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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Our witnesses are Mr Jim Scudamore, who is the Chief Veterinary Officer at what is now DEFRA, and Mr Roy Hathaway is the Head of the Foot and Mouth Division. Do you inhabit the dismal tile of Page Street?
  (Mr Hathaway) Yes.

  2. When people try and get movement orders and everything, it goes down to Page Street. You are the vortex into which it disappears. Is that right?
  (Mr Hathaway) The short answer to that, Chairman, is yes.

  3. We have got some questions on that coming along later. Mr Scudamore has circulated some charts and I have agreed that he should make a five-minute presentation to begin with explaining where we are, which makes a lot of sense. Mr Scudamore?
  (Mr Scudamore) Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. What I have done is circulate some maps and charts,[1] and with your permission I would like to run through them, because they do demonstrate how the outbreak developed and where we are now, and it might help to answer some of the questions that people are asking. The first map is dated 21 February and shows where we were on that day at 8 o'clock in the morning. We had actually confirmed the cases in Essex at about 8 o'clock on the 20th, so at 8 o'clock on 21st we had one case in Essex in pigs, which is demonstrated on that map. The next map is 23 February when we put the Movement Control Order on the whole of the country. I had to explain why I wished to have a Movement Control Order and why I recommended it for the whole country when we were faced with that map, which is one case in Northumberland in pigs and three cases in Essex. We recommended that we should have a draconian control on all movements of all susceptible animals from that day onwards; that we would put it on and review it as time went by. I think we were criticised at the time for putting that restriction on, but obviously, in hindsight, it was the right thing to do. At the time it was a very difficult decision, faced with a map like that with just two cases in Essex and one in Northumberland. There are other issues on that which are explained in a later chart. The 26 February map shows how it gradually developed, and the next thing we knew is we had another case in Northumberland and we had one case in Devon. That was the first indication that we were heading for a serious problem, in that it was sheep in Devon that had picked up the disease and the staff, investigating very rapidly, identified that it was a dealer and that it had come through a market in Cumbria. The next maps show how it developed. I think the map of 5 March shows you the problem we had in terms of resources; that what we would normally do with an outbreak is we would draft in as many staff as we needed—veterinary surgeons, technicians and administrative staff—to deal with an outbreak and they would be posted, in the first instance, to Essex, but by 5 March we were sending staff up and down the country all over the place because we were having to follow behind where the disease was appearing and open up disease control centres. So I think the map of 5 March does demonstrate how rapidly it developed and, I think, gives some indication as to the resource problems we were facing in moving people to man these offices.

  4. There is an expression "Remaining Premises" on that. What does that mean?
  (Mr Scudamore) We found it was quite useful to produce three triangles: the red triangle "remaining premises" were ones which had already been confirmed in the past. The green ones were the ones that were confirmed up to two days previously, and the blue ones were the ones that had been confirmed the day before that. So it was to give us some indication of how the disease was spreading and where the new cases were occurring. The link chart to 8 March shows where we were and why we thought we had got it contained, inasmuch as it shows that all the cases had links to something or somewhere down the system, and you can see the way the chart is building up for Longtown Market, where those were animals which had moved from Longtown Market on to farms where there was infection subsequently confirmed, or where it developed. The next map dated 12 March demonstrates that the disease was expanding but it was still contained in those areas; there were very few new areas appearing and we were looking at what was a developing problem within infected areas. In fact, in some of the areas the problem was already resolved. In Leicestershire and in Northamptonshire there was one case but those had actually been dealt with and there was no spread from those. The next link chart, which is dated 13 March, shows the increasing information we were getting, and I think the significant feature is the bottom right-hand corner where there are a lot of little blue squares with no obvious link. The difficulty we were facing then was we were getting so many cases that it was becoming very, very difficult to link them all in very quickly. All the resources were being used to try and find out what those links were. The next map, dated 19 March, shows, again, the way it is developing, where the problems were, and I think you will see that they are still in the same basic areas; there had been no spread-out of the main infected areas to any large extent. The link map of 23 March shows where we were on the 23rd. There is a whole series of cases and if you add all these up you will find that a lot of them did not have any links at all, and they were actually spreading locally and naturally into next-door farms and within the 3 kilometres of infected farms.

David Burnside

  5. Chairman, can you remind us when the Army came in?
  (Mr Scudamore) The Army came in at various stages. We had a reconnaissance unit in, I think, somewhere about 12 March. The Army itself was posted into Cumbria and Devon on 19/20 March, and was in with the various troops. We had a joint command centre set up in Page Street on the 24th, when the Army and all the other people operating were involved.

