Examination of witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
BROWN, MP, AND
60. So your contingency plan has not in the
last 12 months looked at the scenario that said "if we had
an outbreak, if the defences were down and foot and mouth got
into the United Kingdom, these are some possible ways in which
it could occur and therefore the resource implications are X"?
Are you telling me that such an exercise has not been carried
(Mr Brown) I am not telling you that. I do not know
the answer. Jim, do you know the answer to the question? It is
very rare for Ministers to be involved in role-playing. In fairness,
I do not have a lot of time for role-playing. My time is at a
61. You might not but the quality of the advice
you get from your officials depends on them having worked out
possible contingencies. We have just seen what can happen with
something like BSE over a number of years where similar problems
of disease, the destruction of animals, the use of vets has been
a key part in dealing with that. I am asking a question about
how well prepared you were for the situation that we are now going
through. Perhaps the Chief Vet can tell us.
(Mr Brown) I do think that everything we have done
stands very good comparison with what was done in the case of
the BSE outbreak.
62. My question was how well-prepared were you
for this in the light of some of the problems that have occurred?
(Mr Brown) How well-prepared was the last Government
63. Perhaps the Chief Vet will be able to enlighten
us as to what preparatory exercises have taken place.
(Mr Scudamore) There are two types of contingency
planning. First of all, there is local contingency planning where
the local offices will write up and develop scenarios where they
would look at the possibility of one or two or ten cases and they
would work up what they would do about them and run exercises
some of which would be practical exercises, other ones of which
would be desk-top exercises and it varied in how often it was
set up and where it took place, and those exercises would be run
to deal with the swine fever scenario or foot and mouth scenario.
Those are local office scenarios. In terms of the national plan
we are required by Europe to submit a national contingency plan,
which we do regularly. That more describes the operational aspects
of how we would deal with outbreaks and what do we do. We have
not used a model to do the scenario of planning you are talking
about. The contingency planning is local training and planning
on how people would deal with outbreaks and what they would do,
and nationally it is to produce a contingency plan which complies
with an EU requirement. We have been doing that for the last 20
years, looking at the way we would deal with outbreaks, but the
scenario planning has not been done which would have picked up
this situation. One of the reasons being that we have had a very
heavy workload over the last ten years and risk assessments at
the time meant that we spent the time on BSE and other issues.
We do have contingency plans, national and local, we do have training,
but we have not had any scenario running with a model to look
at a circumstance like this.
64. One of the earlier points of criticism was
the time taken for the analysis done at Pirbright. For example,
why were other central veterinary laboratory facilities not used?
I gather there is a private laboratory called the Crompton Laboratory
which could also have been used. Why were they not all brought
into play at the beginning to speed up the process which you identified
between diagnosis, confirmation and slaughter?
(Mr Brown) There was not a delay at the early part
of the outbreak. Indeed, people worked very hard overnight doing
the tests on the main suspect cases to make sure that the confirmation
was there the following morning. As the disease has developed
we know now that we have foot and mouth disease in the country
and in quantities of intense infectivity in parts of it so we
are dealing with it on the basis of clinical diagnosis rather
than tests overnight.
65. Can I have an answer to the specific point?
(Mr Brown) I will let Jim answer but this is not a
resource shortage, or it has not been.
(Mr Scudamore) The specific point is that we are dealing
with a highly virulent, highly infectious virus that can only
be dealt with under high containment and high security. There
is only one laboratory in this country that is permitted to deal
with this virus and that is the Institute of Animal Health at
Pirbright. The laboratory has to have special filters and special
designs and it is so high security that it is the only place that
we can submit material that has virus in it. There have been suggestions
that we could use the Veterinary Laboratory Agency to do some
of the serology but I have rejected those on the grounds that
I do not want material taken from the Institute to the VLA where
we have some very valuable cattle under experimental conditions
for BSE and other long-term trials, and the last thing we want
to do is contaminate that laboratory. We are left with only one
laboratory in this country that will do this work. In terms of
delays, the laboratory is meeting the challenges extremely well
and I should pay tribute to the work they have done for us. The
number of samples they get and the work they do is tremendous.
There is not a delay at the moment. We are confirming large numbers
on clinical grounds. Some we are taking samples from just to make
sure that the clinical decisions are right. The reasons for some
of the delays at the very beginning were that we wanted a full
examination of material to be absolutely sure we were dealing
with foot and mouth because, if you remember, when we started
we only had it in pigs, then we found it in sheep, now we have
had it in cattle. In sheep we wanted to be sure that the diagnosis
was right. In the very first few weeks we did have some problems
with communications between Pirbright and the operations centre
and we have resolved those by putting one of our staff down to
Pirbright to improve the operational and communication links.
