Examination of witnesses (Questions 300-319)|
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001
300. I will leave premises to another Member.
This is very important, Chairman. So you are willing to investigate
the possibility that farmers will be compensated for the animals
that they have entered into the welfare scheme rather than the
animals that are still alive when the welfare scheme takes place?
(Mr Brown) No. What I have said is I will take a hard
look at the individual case where you allege that animals have
died before they were able to be taken away in the Government's
welfare scheme and presumably where they were unable to move under
one of the licence schemes and unable to be managed where they
were. Remember we have the RSPCA now working with us to prioritise
the cases that are most urgent, where the animals are most compromised,
and if animals have died in circumstances in the way you have
described that seems to me to be a case that would justify priority
treatment but I would need to be convinced that they could not
be moved or they could not have been managed. Refusing to feed
them does not seem to me to be a sufficient argument for saying
that their welfare is compromised by the Government's movement
Mr Öpik: Maybe others can find that information.
Chairman: Two quickies from Michael and Owen
and then we come to David Borrow for a new set of questions.
301. Minister, all of us have heard a lot of
interesting stories about the way that this disease has been managed,
conducted, and so on and so forth, but the Prime Minister has
set his face against a full scale public inquiry so that all of
this information can be digested and lessons learned from it in
case, God forbid, it ever happens again. Why has he set his face
against a public inquiry?
(Mr Brown) I certainly think there will need to be
a review. We will need to make absolutely certain that we take
every possible step to prevent this happening again. Remember,
a disease outbreak in the United Kingdom, a viral disease of animals,
is actually a rare event. Foot and mouth disease has not happened
here for 30 years. I have already announced a review and, indeed,
opinions are coming in now, on the treatment of pigswill and whether
there should be stand-still arrangements, particularly pertaining
to sheep. Work continues across Government, and I hope to have
something to say about it soon, on the question of imports, both
personal imports and food imports through containerisation, which
may be a means of getting the virus into the United Kingdom, although
I have no solid evidence to say that is so. It is clearly a route
that we should look at. On the question of inquiries, there will
be a Public Accounts Committee inquiry afterwards and this Committee
is enquiring into these matters, so it seems to me there are comprehensive
302. So various reviews would take the place
of proper, full, public exposure in the form of a public inquiry
because there are already many people who have expressed a lot
of views? Some of the stories I have heard about what has been
going on in Carlisle would make your hair stand on end. Now is
not the time to detail those but there are many who after this
problem has gone away would want to say in public what their views
were. Some might also want to review other potential risks to
the UK's agriculture, particularly the livestock industry. I ask
my question again. Why does the Prime Minister set his face against
a full scale public inquiry into the most serious threat to our
livestock industry, as you rightly say, in over 30 years?
(Mr Brown) There clearly will be a need for a hard
look at the future of the livestock sector.
303. But why not a public inquiry?
(Mr Brown) I am not sure that a public inquiry would
have a hard look at the future of the livestock sector. In any
event, the setting up of inquiries is not for me, it is for the
Prime Minister. All I can do is to take you through the inquiries
that are already under way and the work that I have in hand and
to say that whatever inquiries are decided upon in the future
I will remain happy to co-operate with them and to continue the
policy that I have pursued from the beginning of being as candid
as anybody possibly could be both with the Department and with
the public more generally.
304. I would say that something that has cost
the British taxpayer £20 billion does deserve a full public
inquiry. I entirely endorse what Michael Jack said.
(Mr Brown) Are you a Whip now?
305. My question
(Mr Brown) No, but are you?
(Mr Brown) Are you an Opposition Whip, a Conservative
307. Yes, I am.
(Mr Brown) Congratulations.
308. Thank you very much. Can we can back to
testing. When you take a contiguous cull do you systematically
test the animals?
(Mr Scudamore) It depends what you mean by "test".
When we take the contiguous cull we look at the animals and, indeed,
we do find disease. In some of those cases they get converted
into infected farms. There was one recently I was looking at where
they found disease in a cow, one cow with one lesion, so the fact
that we removed that particular farm quickly meant that had stopped
any potential spread. Wherever possible, when we take the next
door neighbouring farms we look at those to see whether they have
got disease or not.