Patrick Hall

  6. You say that this chart shows there were still a lot of cases not linked. This chart looks to me as if everything is linked.
  (Mr Scudamore) I am sorry, there is a second page which has been missed out. It actually has a lot of cases which were not linked to anything. On about 23 March we had a large number of—

  7. This chart shows everything linked.
  (Mr Scudamore) There is a page missing which shows all the unlinked ones. I am sorry we have missed it out. I will get it sent over, Mr Chairman. It does show—


  8. What was on the bottom right-hand corner of the previous one.
  (Mr Scudamore) That is correct. It was on a separate page because there were so many of them. The 26 March was probably when we were reaching the peak of the outbreak, and that again shows where all the cases were occurring. The main problem, as you can see, was in Cumbria, Northumberland and in Devon. Again, 2 April shows how the cases were expanding and how it was developing. The map of 16 April is probably the worst day, with the maximum number of cases throughout the whole of the country, which showed that we had very wide dissemination of disease into Cumbria, Northumberland, Devon and in the Midlands area and into Powys. What I have done now is I have added in today's picture on the next map, which is dated 31 October. You will notice that a lot of the red triangles have turned white. What that means is we have completed our work in the protection zone. Around an infected farm we have a 3-kilometre protection zone, and in order to lift that zone we have to test serologically the sheep within that zone. When we have tested all those sheep then we lift the restriction on the zone itself. So when a triangle goes from red to white it means we have finished the serological testing in the protection zone and we have lifted the restrictions on the farmers in that zone, apart from the infected farm. I think you will see we have gone through the whole of the area from April and we are now just left with four or five main areas where we are working. I note, Mr Chairman, one of them is up in your area, on which there might be queries, but we are gradually working through all these. As triangles go from red to white, these restrictions are reduced and we can start lifting infected areas. So the present position is shown on the map of 31 October. We are working as fast as we can to clear the remaining red triangles. The next map, which is dated 30 March, is where we were on the worst day, and it shows the areas which were provisionally free in blue, and these areas are where we decided there was probably no disease and where our main objective throughout all of this has been to keep those areas free of disease. So our intention, from the very beginning in February, was to make sure that those blue areas did not get disease. We have achieved that. The second thing we had were the at-risk areas, which were areas where we thought there might be disease, where the sheep might have been new to the areas, and again the aim was to try and work through those and clear those as quickly as possible, and make sure we did not have any spread. The third areas were the confirmed infected areas where we had all the problems. So that was the worst day, really, in terms of outbreaks and infected areas at risk. The next map shows where we are now: the blue areas are the free counties, the red are the high-risk, where we have had disease or got virus or active problems at the moment, and the white are the at-risk areas. So the staff are working very fast now to do the testing to convert counties from lower to higher categories. Obviously, the objective is to have the whole country blue as fast as we can.


  9. You convert by county, do you not?
  (Mr Scudamore) Yes.

  10. You cannot do it in part. North Yorkshire is a big county, but you are not able to do it in bits of counties or districts?
  (Mr Scudamore) The difficulty we had was we had the first map which showed the at-risk, the provisionally free and confirmed, but we had to convert to the new map. At the same time we had to bring in a movement licensing arrangement and, at the same time, we had to be negotiating in Brussels for exports, which are generally based on administrative regions. So the reason we transferred from the first map to the second map was to facilitate the transfer and it was always our intention that as we got counties sorted out we would move to splitting counties and that we would ultimately move to just having restrictions on the infected areas, but it was a question of how fast we could do that transition from one system to another system. We have already split Powys. Powys was a high-risk county at one stage, and you will notice on the map that North Powys is classified as free and South Powys is classified as at-risk. The intention is, when we have done the testing to convert the infected protection zones to free zones and lift infected areas, that we will then consider splitting counties, but it has always been our intention to try and split counties. It is a question of how quickly we can do it without disrupting all the systems.

Diana Organ

  11. Why did you take counties, which are, basically, administrative boundaries and nothing to do with the topography and the farming activity that might be carried on? In the case of Gloucestershire, where the West Gloucestershire area was an area that was badly hit by foot and mouth, the rest of Gloucestershire was not so intense and yet we had to wait all that time until the whole of Gloucestershire was freed up.
  (Mr Scudamore) I realise there were anomalies. We looked at various ways of doing it and whichever way we did it there were going to be anomalies. I think there were two reasons why we went for counties; the first one was that the administrative unit would have the county council and the local council who had to do all the licensing and had to control all this. So, in many ways, it is better to have an administrative unit. The second reason is that as well as trying to free up the country we had been trying to free up exports. The European Union tends to work on administrative units, and, therefore, the export agreements we currently have are for exports from certain administrative areas. However, I agree with you that the decision to go for counties as opposed to topography was a very difficult one. I think, on balance, with the animal licensing system and trying to get exports and trying to have control, the county one was the way forward on that.


