Examination of witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
BROWN, MP, AND
20. When do you expect those to be available?
(Mr Scudamore) We are hoping to finish the preliminary
work this week. We will be meeting to produce an agreed statement
of what the consensus is on the way the outbreak will develop.
That is to look at the overall development of the outbreak. The
problem is that we have the seeding of the whole country with
infected sheep. That is quite apparent if you look at maps of
the country, where we have the disease all over the country apart
from those areas that do not import sheep. North Scotland, West
Wales and East Anglia tend not to have big movements of sheep.
The first difficulty we are facing is that we have the national
sheep flock which has potentially infected sheep in it. We do
not know where all of them are. We are seeing spill-over of those
sheep either into more sheep or into cattle, so we are seeing
sporadic outbreaks in different parts of the country due to the
sheep. We are also seeing in other parts of the country where
there are a lot of sheep movements through the infected areas
that it is continuing within those sheep. What appears to be happening
in Devon and Cumbria, where the seeding was from the sheep, is
that the disease is continuing within the sheep but also has spread
to the cattle. What we are seeing there is local spread within
the local areas. The way that will be happening is not by the
movement of the sheep which seeded the problem in the first place
but by spread from farm to farm, because the virus is easily spread
by people or animals. If you have infected animals in one field
and animals in the next field, the disease can spread from one
field to the next.
21. Is that airborne virus spread?
(Mr Scudamore) No. It can be with that distance but
the pig is the animal that produces large amounts of virus. Statistics
suggest that one pig can produce the same amount of virus as 3,000
cattle. Clearly, if there are a lot of pigs, they will produce
large amounts of virus. If there are a lot of pigs and the weather
conditions are ideal, including the wind speed, wind direction,
topography and geography, that virus can spread long distances.
In ten infected pigs it could go 50 kilometres if the weather
was absolutely correct. Cattle and sheep do not produce large
amounts of virus in a similar way but, because of the way they
graze and their greater lung capacity, particularly with cattle,
they will absorb the virus and inhale it. Those two species will
become infected from the plumes but in their own right they do
not produce plumes at all. If you had ten cattle or sheep infected,
it could probably spread one kilometre at the most and generally
less than one kilometre. In most conditions, cattle and sheep
do not pose a problem, but there are occasional conditions when
it might spread. The distance is nil compared to that with pigs.
That means that where we are getting the local spread in Cumbria
or Devon it is either coming from the sheep and spilling over
into the cattle or it is cattle to cattle due to next door farms
or people movements. For example, if someone has animals on one
farm in a field and he goes down on his tractor, there is that
sort of connection. To summarise, it has been seeded throughout
the country by sheep. We are seeing sporadic outbreaks in a lot
of the country where it is popping up in cattle. In Carlisle and
Devon, we still have a sheep problem but it is spreading into
cattle and there is local spread.
22. Does the strain of this virus have a particular
predilection for sheep? Had this strain been identified on any
site in the United Kingdom before 19 February?
(Mr Scudamore) It had not been identified in the United
Kingdom before the date confirmed in the pigs in Essex. It does
not seem to have a predilection for sheep but it does seem to
have a predilection not to cause major disease in sheep. In sheep,
it might be completely unapparent. The sheep might be infected
and capable of infecting other animals but there has been no apparent
disease seen by the farmer. Secondly, it appears that it can be
quite transient in sheep. The disease can get into the sheep flock
and infect a number of sheep and then it is not apparent any more.
Again, it can be missed. Thirdly, in some of the sheep flocks
that we looked at in the early days, there were very few sheep
with disease lesions. In a big sheep flock, there were only five
per cent that had evidence of the disease as shown by blisters
or bleeding blisters. The problem we are really facing is that
it is not always apparent in sheep. It can be missed by farmers
but the sheep appear to be capable of transmitting to other sheep
and to cattle. The second problem is that if the disease moves
into a big flock of sheep there might be only one or two sheep
that move in. Those then affect a few more sheep and affect a
few more sheep and it is only when a large number is affected
that you see anything wrong. When we then look at those animals,
we can see animals with very young lesions that have just developed
the disease and some animals which much older lesions who have
had it earlier.
23. In early January, shepherds in Galloway
were reporting extraordinarily high losses of lambs amongst sheep.
As I understand it, MAFF's animal health officer did investigate
why there was this high level of abortion. Was that anything at
all to do with foot and mouth disease?
(Mr Scudamore) The first evidence we had of foot and
mouth disease was with pigs in Essex. Sheep have a lot of other
conditions which can mimic foot and mouth disease. One of the
commonest is serious foot rot. If you look at the situation in
sheep before 20 February, you could have flocks with a lot of
sheep in them which were due to serious foot rot. There are quite
a lot of conditions which will cause abortion in sheep and lameness
in sheep. To differentiate those from foot and mouth disease is
24. Have we any estimate of the number of breaches
of the restrictions in movement of animals that have taken place
and whether those breaches of the livestock movement restrictions
have added to the problem or has it been an insignificant factor
in spreading the disease?