That has removed the delays of giving negative results. Most of
the results are given on clinical examination now.
66. Are you satisfied with the support you have
had from the private veterinary service and indeed the relationship
that MAFF has with them? There has been a certain friction, for
example, in Lancashire and Cheshire before this outbreak occurred
over the way you have tried to resolve the reduction in costs
in testing for tuberculosis, for example, in cattle and perhaps
that has left a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth of private vets.
Are you happy that your relationships have not in any way soured
or diminished their willingness to fully support your endeavours
in the context of foot and mouth?
(Mr Scudamore) Again I should pay tribute to the veterinary
profession for the amount of help they have given us. The situation
in Lancashire and Cheshire was to deal with tuberculin testing
and that has been resolved. We currently have 717 temporary veterinary
inspectors working for us. Many of those will have been in private
practice and they are now working for us on the outbreak. In addition
to the ones who work directly for us there is quite a commitment
from the local vets to deal with the licensing arrangements for
welfare movements and for inspecting animals before they move.
I think relations with the veterinary profession are very good
at the moment. We are in close touch with the British Veterinary
Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and in
fact yesterday the BVA and RCVS both put out an appeal for more
vets to come and work for us, particularly in Cumbria and Devon.
67. My last question was on communication to
farmers. Minister, quite rightly, you put a lot of emphasis on
the range of ways you are communicating with farmers. You sent
a helpful letter out to members summarising some of this. In their
letter to us the Tenant Farmers' Association commented that although
good information was put on MAFF's Internet web site they were
concerned that some farmers did not have access to that technology.
Perhaps you could give us a commentary on that particular point
and generally give us some feedback as to how your exercise in
communicating with farmers has worked and if there are still any
areas in which you are trying to make improvements.
(Mr Brown) In my management of communications in what
is now a serious animal disease outbreak I am guided by the comments
in the Phillips Report which looked at the way in which the BSE
outbreak was handled. Phillips is very clear on this question.
He says that the Government has a duty to communicate its strategy
clearly, to listen to not only those who agree with it but those
who do not and to explain. Throughout this (which, as you will
readily appreciate, is very time-consuming) I have set out to
explain to Parliament of course because that is an obligation
on me as a Minister, to the public which has enormous interest
in this. We have daily media briefings for journalists to bring
them up to date day-by-day, but also with the farmers themselves.
I cannot meet every farmer individually although, as I said before,
it sometimes feels like I have. The leaders I can meet and I do
regularly. The last meeting between myself and Ben Gill was yesterday
and the next one is today. We are in regular contact. The officials
of the NFU are in regular contact with my officials. I am also
in contact with the Ministers in the devolved administrations
and there is very good liaison between my Ministry and the agriculture
specialists in the devolved administrations. I have written to
every Member of Parliament saying where front-line information
can be found. I have written to every farmer, absolutely every
farmer, setting out where front-line information can be found.
We have established a help-line. We do put information on the
Internet. The bulletin that goes daily to Members of Parliament
also goes to regional officials of the NFU. They get exactly the
same front-line daily information that the Parliamentarians get
and can use that for informing their own members. I know this
is not perfect, particularly in a situation that is changing very
rapidly, but I am doing everything I can to make sure the new
information that comes to me is interpreted and explained on a
daily basis. There are weekly opportunities in front of the House
for me to set out the present position and how the Department
is responding to the challenges that are, after all, changing
as the situation itself changes rapidly, so I am trying to do
this with openness and candour. At the same time I am trying to
give careful consideration to dissenters, those who have a different
view in policy terms as to how we should be dealing with the outbreak.
These effectively fall into two groups. There are those who say
we should be doing what we are doing but better and sooner. I
have some sympathy with that. We are trying to get more vets and
more contractors and we are trying to organise the disposal of
material better and more effectively, particularly in the areas
of intense infectivity, Cumbria, the South of Scotland and Devon,
and at the same time I am giving careful thought to those who
say there are alternative strategies that can be pursued. I must
emphasise to the Committee that the whole weight of veterinary
opinion and the whole of the industry and indeed (it is not a
party political point) across party, everyone is in favour of
the strategy that we are pursuing and wants it to be pursued with
68. Can I just say I am delighted to hear all
that, but I would very much appreciate it if you could ensure
that I get a copy of your daily bulletin because so far it has
not reached me.