309. What percentage of contiguous culls are
(Mr Scudamore) I do not have a figure for that. When
you say "testing", it is not actually collecting samples,
it is examining the samples to see if they have got clinical evidence
of foot and mouth disease.
310. So how do you think you can track the progression
of the disease? For instance, in Jedburgh there were two cases,
IPs, where you actually took out 26 farms. Would it not have been
sensible to have tested each one of those farms to see exactly
what was going on in Jedburgh?
(Mr Scudamore) The farms were taken out very quickly
to ensure that there was no potential spread from those farms.
To test the animals we would have had to blood sample them, send
those samples off to the laboratory and get the results back and
that takes more time.
(Mr Brown) In fairness to the authorities, and it
could have been dealt with from Scotland I think, the Jedburgh
outbreak was what is called a spark, in other words it is well
away from established areas of infectivity, so there must have
been a factor specific to the site to have caused it. In such
cases it is essential to get there very quickly and to cull the
311. I am not querying that
(Mr Brown) It seems hard.
312. What I am suggesting is that if, as many
people think, this is endemic in sheep, the disease actually walked
there, it did not go there by some long distance carrion crow,
the important thing surely is to test these contiguous culls otherwise
you do not know what is happening with the disease?
(Mr Scudamore) The problem if you test the contiguous
cull is with the test we have available we are looking to see
if contiguous culls are the origins of the disease. If you test
an animal just after it has become infected you will not have
any antibodies there, so what we are doing at the moment on the
neighbouring farms is they are visually examined and if there
is evidence of clinical disease then they get converted and confirmed
and we take samples from those. At the moment we are not sampling
routinely the next door neighbour's farms. If we are looking for
spread from the infected farms and the next door contiguous farm
we could well get negative results.
(Mr Brown) I think this point about "endemic
in sheep" is worth a sentence or two, Jim, because we have
done some testing.
(Mr Scudamore) What we do not know is what the position
is in sheep. We now have the serological capacity to test 40,000
samples a week which has been developed at Pirbright and I think
this will go up to 40,000 this week. We are hoping to develop
it over the next two or three weeks to go up to 60,000 samples.
We are now considering what sampling we are going to do for a
number of different regions. We will be sampling in infected areas
to demonstrate there is no disease there and to lift the restrictions.
We will be sampling sheep flocks to see what happens to the disease
in a sheep flock, so some infected farms will be sampled to see
what is going on in those farms. We are sampling hefted sheep
on the moors to see what is happening in those flocks. We will
be developing a strategy for testing in the clear areas, like
East Anglia, North Scotland, West Wales, to show that those are
completely free of disease. So we now have capacity to test serologically
for antibodies and we will be gradually using that more and more.
The intention is we will be doing a lot more sampling of sheep
to see what the position is in sheep. What we are not clear about
yet is, if we look at an area, what type of sampling we are going
to do and what number of samples we are going to collect, because
there is a number of different options. We can statistically select
farms and go and visit those farms and sample those, or we can
collect samples in abattoirs to try and find what the underlying
level of disease is. So at the moment we are working on the surveillance
strategies for freeing-up areas and demonstrating they are free.
The priority is getting the infected area status lifted, which
is what we have been doing recently.
313. Minister, obviously the Opposition Chief
Whip has a different approach from yourself in terms of appointments
to Select Committees, but perhaps I can move on from that. Prior
to Easter you made a statement to the House on 9th April and you
mentioned a letter you had given to all farmers giving advice
from the Chief Vet on two or three issues. There was a kerfuffle
at the time and some people took that as a criticism of farmers
in general. I wondered to what extent you have concerns that farmers
are not minimising the risks.
(Mr Brown) I do have those concerns. All generalisations
are unfair but the need to maintain very tight biosecurity in
the current circumstances should be clear to everyone. I am taking
out advertisements in the farming press setting out the biosecurity
arrangements which pertain species by species and also giving
clear-cut advice to farmers on issues like the turning-out of
dairy stock which have been housed, and the need to keep them
separate from sheep that might have been at risk of exposure to
infectivity. All of this advice has been put very clearly and
neutrally in the public domain and there is no implication farm
business by farm business, this is just clear-cut advice that
they have to play their part in controlling the disease.