(Mr Brown) I do not have a comprehensive figure, by
the very nature of the question. What is done is illegal and we
only know about it if we find out about it. There have been cases
of people being caught moving animals illegally and there have
been prosecutions. I cannot give an estimate. Do not do it. There
is no surer way of spreading the disease around than moving animals
that are vulnerable to the disease unlicensed.
25. There are clearly two kinds of livestock
movement. One is to slaughter and the other is within a farm unit
which can often be quite disparate. How do you strike the balance
between the need to contain the disease and the need to allow
those two forms of movement?
(Mr Brown) This is very difficult and effectively
it is a micro management question. The over-arching principle
is that the animals cannot move. If the disease is out there and
incubating, it has to be held still. Within that policy, we want
to get as much of the livestock industry functioning and the supply
chain functioning as we reasonably can, consistent with the over-arching
imperative to absolutely control the disease. We have devised
the local movement schemes which are essentially designed to sort
out local anomalies, which is why the distances involved are relatively
short. If a farmer has sheep in one field which he has grazed
and he wishes to move them across the highway to a linked holding,
that requires a licence but nevertheless it is probably in the
best interests even of the management of the risk that that movement
takes place. On the longer haul from holding directly to slaughter,
there have to be very strict controls, as there are. The third
aspect to your question is a vexed question of those farmers who
have animals in winter quarters and want to either bring them
to the home farm for lambing or move them for other agricultural
management reasons. We are trying to do what we can to help with
that but there will be some animals, particularly those in the
protected zones, that cannot be moved for disease control reasons,
even if they do not have the disease. All I can do is open the
welfare scheme. I believe it is the right thing to do and we are
carrying the cost of the movement. The Government is paying for
that and we are paying a proportion of a notional value of the
recompense for sheep to farmers.
26. You are aware that farmers feel somewhat
punished by not getting the market value, given that it is not
(Mr Brown) If I gave them the true market value now,
it would be less.
27. What is your view about the obligation to
bring the animals to the closest abattoir available for slaughter?
(Mr Brown) The priority is to control the disease,
to get the market working as close to normal circumstances as
we can and not to provide further distortions. It is not that
last journey that is the disease problem; it is making sure that
the journey is what it is supposed to be and there are no stop-offs
on the way or other anomalous incidents that would risk spreading
28. As you know, there was an outbreak at an
abattoir in mid-Wales when a farmer took infected animals from
his farm to that abattoir. Is there anything that you can do to
tighten up the procedures to reduce the risk of that happening?
(Mr Brown) The animals are inspected by the farmer
before they board. He signs a certificate to say that they are
disease free. In the case you cite, he seems to have missed 23
of them and when they arrived at the abattoir and were inspected
by the vet he noticed the foot and mouth disease. Essentially,
this does rely on the cooperation of the whole of the supply chain,
including those who are making any declaration. The declaration
has a meaning in law.
29. Moving on to collection centres, what was
the nature of the veterinary advice that precluded the establishment
of collection centres?
(Mr Brown) In order to make sure it is done in a way
that will not compromise our disease control measures, it is resource
intensive. One of the difficulties we face is the number of vets.
I cannot divert veterinary resources from disease control work.
As soon as it is possible to open up collection centres, I will
want to consider it but at the minute all the veterinary resources
we can get our hands on are in the front line.
30. Will you anticipate handling pigs, sheep
and cattle differently when you move to collection centres?
(Mr Brown) It is a good question because the industries
are structured differently. The pig sector in particular works
very much like a production line. Animals move through the production
process; they grow at a very steady rate and so many are taken
away each week directly from the larger holdings to the abattoir.
It is a problem for the smaller holdings.
31. One farm I mentioned specifically because
of the degree of danger of infection is about three kilometres
from an outbreak near Chertstoke. There are 2,000 pigs on the
farm and the movement restriction means that the pigs which cannot
be stopped from growing are now reaching sexual maturity and can
create aggression within the farm itself. Because they are not
allowed to take these pigs off the farm, they are in an almost
impossible position and it might lead to them putting the animals
out into the fields. How can we square that circle?
(Mr Brown) If the animals have the virus, they will
be quarantined and killed. If they do not and they are under a
movement restriction, you are right to say that, as with the outbreak
of classical swine fever in East Anglia, the animals reach an
age for the market they are bred for and, as they grow older,
they will lose value. If their welfare is compromised, it is an
option to sell the over-age and overweight animals into the welfare
scheme. That requires a veterinary certificate from the farm vetit
does not have to be a ministry vetto say that their welfare
is compromised and they can go into our welfare scheme. That is
a commercial option for the farmer. He may choose to manage the
problem differently. What he cannot do is to compromise the state's
disease control measures.
