to
take away their animals, then clearly we have to pay them the
market rate as a matter of law. This is not a matter of the state
asserting what the rate is. It is contestable. An independent
valuer is called in to do the valuation and that in turn is subject
to arbitration. It is a reasonably quick procedure but there is
an arbitration procedure if there is any quarrel over the rates.
The scheme that we are working on in the Department is one where
we have an indicative rate, particularly for sheep, which people
can either take there and then and that is the deal done, or take
a separate route which needs to go to independent valuation and
then arbitration. Whilst I am very keen on getting such a scheme
in place, people would have to choose from the beginning one route
or the other. If the valuation came in lower than the state's
flat rate it would not be possible to revert to the state's flat
53. If someone disagrees I know that you can
go to arbitration but you have the power to slaughter before that
agreement is in place. I know some farmers are wanting to value
live animals rather than dead animals so there are obviously some
(Mr Brown) There are tensions. Valuation can be a
cause of delay but it is not the main cause of delay. I do not
want to get it out of proportion and nor would I want to do anything
that took away the rights of people who have very good reason
for wanting independent valuation, in particular people who have
got pedigree herds or rare breeds that might command a premium
in the market place. The same is true incidentally of animals
farmed organically; we do pay for that value.
54. The NFU and FUW are having many members
who are desperate to get rid of fat stock and in some cases are
willing to have their fat stock slaughtered. The problem is being
in an infected area they cannot move them anywhere to be slaughtered.
Can you assure me that very fast measures are being taken to resolve
what is becoming a very desperate problem at the moment?
(Mr Brown) We can get the pig market and the beef
sector not working as they would ideally but something close to
it under very strict conditions. There is a problem in the sheep
sector, particularly in Wales, largely because exports are not
only prevented but are going to be prevented for the foreseeable
future. So animals not bred for the domestic market nevertheless
have no other outlet so are displaced onto it. It is how we deal
with those circumstances (which is not a disease control issue,
it is a market issue) that I am taking a very hard look at. I
want to devise a plan that not only helps the industry get through
these appalling difficulties but enables it to recover to a future
that probably is not the same that we have at present.
55. Those in infected areas are desperate to
get some resolution as well because it is an immediate problem.
(Mr Brown) I will ask the Chief Vet to say something
about the market that is available but it is not a complete solution
to the problem.
(Mr Scudamore) One of the problems with the infected
areas is that we are allowed to move animals into slaughter houses
in infected areas, but the meat has to be cross-stamped. That
is using an animal health measure on a public health stamp and
unfortunately the retailers and other organisations do not particularly
like the idea of cross-stamped meat. The difficulty is if there
is a market for that meat. If we allow those animals to move out
of the infected area we are looking at the risk assessment, we
are raising the risks of allowing them to move, and, equally,
if they are then slaughtered they still have to be cross-stamped
because they are coming from an infected area. We had exactly
the same problem with swine fever. Slaughtering animals from within
those areas has additional controls put on them which makes the
meat generally unacceptable even though there is nothing wrong
with it. Because they have the oval stamp crossed out the view
is that there is something wrong with it. That is an issue we
are addressing at the moment.
(Mr Brown) I have asked the Chief Vet to explain that
to the Committee because I think it is right that the full set
of circumstances be set out, but let me make it very clear that
I do not believe this to be a practical answer to the problem
for the simple reason that it does not comply with the retailers'
spec and therefore they are not willing to purchase it.
56. Bearing in mind the dominance of burning
as a disposal method, how up to date are we with the science of
what happens to the virus when combustion takes place and where
it is dispersed in the air in thermal air currents?
(Mr Brown) It is a fair question, but my understanding
is that the temperature is very high, we use fuel on the animals
to make sure they burn thoroughly, and the risk of spreading the
virus through the smoke from the fire is negligible.
(Mr Scudamore) I think the Minister has summed it
up. The Northumberland Report is ambivalent and inconclusive about
whether it spreads or not. We have looked at the various components
and as far as we can see the risk is minimal but the problem is
we have to get rid of these carcasses and there is a large number
of carcasses to be removed at the moment. In a lot of this issue
we are looking at the relative riskand that is the difficulty
we are facingof leaving the carcasses to rot away as opposed
to getting them removed.
57. The Chief Vet indicated that the scale of
this outbreak of foot and mouth is on an altogether different
level than that in 1967. There has been an enormous amount of
comment in the press about difficulties with resources. We have
discussed veterinary surgeons, we have discussed disposal facilities
and so on and so forth. Minister, you mentioned quite rightly
that MAFF twice a year carries out an exercise to develop its
contingent facility. You have had 34 years without a foot and
mouth outbreak. Some people listening to our exchanges might think
that this preparatory exercise has still left you flatfooted,
running behind the game, short of resources. Just how good is
this contingency exercise in terms of its predictive quality because
we are still short of resources?
(Mr Brown) I do not think we should under-estimate
the seriousness of the situation that faces us nor should we under-estimate
the difficulties of dealing with a situation that is rapidly changing.
Remember we have to deal with the two unknowns. We do not know
where the disease will emerge nor do we know how much of it is
out there. On the contingency exercise to do with the procurement
of materials that seems to have worked very well. We are able
to procure the lorries and the railway sleepers that we are using
as wood to start the fires, we are able to procure the coal, but
we are doing it in very, very large quantities. We also have to
procure the mechanical diggers to dig the trenches in which to
place the animals once they have been slaughtered. It is not going
fast enough, I acknowledge that, but there are three essential
bottlenecks: the need for more vets; the need for more skilled
slaughter men; and the need to make sure that the contractors'
time is effectively managed. The way we are dealing with this
is we have issued the appeal for extra vets and we are trying
to make better use of the veterinary time that we have by the
methods the Chief Vet has described to the Committee. We are trying
to make sure we make effective use of the slaughter men as well.
However, as I told the Committee in my opening statement, we have
already killed a similar amount of animals to the entirety of
that which was involved in the 1967 outbreak. Finally there is
the question of organising the disposal. We are opening up new
routes including extra rendering plants, including the use of
burial, including the use of landfill as well as burning on site,
which is the other disposal route, and we have logistic teams
in from the Army to help organise those practical tasks, but it
is on a much greater scale than it was a fortnight ago.
58. Let me ask when was the last time you role-played
out a scenario or two about a foot and mouth outbreak? In the
House you told us that the United Kingdom, for example, had been
ahead of the game in banning imports of meat products from South
Africa because you knew there was a source of foot and mouth infectivity
and we wanted to be prepared, so in other words a bell might have
rung, that something could get through. You mentioned tightening
up on import controls. When was the last time the model was run
and what kind of scenario did you have? Some people have said
on the question of burial and machinery that the Army should have
been brought in sooner.
(Mr Brown) There are three things we need: vets, slaughter
men, and contractors to help with the disposal. The Army is not
a reservoir to any great extent of any of those things.
59. When was the model last run? You said you
updated the contingency plans once every six months.
(Mr Brown) The contingency exercise is annual rather
than six monthly, but I stand to be corrected if that is not right,
and it is about the procurement of materials that would be needed
in certain circumstances, in other words to make sure