Examination of witnesses (Questions 260-279)|
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001
260. In 1967, as I understand it, the Prime
Minister did not intervene in this kind of fashion, it was left
to MAFF to manage it and that would seem more sensible. Why should
the Prime Minister spend his time running around the country looking
at the backsides of cattle and the mouths of sheep?
(Mr Brown) No, I think it is right that he takes charge
and sets a lead. The comparisons between the 1967 outbreak and
the present one are misleading. Remember I think they were slaughtering
it was something like 90 premises a day in the 1967 outbreak and
we seem to have peaked at about half that. The 1967 outbreak went
on for about nine months. Who knows when the tail end of this
will finally finish but we are clearly on the downward trajectory,
at least that is what the epidemiologists advise now. At least
in part that is to do with the intensity of the effort that has
been put in to removing the disease. There are other differences
261. You seemed to be doing fine at the start.
(Mr Brown) That is very kind of you.
Mr Mitchell: All of a sudden the Prime Minister
Chairman: And it goes downhill from then on.
262. It is difficult to know what now are the
chains of command. You have got the army, you have the private
veterinarians, contractors and you have various other people involved.
The chains of command come together under the Prime Minister or
(Mr Brown) The chain of command, of course, comes
together with the Prime Minister at the head. In fact we all meet
regularly together and the support that we are getting from the
armed services, let me say, is absolutely invaluable. The Ministry
of Agriculture, within its own purview, neither has the financial
resources nor the logistical resources to undertake extra work
of the scale that is demanded and within the timeframe that is
demanded by this outbreak. So we have had to ask other people
for help and we have done so and it has been willingly given.
263. How about the devolved authorities? Where
do they come in? How is it co-ordinated with them?
(Mr Brown) I meet regularly with the other devolved
ministers. There is a regular meeting which takes place anyway,
once a month. We are quite used to working together. Jim Scudamore
is the Chief Veterinary Officer for, I think, it is Great Britain,
is that right, Jim?
(Mr Scudamore) Yes.
(Mr Brown) So, therefore, the professional veterinary
advice that is coming to myself, to Ross Finnie and to Carwyn
Jones is the same and, of course, within the devolved territories
then the devolved ministers head up the implementation of it.
It is all working pretty well. We are in regular contact.
264. It is working satisfactorily?
(Mr Brown) Yes, I think so. We are in regular contact,
as I say, by phone and our officials meet regularly and we meet
regularly as well.
265. Okay. Now, I think in the last statement
to the House, you acknowledged that the report-to-slaughter in
24 hours was occurring in fewer than 80 per cent of cases and
that the 48 hour target for contiguous culling was going to be
more difficult to meet still. Are those two targets being met
(Mr Brown) There has been a significant improvement.
I would like to ask Jim if he can give you the latest figures
rather than doing them from my own memory.
(Mr Scudamore) Well, I think on the 21st we met the
report-to-slaughter target in ten cases, in three we did not meet
the target. It is quite important to get these animals killed
as quickly as possible and it has always been our aim that where
we pick up disease we have the animals killed as soon as practical.
Most of the ones which do not meet the 24 hours target are generally
completed shortly afterwards. There are a number of reasons for
not meeting the 24 hours. There has been valuation, there has
been collecting animals together and on some very big farms there
are a large number of animals to get together. There are various
reasons why the 24 hours is not met but, as I say, the recent
thoughts are that we met it on ten cases but we did not meet it
on three. There was not much time between the 24 hours and when
it was actually completed. We have been getting similar figures.
As I say, there are some difficulties with meeting the 24 hour
target in terms of size.
266. Those are in particular areas?
(Mr Scudamore) It varies in different areas. In some
areas the target is met where there are few cases, where there
are only one or two cases, the target is often met; where there
are more cases then sometimes it is not met.
(Mr Brown) Can I just add two points to that? The
number of cases that we are seeing now is as a result of the interventions
that were made ten days to a fortnight ago. In other words, the
situation then was not as good as it is now but nevertheless the
number of cases is steadily coming down. I think that is significant.