32. I see this as a viral time bomb, being so
close, but could I ask if you would help me to resolve that particular
(Mr Brown) On the specific issue, it is difficult
for me to comment further. I will ask the chief vet once we have
finished here to look at the specific circumstances and to see
if it is necessary to do something on the basis that the animals
are potentially dangerous contacts.
33. What kind of limits do you intend to impose
in disease-free areas and will inter-farm movement be allowed
in those areas which are considered disease-free?
(Mr Brown) The Department's strategy is to regionalise
the problem as soon as it is absolutely safe to do so but the
overriding priority is disease control. The reason we have thought
about a smaller number of animals, primarily sheep that have gone
into the disease-free areas through the hands of the dealers who
have had contact with infected animals is to try to make a preemptive
strike on the relatively low risk that these animals pose. In
other words, we intend to keep the disease-free areas disease-free.
Once we are certain that we have achieved that, it will be possible
to look at the movement restrictions within the disease-free areasin
other words, clean area to clean area; I do not mean from the
north of Scotland to the west of Wales; I mean within the disease-free
areasand to look at one way movement out of the disease-free
areas to an area of higher risk. What it will not be possible
to permit is the movement of animals the other way round from
an area of high risk to an area that is disease-free. It is my
hope that with the sporadic, early outbreaks in other parts of
England it will be possible to have those areas declared free
and if there has been no further outbreak for us to relax restrictions
there as well. This has to be done in a very methodical and cautious
way. We have learned the lessons from 1967, when the movement
controls were relaxed and the disease broke out again.
34. Would you consider introducing the 21-day
movement restriction in the disease-free areas?
(Mr Brown) Movement restrictions for animals that
move for commercial reasons are under consideration within the
department, as are other control measures as well. Once I am satisfied
that we have something that is in the form I am satisfied with,
I do intend to put it out to consultation. I do not intend to
just make decisions and put them directly to Parliament. I think
it is right that there should be a discussion. I intend to listen
to those who do not have the mainstream view as well as those
who do. I did discuss it with the leaders of the different farming
unions yesterday. They were all very much of the view that layover
restrictions as a permanent feature of the way in which the supply
chain works was something the Government should be looking at.
35. What is the incubation period for this virus?
(Mr Scudamore) As with any disease, there is a range.
The range will be 1 to 14 days, but there are variations within
that and they are affected by the numbers of animals, the amount
of virus and all the other issues which decide whether an animal
goes down with the disease. What we found with the pigs in Essex
is that pigs moved into the abattoir and they came into contact
with other pigs. The shortest time was 36 hours. We generally
find it is between four and seven days with this outbreak but
it can be up to 14 days, depending on the dose and how the animals
36. What is the infectivity within the incubation
(Mr Scudamore) Generally animals will be infectious
for a number of days before clinical signs develop, but the maximum
infectivity will be when they have got large numbers of blisters
and when they are excreting the virus. That can continue for up
to five days after the development of the disease.
37. So when we move animals which appear to
be disease-free there is of course a significant risk that they
may be carrying the disease and be infectious. Is that a reasonable
statement to make?
(Mr Scudamore) That is a reasonable statement to make
but it leads on to the reason why we allow animals to move. When
we put the complete ban on movements we stopped everything but
we then had to look at the various movements that might be allowed
to take place to allow animals to go to abattoirs or to move for
other reasons. We did a number of risk assessments which I hope
we will be publishing. They are ones we have got at the moment
which we based on advice from the World Reference Laboratory at
Pirbright. If you look at all the risks of collecting those animals
from the farm, putting them in a lorry and taking them to an abattoir,
and if you look at where all the potential risks were, then if
you look at the risk management you could introduce, such as no
animals moved onto farms for 21 days and farmers to examine the
animals and various other management factors you could put in
place, we concluded that those movements could be permitted provided
they met a whole range of requirements which are in the licence.
So they go from the farm to an abattoir direct, not stopping anywhere.
They are inspected by the farmer and they are inspected by the
TVIs. There is a risk with everything we do but the assessments
we did, on balance, showed that they could be allowed.
38. Could I ask one question on detail. If there
is a holding with two or three sites which may be three or four
miles away, does that count as one case or does it count as two
or three cases?
(Mr Scudamore) What we would do with those is when
we go to the farm with the disease on it we would look at what
contacts there are with that farm and other farms and we would
assess whether those contacts are classified as dangerous. In
other words, we ask are the animals on the other farms potentially
infected with the foot and mouth virus? If the answer is yes,
we remove them as "dangerous contact" herds. So we have
394 confirmed cases and there are 341 dangerous contacts, so those
would be herds with a very high risk of having the disease, being
in the same ownership or the same animals moved on. We remove
those and when we remove those we examine the animals and it is
only if we find disease in those animals that we confirm it.
39. Is one holding counted as one case? If the
holding has two or three areas around it also taken out as being
contact herds, are we now saying there are twice as many cases?
(Mr Scudamore) No, we are not. If a holding has got
three separate farms we could well take the one with disease out
and the other two as dangerous contacts.