Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 280-299)



  280. Exactly.
  (Mr Brown) But I think by and large we have avoided that in the way in which we have deployed the armed services with very specific tasks which they have rolled their sleeves up and got on with and worked very well with the veterinary advisers and civilian staff.

Mr Todd

  281. Offering the valuation scales was an attempt to cut down the delays to slaughter. Has it worked?
  (Mr Brown) By and large, yes. I have asked for figures region by region on the use that is made of the tables and I understand that although some farmers wish to bring in valuers and argue for higher valuation, the rates were set in such a way as to make the table itself attractive and some have said generous. There is a real effort to try to help people in very difficult circumstances. About 75 per cent of the cases, that is my understanding, across England have settled on the table and, therefore, the procedure has been speeded up because of it. It is not a perfect mechanism. I have asked for this region by region analysis of the rates that are being paid and if there are any particular factors that are forcing the rates upwards and I am then looking at what I should do about it. What I will do, if the Committee has a real interest in this, is when I have the figures available I will put them in the public domain so other people can see what has happened as well.

  282. You will be aware that the scales have caused some difficulty among farmers who were compensated before they were brought in because in some instances they offer rates which are significantly higher, and I have drawn this to your attention before with suckler cows, than the rates that were offered by valuers early on in the crisis.
  (Mr Brown) The rates were offered by independent valuers.

  283. Indeed so.
  (Mr Brown) Admittedly they are paid for by the Government but they are acting in a professional capacity and there is a system for appeal if people dispute the valuation. What I think is more likely to be the case, although it is fair to say that the rates were set in an effort to be generous and an effort to encourage settlement, is that as the disease outbreak has progressed clearly the replacement value, or the assessment the valuer has made, is also likely to have moved with time. It is to take a hard look at that and also the justifications for it, that I have asked for work to be done within the Department. I am expecting that within a day or so.

  284. What would you say to the farmer who accepted the valuation offered, say, on 7 March whose 14 day appeal period had then run out and found shortly after that 14 day period that the scales offered a rather better rate and he was down by some tens of thousands of pounds?
  (Mr Brown) I know it is a hard thing to say but it does not mean that the valuation that he was given was incorrect. The rates were deliberately set at a generous level, in other words above what we assumed a valuer would assess, partly because we realised that in circumstances like this the valuations tend to rise over time until the outbreak is brought to an end; partly because we wanted to encourage early settlement for disease control reasons; and also because we wanted to be generous to people in very difficult circumstances. I think all three of those reasons are justifiable, but it does not mean that the earlier valuation was somehow wrong or less than it should have been.

  285. It does mean that those particular individuals feel very aggrieved because they have ended up being compensated substantially less than someone who had exactly the same affliction put on them some week or two weeks later.
  (Mr Brown) The law refers to the market value of the animals.

  286. Which the Government has intervened in by producing a set of scales instead, for very good reasons.
  (Mr Brown) For perfectly good reasons, but that does not mean that every judgment ever made before then is necessarily wrong. I do not want to make a definitive statement on this because clearly people have got appeals pending and have also asked for their own cases to be reconsidered and I do not want to say the Government has formed a judgment on all of that because we have not. I do not think that there should be an automatic assumption that whatever the most generous possible settlement going should automatically be the one that applies.

Mr Öpik

  287. I want to talk about information and briefly about on-farm precautions. First of all, why did some of the information from the Ministry website disappear, for example on the numbers slaughtered and the numbers awaiting slaughter?
  (Mr Brown) Throughout this I made it very clear at the very beginning I wanted to be very candid with everyone and put the information in the public domain and that is what I have set out to do. It rapidly became clear that some of the statistics, although each true of themselves, were not being compiled to the same time line. I gave the Committee the example of the authorisation for slaughter and the disposal figures. Each of them accurate but, of course, the gap between them not presenting the true picture at all. Because it was a matter of contention we have tried to produce statistics that are comparable with each other, in other words each taken at the same point in time. Once that exercise had been carried out we got the information restored. There is not much point in putting information in the public domain if it is going to produce a misleading picture. The figures that you are asking for are all there and I have always been careful to include them in my statements to the House.

  288. Okay. Accepting that point for now, within those figures are you taking off as confirmed cases those which eventually show a negative test whenever the results come back from the lab?
  (Mr Brown) No.

  289. Or are they left in as confirmed cases?
  (Mr Brown) A confirmed case would be a confirmed case is my understanding.
  (Mr Scudamore) They are confirmed on clinical grounds. If they are confirmed on a clinical picture and a report by a vet and that is accepted as positive, that is positive. As I mentioned earlier, you can send samples off to a laboratory and if you do not take the right samples or they get damaged in transit or something happens in the laboratory then you can get negative results.