(Mr Brown) I am sorry for that. I will make sure it
69. Nor me.
(Mr Brown) It may be that somebody is handling your
post and sparing you.
70. Can I take you back very quickly to the
situation of private vets. There has been some argument that private
vets are not being compensated sufficiently well, particularly
it they are dealing with foot and mouth cases and become dirty
and cannot work on other holdings for several days.
(Mr Brown) That is one issue. The other issue is there
are about 22,000 private vets in the country but they have their
own practices and are making a living and to divert from their
practice themselves or one member of what might be a group practice
clearly is an economic cost to the practice. You are right to
say that is an important point. I am going to ask Jim to say something
about that because we are aware of the problems.
(Mr Scudamore) We have revised the fees we pay to
TVIs upwards since we began the outbreak and we keep that under
constant review. We want to attract vets to work for us. The problem
is that they do run practices and again a difference to 1967-68
is that a lot of the practices then were agricultural only so
they could release vets. Now most of the practices have quite
a high proportion of small animals and one of the difficulties
we are facing is that whilst the vets are very willing to help
in their own locality their locality could be the wrong one. There
is a slight discrepancy between where we need vets and where we
have got them. We are getting very good co-operation. The difficulty
is the type of practice. And what we are investigating now is
whether we can use vets who have got small animal practices more
efficiently to do work for us in those areas.
71. Is it true that in Cumbria vets were getting
£160 a day and valuers £500 a day?
(Mr Scudamore) Vets were getting £160 a day.
I cannot quote what the valuers were getting.
72. Would they be justified in feeling some
resentment because they had a dirtier job?
(Mr Scudamore) We have altered that rate to £250
a day, which has not been announced yet but will be announced
73. It has been now!
(Mr Scudamore) Perhaps I can explain why we have done
that. First of all, I must say that the veterinary profession
is committed to doing this work and the vets from practice or
the other vets working for us are doing 12 hours days and we did
consider that £160 was quite inadequate. It is being raised
to £250 a day which is a special rate for dealing with foot
and mouth disease and for dealing with this problem. At the same
time we have to consider our own staff who are also working extremely
long hours and who are also veterinary staff, so we are looking
to see how they are recompensed for the work they put it. We are
having to look at it as an overall picture. The intention is to
pay the TVIs for the work they do and at the same time attract
more of them to come and work for us and at the same time give
them a fair rate for the work they are doing for us.
74. I think we have identified the major barrier
is getting the slaughter done fast enough after diagnosis. The
abattoir sector is working comfortably below capacity in most
areas and there is clearly not a shortage of slaughtermen, it
is an issue of how you get them to the correct places. There is
also no shortage of rural accommodation for them should they need
to be brought from other parts of the country. What is the difficulty
(Mr Brown) We have brought in extra help to manage
the work, in other words to take that off the veterinary authorities
because it is a job that can be done by those who are not vets.
We are putting substantially higher resources into that. We are
exploring making substantial further use of rendering as a disposal
route and I would expect substantially enhanced capacity to continue
to come on stream over the next few days. As I said to the Committee
earlier, I had a meeting with the Chief Executive of the Intervention
Board to discuss precisely that.
75. It is not quite the same thing because the
task is normally to kill the animals first before movement, I
would have thought.
(Mr Brown) There are two different categories of animals.
There are those that have the disease which have to be killed
on site. There are those that are suspects but do not have the
disease and it may be possible to move them live to designated
abattoirs on a single journey and then they are slaughtered in
76. So are we attempting to engage the abattoir
(Mr Brown) We would need a specialist contract with
a specialist abattoir for this purpose and this purpose alone.
The meat would notlet me make this absolutely clearthe
meat would not go into the food chain.
77. You have made it very clear that you want
to be completely open on information. Given that the media are
telling us that the Opposition may be breaking ranks in this non-partisan
approach, could you tell us what efforts have been made to make
sure there have been information flows and that the Opposition
are kept well informed? Can you tell us any representations they
have made as you have gone along as to what you should be doing
(Mr Brown) The same information has gone to all Members
of Parliament equally and that is on a daily basis. The five proposals
that were put forward yesterday by the Leader of the Oppositionthere
were seven but five are to do with disease controlare all
perfectly helpful and sensible suggestions but are things that
we were doing anyway. Let me give an example: the idea that we
should take up final year students. We have over 100 final year
students, veterinary students, working for us anyway and are recruiting
a further 80. It is a good idea but we are doing that. In summary,
I hope that we can maintain a bipartisan spirit in dealing with
what is a disease outbreak and it should not be a party political
Chairman: We will find out about that this afternoon.