The second point is that where we do not meet the target it is
often because we have made a start on the culling but have not
been able to bring it to a conclusion within the 24 hours. But
the animals which show signs of infectivity are taken out first,
and that is quite an important intervention on its own.
267. What about the disposal figures? The figures
that we have got from our advisor indicate that up to the week
ending 8 Aprilso you might be able to update us on the
subsequent periodthe number slaughtered was increasing
steadily. The number disposed of is actually falling in April
as against March. Why is that?
(Mr Brown) Because of the effectiveness of interventions
that are being made. One of the statistical difficulties we have
had is that the report times are not the same and therefore looking
for the gap between the figures, the report to disposal, shows
that it is not a directly comparable series. We have tried to
make the statistics actually comparable and meaningful as we have
presented them. When an animal is authorised to slaughter that
is something that is noted immediately, when an animal has been
finally disposed of it is notified after the event, so the gap
between the two will be bigger than the truthful gap every time
you try to take a slice of life.
268. What are the actual figures for disposal?
(Mr Brown) We have a real disposal problem in Devon
where there are still something like over 100,000 animals awaiting
disposal. That is carcasses awaiting disposal. The backlog is
practically cleared in the rest of the country. I do not know,
Jim, if you can give any useful figure?
269. Have they gone up?
(Mr Brown) The truth of the matter is that the disposal
routes are opened up in the areas where the demand is the highest
and are workable. There is a difficulty in Devon because the water
table makes burial a difficult option. Every site we have, either
for incineration or for landfill, has some objection to it. The
truth is there is no popular way of disposing of these carcasses.
270. Is burial being used more than it was in
1967 or less?
(Mr Brown) I could not give you an exact measure with
1967. In 1967 farm sizes were smaller and burial on site was a
far more practical alternative for a relatively small amount of
animals than it would be for a flock of 10,000 sheep on a modern
extensive holding in Cumbria, for example. The situations are
not directly comparable. Where we can use burial we do, where
we can use landfill we do. We are getting as much as we can away
to render and disposal through the purpose built rendering plants
but, of course, the over five year cattle have to have priority
for that route in order to control the prion diseases. It is still
necessary to make use of on site incineration with all of the
aesthetic objections to that.
271. Finally, there have been concerns raised
about the health effects of burning, particularly in respect of
dioxins. Are there health implications? Are these looked at? What
can you say?
(Mr Brown) We are advised by both the Environment
Agency on the environmental effects and by the Department of Health
on health effects. The Chief Medical Officer is now revising his
advice, is effectively pulling together advice that has already
been given, putting it in one place and reissuing it. I would
expect that to be essentially reissued shortly.
272. Minister, in Devon, as you know, people
are very concerned about the latest pyre and in Cumbria you have
decided not to go ahead with burning. If that advice were that
there is a health risk or a concern that leaves you in a bit of,
I was going to say a hole but you have a problem with holes in
Devon and a problem with incineration, where does that leave you?
(Mr Brown) There is no absolutely perfect risk-free
solution to any of these problems. It is about balancing risks
and trying to do the right thing overall but doing nothing is
not a solution either. On every decision we make a careful assessment
and do what is proportionate and what is right. Sometimes this
is very, very difficult for people locally who will want the carcasses
disposed of but will object to whatever particular disposal route
is put forward, particularly if it is close to where they live.
Chairman: I have got three requests for short
interventions before we go to the next series of questions.
273. When you talk about cases you said last
time you are only talking about infected premises, is that right?
So 1,440 is infected premises?
(Mr Brown) That is correct.
274. How many other farms have been taken out
as contiguous culls? How many other farms have been taken out
(Mr Scudamore) We have taken out around about 3,500
as contiguous premises, dangerous contacts and SOSs.
275. And SOSs combined?
(Mr Scudamore) Somewhere around that, yes. I have
not got the detailed figures with me.
