Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 320-339)



  320. Are you able to make any estimate at this stage of the number of applications under the animal welfare scheme which would come into that category of being urgent because they are really serious?
  (Mr Brown) We are reducing the number of animals which are coming into the scheme, partly by the substantial amount of work which has been done to clear the backlog, partly by opening up alternative routes within the infected zones, which provide a workable market-orientated alternative, partly by offering clear advice to the veterinary profession and advice on managing the animals where there really cannot be moved. So there is a range of things we can do to help and what we have been able to think of has been done.

Mr Todd

  321. Has there been any evidence of infection from a licensed movement?
  (Mr Brown) I am not aware of any. Well, yes, I am aware of one, the famous one, where in Wales, not in England—

  322. Where some sheep turned up—
  (Mr Brown)—where some 20-odd animals had foot and mouth disease but still managed to get a certificate which said they had been inspected and had not, and they ended up on that short journey from the farm to an abattoir where of course the vet in the abattoir spotted it at once for what it was. That is the only one that I am aware of. I cannot say with certainty it has not happened but it is an unusual event. Jim might know more.
  (Mr Scudamore) I think there have been a number of other occasions where abattoirs have had animals coming into them with lesions of foot and mouth disease. Where that happens, we will destroy the animal, clean up the abattoir and it can be back in operation within a day.

  323. For that purpose?
  (Mr Scudamore) For that purpose, that is right.

  324. Are the movement restrictions operating speedily? They certainly were not at the start, because I complained rather vigorously about one or two in my area.
  (Mr Brown) We have issued something like 52,000 licences, which is a lot.

  325. I think I illustrated the long paper chase which appeared to exist at least in my part of the country.
  (Mr Brown) Yes. I understand that, but it is necessary to have some control over this, otherwise a proportion of the movements of livestock would be moving the disease. Holding everything at a standstill, harsh though it is, is necessary so we can cull the disease out and return to normal trade.

  326. I still have no information as to why two RSCs need to be involved in issuing a licence in my area.
  (Mr Brown) My apologies, I did promise to have that looked at for you and get you an answer, and I will do that.

  327. Thank you. Have you any further announcements to make on the relief which is currently being offered to areas of the country where infections have been some time ago? We have seen the announcements relating to Somerset, Northampton, Melton Mowbray. Are there any other changes in the map your advisers are now saying can be spread out?
  (Mr Brown) There most certainly will be. I am not in a position to make announcements this afternoon, but over the next few days and most certainly weeks there will be a further freeing-up of areas which are currently under restrictions beyond the general control restrictions throughout Great Britain. Also, in time, we hope to be able to free those up in the areas which have remained disease-free, but that of course will facilitate an outward movement of animals. We could not allow inward movement from areas of high infectivity.

  328. On what criteria are your advisers working?
  (Mr Scudamore) We have a lot of infected areas at the moment. Some of them are infected areas around one farm, so the first thing we did was to try to reduce the size of those infected areas to 10 km. What we will then do is identify the sheep farms within the 3 km protection zone around the infected farms, and we will test those sheep farms, so it means visiting the farms, examining animals, collecting samples. When the samples are all negative then we will lift that particular area around that farm.

  329. I am puzzling therefore slightly why my constituency still seems to have very heavy restrictions in place, since the last outbreak was some time ago, there have been regular visits to neighbouring farms and there has been no lightening of the forms of restrictions which, for example, prevent anyone doing any movements of any kind really.
  (Mr Scudamore) We would not start any lifting procedures until 15 days after there has been cleaning and disinfection on the infected farm itself. It depends how many other infected farms there are. If it is a single one, we would start working on that as soon as we can, but if it is a multiple area with lots of infected areas, then it is a question of when we can start on them.

  330. But there would also seem to be quite strong arguments for redefining the restricted area as well. Again in my area, it covers half of my constituency even though the area which had infection was really quite small and confined to one corner. It seems to have been done by the accident of where the roads happen to be, the convenient main roads which have been chosen, which again throws in a lot of farms which, frankly, are quite some considerable distance away from the infection.
  (Mr Scudamore) The intention would be that we would contract the infected area down to the minimum size essential and then work on the zone around the infected farm with a view to getting that lifted as quickly as possible.

  331. You must be well aware there is a direct relationship between restrictions which are in place in an area like that and calls on the welfare scheme and, for that matter, on other movement licence applications, which chew up a large amount of MAFF time, and expeditious movement towards defining the risk rather more precisely saves everyone a great deal of trouble and also helps to get the market moving, which should be our objective. Farmers in my area are keen to get on with their lives as far as they possibly can. They have been very careful and, as a result of that, the infection has not spread, which they should be commended on, but they now wish to get on with their lives as soon as possible and at the moment the restrictions are not shifting at all even though the risk appears to be receding day-by-day.
  (Mr Brown) We are on their side on that.

  332. So am I, but I would like to see some movement which allows them to do what they want to do.
  (Mr Brown) Point taken and I will have a look at what can be done. But in all of this the Government is acting on professional advice and one of the great lessons from the 1967 outbreak—and everyone says learn the lessons from it—was that everyone thought they had got the disease defeated, relaxed, and it burst back out again and they had to go through it all over again.

  333. Please do not interpret my remarks as meaning my farmers are dead keen to—
  (Mr Brown) No, I do not interpret them that way. I am on their side.

  334. They wish largely to see their own care now rewarded by a lifting of restrictions in a sensible and planned way and, thus far, that does not seem to have happened.
  (Mr Brown) It is a fair point, fairly made.

  335. On the suggestion of restrictions on movements for sheep and the quantity of movements which are allowed between particular periods, the obligation for a standstill, the Government's move to consultation on that, have you any view as to how that consultation is proceeding?
  (Mr Brown) The replies are coming in. The consultation period is I think still open for a few days.


  336. May 11th it concludes.
  (Mr Brown) Well, that is soon. The arguments are all moving in the same direction with a lot of support, and although some of the support is hedged with caveats by and large given what has happened, people are—and I do not want to pre-empt the consultation—essentially in favour of a 20 day—

Mr Todd

  337. There is a clear head of steam behind that but the difficulty always is policing this kind of thing where there is no tagging of sheep to identify the precise animals involved and where there is likely to be a small number of farmers who may not necessarily feel this is necessary. How is it to be policed, if it is to be done?
  (Mr Brown) We have traceability with cattle. We policed the 20 day standstill, which is the same period in the pig sector, successfully. But you are right, traceability at least by flock is also an idea which is marching remorselessly towards us.


  338. Can I clarify a particular point, Minister? You said there is not much opposition but there is some concern.
  (Mr Brown) Let me qualify what I said. The consultation period is still open, so far it is running in favour of the proposals—and I do not want to pre-empt it—and some of those who have argued in favour have hedged their support with caveats about what happens if an animal is taken to market but is not sold and then returns to the home farm—does it have to stay—

  339. Or if you have to replace a suckler calf. Does that mean that all your stores then cannot be moved within that 20 day period?
  (Mr Brown) In the consultation document, that issue was teased out. It would be perfectly possible in the case of cattle to have the restriction either by animal or by herd, and I have asked for views on those two proposals.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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