Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-115)



  100. And there is the comment that it would have been between one third and a half.
  (Dr Anderson) Yes. Of course you never know.

  101. The other little matter was on page 61. Bearing in mind we were told in the 1967 report it was speed, speed, speed which was of the essence, we would have known that speed by the 8 March would have been very important. You say "As late as 8 March . . ." MAFF officials ". . . were still writing to farmers who had potentially bought sheep at Longtown". Do you think the use of the telephone or even visiting might have been somewhat more expected if we were looking for speed rather than merely writing? We are talking about 18 days into the whole thing and yet they were still writing to farmers to see if they had bought sheep at Longtown?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, it seems very strange.

  102. It seems more than strange.
  (Dr Anderson) On balance, the issue of tracing was a very, very complex issue, I have no doubt about that but it did seem to take a very long time. What is it that can justify that? Many of the professionals who needed to be involved in that work were fighting fires, they were doing something else. There was an acute shortage of the resource needed to do this work. In that environment many things proceeded with difficulty and this is one of them.

Paddy Tipping

  103. There is a good section of the Report on import controls and although I guess we will never know the cause of the outbreak, or indeed of classical swine fever in the previous year, you speculate that it was the import of illegal meat for catering purposes which maybe was the prime source. Do you think import controls have improved since February of last year?
  (Dr Anderson) I know that work has started, and whether they have improved or not I am not sure, I doubt probably. I have no doubt that this is now being taken seriously. I have been asked several questions about "Have certain things been taken seriously? Have changes started?" and I have given qualified answers in some cases. I have absolutely no doubt that this is being taken very seriously and it needs to be improved. The reason we have made a focused recommendation is not because we are dissatisfied with the earlier steps but simply to reinforce these steps. DEFRA should be asked to take the lead. This is a task not only of focus and budget, it is a task of co-ordination. DEFRA should be very specifically given the task of co-ordinating all the agencies involved in this. This is a first line of defence. We say very clearly that one of the three major supporting structures for the future strategy is keep infectious agents of exotic disease out. That is where it starts, it has got to be done better. I know it is being done seriously and it needs to be successful. Having said that, just for completeness, it is never possible to guarantee that you will do that. I am sure that all the other things are very important things but without a doubt the first line of defence needs to be secure and I know that it is receiving right now a lot of high priority attention.

  104. It is receiving attention, it is being taken seriously but has it made a difference?
  (Dr Anderson) I cannot say that because the truth is I do not know. I do not see a lot of difference. I think one of the things which is important is the countryside community needs to see the difference because when they see it they will believe it. I have not seen a lot of difference yet. I have seen a notice I did not see before but I had to ask where I would find it. I think it needs to be given a higher public profile and people can see that now.

  105. It is confidence building?
  (Dr Anderson) That raises confidence and all the things which follow from that.

  106. What about the action plan which DEFRA produced in March? Have you had a look at it?
  (Dr Anderson) The interim report, we have looked at it very carefully.

  107. Is it sufficient?
  (Dr Anderson) No, but it is work in progress.

  108. Right.
  (Dr Anderson) I accept it is work in progress. I have some criticisms of it, I have made some already. I accept it is work in progress, it has got started but it has a very long way to go. The one area which I believe needs to be emphasised again and again is that in order to get this right for the future over a long period of time—we hope a very long period of time—it needs to be captured in processes which engages people from different agencies outside of the centre. These processes need to become part of routine and that gives us a chance of remembering when hopefully a very long time has passed.

  109. You stress the absolute importance of DEFRA being given the remit on this and in a sense having the power to crack the whip with other agencies because it is not all in their gift to deliver the kind of changes.
  (Dr Anderson) They need a directive.

  110. From what you have told us before you have anxieties about the power of DEFRA and the ability of DEFRA to deliver these practical task orientated management issues on the ground. So what you would say is we need to work on that?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.


  111. Dr Anderson, it is not given to many inquiries to redraw the shape of the world in a map. In passing I draw your attention to page 43 where there is a map. It looks to me as if South Africa has been grafted on to Thailand and Vietnam there. If you look north of Australia there is a new land mass which has emerged there.
  (Dr Anderson) Yes. Thank you for pointing that out.

  112. I just wanted to demonstrate we have read it carefully.
  (Dr Anderson) You certainly have. We had some trouble with getting South Africa properly placed, this explains it.

  113. In the map over the page the integrity of the continent has been restored and continental drift has taken place.
  (Mr Evans) It appears twice on page 43 one with and one without foot and mouth.

  114. Dr Anderson, a final point, we have had over a couple of hours, are there any points you feel really you need to get across to us which have not come out in the questions? Is there a really parting message which you think is so imperative you want to make sure we have understood you? Would you like to do your peroration?
  (Dr Anderson) I was not expecting to be given this chance but I will take it. Of course it is in everyone's interest and in everyone's intent now to prevent something like this ever happening again but it might, at least it might get started. There are three compelling things which I have learned and I synthesise all of these things into three things which are more easily remembered, just to keep it in the front of the mind. As a result of that they all start with "S" because three "Ss" I can remember. The central importance is that adequate systems are in place ahead of time. Systems robust enough to cope with major challenge. Systems of management, systems of information, systems of communication and all systems robust enough to cope with aggressive and severe challenge. We were let down this time by some systems which could not stand the challenge. The next one is speed in every way. Speed of response, speed of decision making, speed of action when especially in the early hours and days of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease hours, just simply hours, can make a precious difference. That can only be done in my view, there is no other possibility, other than through rehearsal and planning and discussion and rehearsal as a routine. It is not possible to have a proper speedy response from something that has not been addressed recently and rehearsed, not possible. While I know that it can appear to be naive to suggest the use of the model of the emergency services, I understand the difference but I am using it as a distant metaphor. For example, take the fire services, they are rehearsing speed of response continuously. I have been with fire services around the country. They are alerted constantly. Most of the alerts turn out to be little or nothing. Every alert is addressed with the same speed and with the same seriousness. It is applying that thinking, changing it in the way that obviously it would need to be changed to what we are now talking about which is why we suggest that when there is an alarm on foot and mouth, which by the way occurs about ten times every year, and has done over all the years—

  115. We had a pig recently.
  (Dr Anderson)—These alarms are used deliberately, as the fire service would, if you will, to test these systems, then to analyse the response, to see what we could do better, measure it and then do it next time and try to do it better. The third "S" is science. The outbreak of 2001 raised issues which were new to everyone and deep scientific reflection became necessary. I believe it is regrettable that a formalised system of engaging well balanced and well trusted previously communicated scientific advice was not deployed from the very early days. It emerged informally, first of all, and latterly in the way that it emerged 35 days into the crisis and played an important contribution, but a massively controversial one. Part of the controversy lay in my view on its method of creation, it had not been created following good process. We will always need the best scientific advice. We should bring it to bear very early on but the preparation for bringing it to bear should start long before an emergency. As routine procedures are in place we call it a standing body which can be advising behind the scenes in an ongoing way anyway and can be called in to action whenever the need is there. So systems, speed and the best science. Thank you.

  Chairman: Dr Anderson, thank you very much. You have answered our questions I think very much in the style of the report itself, very economically and to the point. We are very grateful to you. We notice that Sir Don Curry has been appointed to carry through his own recommendations as far as DEFRA is concerned, and without knowing what your other commitments will be, it will be very interesting to know whether a call will go out to carry through your recommendations but that may be a postscript, to which we will no doubt wish to return at an appropriate time. Thank you.


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