  290. This is a concern to farmers because it means the figures are possibly false. Paul Kitching on the Channel 4 News said that he thought that so much of the resources were actually consumed in tracings and slaughter that very little epidemiology was actually undertaken and, therefore, the intervention required was not available. In other words, he is saying that kind of thing is making it more difficult for farmers to trust the information because in their judgment a number of cases are being included in the graphs that we have been looking at which actually turn out to be negative. What would you say to those people? Do they trust the clinical assessment by the vet or do they trust the laboratory assessment? If one cannot trust the laboratory assessment, how does anyone trust that information at all?
  (Mr Brown) There is going to be a time delay, is there not? Sorry, Jim, you answer it.
  (Mr Scudamore) They trust the clinical assessment by the vet. I think we are in a position where we are dealing with a rapidly spreading disease and if a vet believes there is foot and mouth disease we have to deal with this as such. We have put in place a mechanism for slaughter on suspicion where we can just remove that particular herd or flock pending the laboratory results. If the vet rings up and says he is on a farm and there is clinical foot and mouth disease then we will confirm it and that is a clinically confirmed case.

  291. For absolute clarity here, the clinical assessment on the farm by the vet takes priority even if the laboratory tests prove otherwise, is that right?
  (Mr Brown) You would not get it back quickly enough, would you?

  292. In which case why are you doing laboratory tests at all?
  (Mr Scudamore) We are doing the laboratory tests because we need to know what is happening out in the field. We are refining the laboratory test. As we get the information we will change the type of material that we require so, for example, from sheep we will require tissues plus blood and we will try and isolate the virus and look for blood samples. I think it is very important that wherever possible we do take laboratory material for confirming the disease. As I say, with cattle and pigs a very high percentage is confirmed, the problem lies particularly with sheep where the clinical condition can look obviously like foot and mouth disease and if you do not take the right sample you get a negative result.

  293. Would it be possible to move those lab tests into the field if the resources were available so that you could bring them much closer together? I have no idea how long it takes to develop the culture.
  (Mr Scudamore) We are looking into that but, in fact, we can get results quite quickly from the laboratory, the problem arises when they are not clear cut results. If, for example, we take tissue for virus isolation, there is a very fast test that can give you a result in 24 hours, but if that is negative we then put the material up on culture that can sometimes take up to five to seven days to get a result. Equally, with the blood tests we can do a very fast test but if that gives a positive result we would have to do another test which can take five days to confirm it. Many of these tests require confirmatory tests which can be done in the specialist laboratory.

  294. Can you assure me that once you have done all those other tests you do get a definitive confirmation of whether a particular sample is infected or not?
  (Mr Scudamore) Not necessarily. If you take, for example, tissue from an old lesion in a sheep you could very well not isolate the virus from it but it could still have had foot and mouth disease.

  295. Thank you.
  (Mr Scudamore) I am afraid.

  296. Moving on then, other elements of information procedure have really bothered farmers. Mr Scudamore's explanation of the protocol leading to a cull with a contiguous cull and so forth, that is the first time I have heard it in such a clear, definitive way. Could I ask that you consider sharing that protocol with farmers because there is a great deal of uncertainty about what to expect when there is a suspected case in the area.
  (Mr Brown) I am more than happy to do that, anything that would help. The bottom line is that there is not any way of eliminating this disease that avoids culling. There is no medicine I can give the animals, there is no other intervention that we can make now with the animals that would prevent the need for culling the disease out. That is a very hard thing to say and for the individual farmers that are affected because their animals are suspected of having the disease it is very hard indeed. Let me repeat again, it is necessary.

  297. I am not questioning that, it is really the information. There is a huge stress that is caused by not knowing what to expect, so I would be grateful if that information could be spread.
  (Mr Brown) You can have my assurance that we will do that.

  298. Thank you. Next, the concern I have is about information with regard to compensation. Farmers simply do not understand why they are not getting money for all the animals that were alive at the point when they were applying, for example, for a welfare cull, they are only being paid out for the animals that are still alive when the cull finally takes place even though livestock has died while they have been waiting. Is there any way that you can provide the rationale for that particular judgment? Perhaps it has just been an oversight and you are now going to tell us that you will pay from the point of application rather than the point of cull?
  (Mr Brown) That does not sound right to me. If you want to refer me to an individual case where that has happened I am more than happy to look at it.

  299. I will take that up separately, thank you. I am sorry, you were going to say something?
  (Mr Brown) If you want to give me an individual case where that has happened, where the animals have died before being taken away, then I will most certainly look into it.

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