  12. We will certainly come back to that. Would you like to conclude your presentation?
  (Mr Scudamore) The next one, I think, is quite a significant map. It goes back to the first three days. What we have done on this map is try to demonstrate how the disease was spread round the country. The black arrows demonstrate movements that took place before 20 February and the red arrows demonstrate the movements that took place on 21/22 before we had the control order on the 23rd. The conclusion from this map is that the disease was widely spread before we knew we had it. It was spread all over the country into Devon, into Essex and into the middle of England before we even knew we had the first case.

Diana Organ

  13. How long do you think the disease was ahead of you? You say you came to the conclusion the disease was widely spread.
  (Mr Scudamore) A lot of this is done in hindsight. We did not know anything at the time, apart from the first map. What we do know is we traced a lot of movements and we know that 16 sheep moved on 13 February, and that those 16 sheep went to a market in Hexham. Out of those 16 sheep, six went down into Lancashire, where we had an outbreak of disease on the dealer's premises, and 10 of the sheep were combined with another group of sheep that subsequently went into Longtown Market. Those sheep from Longtown Market were probably excreting virus at that time, and they were then moved on to farms by vehicles which were also contaminated and by dealers. We have got a pretty good picture of exactly what happened. Why I have always expressed concern about sheep is because 16 sheep started all this. They went into Hexham Market. We do not believe they were excreting virus then because there is very little spread from Hexham Market. All the problem came down to Longtown Market.

  14. The first confirmed case was going back to the 20th, but have you not been able to trace back to where these sheep came from? You are saying that 16 sheep on 13 February, you believe, were being moved to Hexham and then on to Lancaster and Longtown, but you are saying that your first confirmed case was the pigs in the abattoir in Essex. How do you know about these sheep, and where do you think they came from, if you have done this magnificent job of tracing everything else back?
  (Mr Scudamore) We know where the sheep came from, they came from an infected farm in Northumberland. They moved from an infected farm in Northumberland into the system. The infected farm in Northumberland was within the plume of virus excretion from the pig farm. I think what I am trying to say is that all of this occurred before we knew we even had a problem.

  15. So it was only two weeks ahead of you.
  (Mr Scudamore) Yes, about two weeks.

Mr Martlew

  16. If you look at all these charts Longtown is the key.
  (Mr Scudamore) Yes.

  17. Was the market itself well-run? Did you have difficulty tracing from Longtown? Was trading actually going on outside the ring? Have we learned any lesson from that?
  (Mr Scudamore) I do not think Longtown Market is any different to other markets, but what it demonstrated was that a lot of sheep went through the market and a few infected sheep can infect a lot more sheep. From the two markets there were 21,000 sheep sold. That is a lot of sheep to become infected. One issue is the potential for infection in a market where animals mix, and a second issue is tracing sheep. This is a major lesson to be learned, which will come out of the various inquiries. Identification and tracing of sheep is critical. If you have got a rapidly spreading disease you actually need to be able to trace animals so you can get on top of it rather than following along behind. On the third issue about out of market trade sales, there is nothing to stop that. In fact, I think in March we went to the media and asked for assistance and if anybody bought sheep in the Longtown Market area, or outside the market, they could actually contact us, and I do not recollect how many people contacted us. There is a problem, if you are dealing with a rapidly spreading disease, in that you have to be able to rapidly trace animals. I think there is an issue on the identification and traceability of animals.

Mr Jack

  18. The question that arises out of the source at Hexham is are you able to tell us how the infectivity got into that farm in the first place?
  (Mr Scudamore) I do not think I can, at the moment.

  19. Can I just ask why?
  (Mr Scudamore) There are two issues. One is we know the pig farm had the disease, and we know approximately when that disease was there. We know the plume from that farm spread and infected four or five other farms in Northumberland, but I am afraid the case is sub judice at the moment and there are prosecutions pending. Therefore, I cannot go into a lot of detail. What we do know is that on the pig farm, when we went there, there was a high proportion of pigs with disease, the pigs had old clinical disease that had probably been there since about 12 February. Therefore, infection must have occurred before that. So we have a pretty good idea on the epidemiology and the spread of it, but how the virus came into the country and how it moved from where it entered the country to get to the pigs will, I think, be speculation, because to try and actually identify it would be very, very difficult.

1   See pp 25-42. Back

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