(Mr Brown) Does that include the infected premises
or do you have to add the two together?
(Mr Scudamore) You have to add the two together.
276. So 3,500 contiguous culls and SOSs?
(Mr Brown) Yes.
277. Because there is concern in the Welsh Marches
that you changed the criteria for an SOS and IP. I have got three
cases where experienced people were absolutely convinced that
they had confirmed cases of foot and mouth and this was resisted
by Page Street, where apparently there is now a committee of four
vets, and they were told to call it an SOS. The advantage to you
is that your graph here of cases on a daily basis is coming down
very encouragingly because an SOS does not count as a case. Also
you do not add to the carcass mountain because an SOS does not
require you to take out contiguals. Am I right or am I wrong?
(Mr Scudamore) Partly right. What we have got a problem
with is diagnosis of foot and mouth disease in sheep. We have
ranged from people who complain that we should confirm it on clinical
grounds to those who complain that we should not confirm on clinical
grounds and we should take samples and confirm it on laboratory
examination. So we have a problem particularly with sheep. There
is obvious clinical disease in sheep, where there are vesicles
and high temperature it is relatively straight forward, but there
are a lot of conditions of sheep and their feet which are not
foot and mouth disease. We were getting very concerned that there
was quite a high percentage of sheep which we confirmed on clinical
grounds which on laboratory examination were coming back negative.
That poses a problem because it means one of two things: either
the sheep were, in fact, negative they did not have foot
and mouth disease or the samples were coming back with
false results (either they were the incorrect samples or they
were damaged in transit or in the laboratory). What we tend to
do now with sheep in particular is if it is obvious foot and mouth
disease then it will be confirmed clinically and they should take
samples which will go off to the laboratory. If we confirm it
clinically that automatically initiates a contiguous premises
cull within 48 hours. If we are not convinced it is foot and mouth
disease and it does not sound obvious then we will take it as
a slaughter on suspicion which means that the herd itself is slaughtered
within the 24 hours to get rid of it, samples are submitted to
the laboratory and if those samples come back negative then it
is not confirmed, if those samples come back positive then it
278. The cases I was talking about were cattle.
(Mr Scudamore) On average over the last 20 years we
have had between ten and 12 reported cases of foot and mouth a
year, up to that number, which are not foot and mouth disease.
Part of the problem with sheep I have explained. With cattle we
would generally take the diagnosis of the clinician but if there
is any question about it then we might query whether it is or
is not foot and mouth and we might require samples to be taken.
If the samples come back positive and it is confirmed as foot
and mouth disease we initiate the contiguous premises cull.
(Mr Brown) In the current circumstances, Chairman,
for every three cases that are reported into the Department as
foot and mouth disease suspectsand of course there is a
heightened awareness of all this in the current circumstancesonly
one turns out to be confirmed. So for every one real case we are
getting two that turn out to be false alarms.
279. I just wondered in a sense why we did not
make more of the Northumberland Report? The Northumberland Report
in many respects, although the scale of this outbreak is different
and the number of movements have made it more difficult, is like
a code book of how we should have handled it. I just wondered
if everyone did read the damn thing.
(Mr Brown) Where the advice is relevant to the current
outbreak it has been followed. Nobody has really pointed me to
some piece of advice in that report which should have been followed
and has not been. There are enormous differences between the 1967
outbreak and the present one. To take the obvious issue of disposal
routes: there are difficulties in using burial in Cumbria where
the soil is light and the substructure is granite, and in Devon
it is just our misfortune that the water table is high and a lot
of water rights are privately owned. It is not a good idea to
put a lot of dead livestock in the water supply and we will not
do it. That means we have to examine the other routes of disposal
and they will have their difficulties, not insurmountable, but
they will have their difficulties as well. On the question of
the role of the military it is true to say that the military were
called in earlier in the 1967 outbreak but in a less prepared
way and reading the report there was quite a lot of early confusion