Mr Borrow: I just want to explore a few things
around some of the alternate approaches that have been suggested
in the press over the last few days. I recognise that there is
a consensus around the strategy but there are a number of alternative
strategies that are now being raised by various individuals. On
the question of vaccination, if we were to go down the vaccination
route, what would the effect of that be on UK's disease-free status?
Do we know which countries would actually block exports of livestock
as a result of that.
78. And of carcasses I assume.
(Mr Brown) If we do not get our disease-free status
back we would struggle to find an export market and could only
establish one under strictly controlled circumstances, in other
words the meat would have to be de-boned and so on. It is quite
a prohibition. There would be no export at all of breeding animals
so the whole of the breeding sow industry, the quite strong one
that we have, would be gone. Perhaps it would be helpful if I
ask the Chief Vet to set out the down side of vaccination. It
is not as straight forward as is commonly assumed. Let me say
no veterinary authority in the European Union is recommending
to its ministers vaccination as anything other than a containment
strategy and even then as last resort. As far as I understand
it, every first world country fights to get a disease-free status
and if they are using vaccination it is as a route to establishing
a disease-free status and the vaccinated animals, once they have
got the disease defeated, are culled out. The idea that we would
have a continuous vaccination strategy would make us internationally
unique. It is very undesirable for the livestock sector for reasons
that the Chief Vet will set out.
(Mr Scudamore) There is a whole range of different
strategies for vaccination. There can be emergency vaccination
and there can be routine vaccination. With emergency vaccination
you would still continue the stamping out policy. So you would
vaccinate as an emergency but cases would still be dealt with
by condemnation, slaughter and disposal. With routine vaccination
you would just remove to vaccinating animals and letting the disease
run its course. There are different implications for both of those.
The situation with no vaccination is that three months after the
last case, provided we have carried out serological surveillance,
we would be classified as free and we would expect to be able
to sell products on the world market, or at least within the EU.
If we use emergency vaccination still with stamping out, then
three months after the last vaccinated animal was slaughtered
and we carried out serological surveillance would we get our free
status back. That implies that if you use emergency vaccination
in areas or in parts then you would have to slaughter all of the
vaccinated animals out to get the status back, or you would have
to regionalise the country so you would have to have vaccinated
parts of the country and unvaccinated parts of the country and
you would have to have movement controls between the two different
parts of the country, which would be quite difficult to manage.
If you go to routine vaccination and you do not stamp out then
you accept that you have endemic disease and the implications
of that are that you are not free of disease and you would only
be allowed to export beef provided it was de-boned and it was
matured and you would not be allowed to export pig meat or sheep
meat. There are quite a lot of other rules on genetic material,
milk and other products. There are different types of vaccination
and they have different impacts on the country's status. If we
went to routine vaccination and we did not slaughter animals and
we had no disease, we would have to go two years from the time
we stopped vaccination before we could be considered free again
with no outbreaks and we would also have to do more surveillance
before we could get a free from no vaccination status. So the
lengths of time are quite long but there are different combinations
of vaccinations and different impacts of what they mean and it
needs to be put in a tabular form really.
79. Some suggestions have been made that we
can use emergency vaccination as a "firebreak" and your
comment would be if that was done that might slow down the spread
of the disease but those animals would have to be slaughtered
anyway as part of the eradication of the disease?
(Mr Scudamore) That is correct. There are two types
of emergency vaccination. You can either do a firebreak to stop
disease spreading out of an area or you can do it within an area
to reduce the level of infection. In both cases if you want to
go back to being a free country I think those vaccinated animals
would have to be slaughtered and removed otherwise you would have
to have a country of two parts, the vaccinated part where there
are vaccinated animals, which would have to come on stream two
or three years later, and the rest of the country.
(Mr Brown) Can I just make this clear to the Committee.
The Government's strategy is to protect us from classical swine
fever, foot and mouth disease, to keep our disease-free status
and to eliminate BSE as well. That is our objective, to get back
to a completely disease-free status, to look very hard at what
made us vulnerable and to make sure that any corrections that
are needed there are made.