314. There have been a number of reports over
the last six or seven weeks of illegal animal movements and I
wondered to what extent you have got detailed knowledge of the
number of such movements and, perhaps more importantly, are you
in a position to make a judgment on the dangers that could arise
from those illegal animal movements given it is quite possible
the vast majority of illegal animal movements may not pose any
risk at all?
(Mr Brown) This is one of the great myths which I
see as being injected into the public commentary in all of this.
Prior to movement restrictions being brought in to prevent the
spread of the disease the day after we discovered it at Northumberland,
at Heddon-on-the-Wall, it was of course perfectly legal to move
sheep. Whatever the commercial underpinning of the contract, the
movement of the animals was legal. After the movement restrictions
came in there should have been no unlicensed movements of livestock
at all, and that is pigs, cattle and sheep. Have there been illegal
movements? Well, there are cases where there are prosecutions
pending and I cannot comment on the individual cases. How many
of them have there been? All I can say with certainty is that
where people have been caught and prosecuted, we know about those,
but like any other illegal act, who knows what has gone on. It
would be very difficult to say without hard evidence. Where there
is hard evidence, we will move remorselessly in the direction
of the legal process and I do not want to interfere with that.
Let me emphasise, before the restrictions came in, whatever the
underpinning nature of the transaction, the actual movement of
the livestock was lawful.
315. What might be helpful to the Committee,
Minister, is if you were able to give some indication as to the
advice your officials are giving you on the impact of illegal
animal movements. In other words, is it a matter of significant
concern, albeit there is a duty to give clear advice, or is it
a minor issue?
(Mr Brown) Moving animals without a licence and without
the proper arrangements being put in place is a very, very foolish
and, frankly, selfish thing to do, because whatever the short-term
gain the person who is moving the livestock is jeopardising their
own business and that of their neighbour as well. I really would
urge all of those who have control over farming livestock not
to move them without the licensing arrangements.
316. I have to bring you back to the question,
Minister. Does your Department regard illegal animal movements
as something that is having a significant effect on the spread
of the disease, or is it something which needs to stop but is
not something which is carried out by a significant number of
(Mr Brown) It is impossible to separate out one cause,
but it is clear where there are outbreaks in new parts of the
country, the most likely causes are the movements of people or
vehicles or animals. But I do not have a statistical analysis
as to which is the most likely in which particular event. It may
be possible to do that working backwards as the evidence comes
in, but I do not have a sort of running tally, if that is what
you are asking me. Nevertheless, let me repeat what I have said,
it is a very foolish and selfish thing to do to move livestock
without a licence in the current circumstances.
317. In one of the responses you gave in questions
on your statement on 9th April, you indicated that the use of
disinfected mats was more symbolic than practical in terms of
disease control. Are there any other measures that farmers have
been advised to carry out which will come into the same category?
(Mr Brown) The disinfectant mat is a traditional device
but the advice that I have is that it is of limited utility, particularly
over time. A comprehensive cleaning of vehicle wheels and a scrubbing-down
with proper disinfectant of boots and the cleaning-off of mud
are all necessary to provide adequate biosecurity, and if it is
possible a bath arrangement rather than matting is the more sure
way. That is the advice I have had on this.
318. Finally, just touching on something you
mentioned in your opening statement which was to do with animal
welfare movements, certainly in the run-up to Easter many of us
saw pictures of distressed lambs covered in mud
(Mr Brown) Yes, one particular distressed lamb seems
to have ended up in the kitchen but not in the circumstances one
would have expected.
319. The concern many people would have is the
extent to which those welfare difficulties can be sorted out and
quickly. What are the reasons why they cannot be sorted out quickly,
if they cannot?
(Mr Brown) It is not unlawful to get a lamb covered
in mud, but, of course, it does make quite an effective photograph.
The biggest contribution we can make to this is to get the market
working normally again. We set up this scheme to try to help those
farmers whose animals genuinely had their welfare compromised
because of the necessary disease control measures, including the
movement restrictions. We are getting a movement scheme up and
runningand I accept what Mark said earlier about the role
of the trading standards officerswithin the infected areas,
and a lot of pressure on the welfare scheme should be relieved
by the normal workings of the market. The welfare scheme itself
has turned out to be a popular scheme, there have been a large
number of applications, we are using the RSPCA to prioritise the
cases, so we get to the hardest welfare cases first.