Examination of witnesses (Questions 120-130)|
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
BROWN, MP, AND
120. Clearly in due course prevention is going
to be an issue. Are you sure that, in fact, the penalties which
are available for breaking these laws are sufficient to deter
people who break them? Certainly in my part of the country there
are cases of movements taking place on the quiet and people clearly
breaking the law with great risk to the whole of the UK farming
industry. Are the penalties sufficient?
(Mr Brown) Once we are in a position to set out what
we believe has happened and our analysis of the control measures
that are in place there will be a discussion about what we have
discovered and I certainly think that would be an appropriate
time to have a discussion about the penalties as well.
121. Have you looked to see what the penalties
are at the moment?
(Mr Brown) Yes, I have.
122. Are they severe?
(Mr Brown) I think the maximum penalty that is enforced
by the local authorities rather than us
123. There will be a scale.
(Mr Brown)is something like a £5,000 fine.
124. A quick question to the Chief Vet. I was
interested in your comments about reopening abattoirs after a
case has been discovered under the licensed use of abattoirs.
There is a major employer in my area who operates an abattoir
and a meat processing unit adjacent to each other. He is still
operating the meat processing unit but he is having great difficulty
getting assurances from MAFF in relation to reopening the abattoir.
His fear was that if a case was discovered in the abattoir not
only would it close the abattoir down but it would actually close
the meat operating plant down. Could you give him some idea of
(Mr Brown) This is a perfectly reasonable concern.
We have looked at what we can do to help in a practical way with
this. I will get Jim to set it out.
(Mr Scudamore) What some abattoir owners wanted was
they wanted us to give them an assurance that if we found disease
in an abattoir lairage what we would do. We said we could not
do that because if we found disease in an abattoir lairage we
would have to go and look at the situation on that abattoir on
that day. Were those the first animals in or had some animals
already gone into the situation? Where the difficulty arose was
we could not give them a general blanket assurance of what would
happen. What we could say was if there was a case in the abattoir
that we would go and look at it and if there was evidence that
there was no contamination further down the system into the cutting
hall or chiller then we would restrict the restrictions to the
lairage only. I think it was a problem with what they wanted from
us and what we could provide for them.
125. Just about reviews. Farmers in Montgomeryshire
have repeatedly questioned the linkage with regard to markets.
They have found it very hard to find information to unequivocally
show that. Do you reveal the process from the information? Obviously
I would be very grateful if, maybe not now but later, it would
be possible to get the information on that linkage with regard
to Welshpool Market.
(Mr Brown) Yes. I think we have circulated to the
Committee in diagrammatic form the case numbersit may be
anonymised, I am not sureI see you have it, which shows
the linkage between the outbreaks
126. But not the rationale, the justification
for the linkage is not here.
(Mr Brown) Is there anything you can say quickly on
that, Jim? In other words how we trace the links?
(Mr Scudamore) The epidemiology work we do, we unfortunately
are behind the game because we find disease and then we have to
go back to see where it came from. My recollection with Welshpool
was that there were links backwards and forwards. In particular
what we are interested in is if there are any animals gone from
the markets where we know infection went through that could have
possibly spread infection and then we want to remove the animals
that have had contact, dangerous contacts. Particularly in the
long term where there are so many cases linked we want to remove
animals in other markets where we think infection has been and
we will be looking to remove animals.
127. Given the enormous consequences of a cull
associated with Welshpool Market, it would help farmers co-operate
psychologically much, much more if they genuinely feel they understand
the rationale for that kind of thing. I use Welshpool as an example
but I am sure that would be the same across the whole of Great
Britain because they would feel they were part of the information
process rather than having to take things on trust.
(Mr Brown) I must say, Chairman, I think this is an
incredibly important point. I am convinced what we are doing is
right but I am also convinced that we have to explain ourselves
to farmers and to be ready to answer the questions they ask. Just
because we are satisfied we know the answers it does not mean
that they are going to automatically be satisfied. That means
we have to sit down and explain ourselves and I do understand
in particular the point that Lembit makes about Welshpool Market
and the route of infection. I will try and have that set out in
such a way that we have explained ourselves as well as we possibly
can. I do want to carry farmers with us. May I just confirm something
that I was asked earlier. This is about the urban legend of the
railway sleepers being purchased by MAFF in advance of the disease
outbreak, that it was all foreseen. The answer I gave the Committee
was essentially correct but I have now got the statement from
the Department confirming what I said. Staffordshire Animal Health
Office was carrying out a contingency planning exercise in January
and they called vets, slaughtermen, disinfectant suppliers and
also called suppliers of railway sleepers. The reason that the
supplier of railway sleepers, the one that was on the radio this
morning, had not been called before was because the Animal Health
Office was getting a range of rates for the supply of this equipment
and, as part of their contingency plan, were comparing prices.
This was part of the division's regular contingency planning exercises.
In other words, what I thought was the explanation I gave the
Committee earlier on turns out to be the right explanation and
is not fuel for a conspiracy theory.
128. That shows, Minister, that our confidence
and expectation that you would only give us the correct version
has been justified. If I may conclude with two very last points.
I have learned a lot this morning. The Chief Vet's explanation
of the argument against vaccination was more comprehensive than
we have yet heard. Quite frankly, I do not think the Ministry
is yet winning that argument. It is winning it amongst the agricultural
community and vets and specialists but it is not winning it amongst
the public at large. The public at large is beginning to say "Does
it really matter? It is a tiny industry, it is a tiny export trade
exporting a few live sheep to France probably in lousy conditions.
Is that really worth all this?" I think the Ministry actually
needs to set out that case.
(Mr Brown) Can I respond by saying we are going to
do that on Friday. I have a presentation at ten o'clock for the
journalists who regularly attend our press briefings and other
journalists who want to come. The presentation is on the disease
itself, an explanation as to what it is, and then on strategies
to deal with it including vaccination and the reasons why vaccination
is not the preferred route. All of that is going to be set out
in the presentation on Friday. Can I invite Members of the Committee
to come and join us in the Department if they want to at ten o'clock
129. If you put it on any other day than a Friday,
Minister, I am sure you would get many candidates.
(Mr Brown) There was a demand for it in the House.
I am quite happy to repeat it so that Members can attend.
130. My final point. There is quite a belief
out there, and I have even had letters from doctors in my constituency,
that foot and mouth is like getting a dose of the flu, it lasts
for two or three days, it is nasty but everybody gets over it,
so why the hell are we going around killing things? Also it would
be helpful, I think, to have a proper and accurate description
of what foot and mouth does to various animals expressed in terms
of welfare and not pure economics.
(Mr Brown) Mortality amongst lambs, for example, was
80 per cent in the recent Tunisian outbreak. We will put all this
information into the public domain on Friday. I accept that it
Chairman: Minister, I am conscious you have
got a second innings this afternoon and some of us may or may
not have a second innings depending upon the Speaker's inclinations.
Thank you very much for coming this morning, it has been very
thorough, very helpful, and we will no doubt wish to have a continuing
dialogue which I know you are open to on this. Thank you.