Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2001
40. So far the only clear indication of action
is large notices at ports of entry telling people about not bringing
certain things in and the amount of meat you can bring in legally,
and so on. I would not have thought that is going to make a great
deal of odds because it will affect only law-abiding citizens
who have a genuine concern about the matter, and not those who
are careless and uninterested in the health of animals in this
country and the economy that we are seeking to protect by these
(Mr Scudamore) We are building up a package of measures
and we have been in close touch with the Australians, the New
Zealanders and Canadians to see what mechanisms they have in place
and how they are detecting and dealing with the illegal importation
41. This is not rocket science, is it?
(Mr Scudamore) No.
42. The difficulty is that the British civil
service culture which chooses to divide accountability for many
of these activities into a series of separate units constantly
requires months for people to mull over the various options with
each other before any action is taken. So I assume we will wait
until some time in the new year for some announcement on this,
when we will digest the implications for each other's jobs. Is
that roughly what happens?
(Mr Scudamore) I am not sure, Chairman, I can answer
that question. What I can say is that like you I recognise that
illegal imports and the importation of meat containing viruses
poses a major risk to the country. There is no question that if
you look at the diseases and you look at the viruses and you look
at their survival in meat, there is a potentialparticularly
with foot and mouth disease, swine fever, African swine fever
and swine vesicular diseasefor those diseases to come in
in meat or meat products. The second thing, in my advice, is we
have to look at where those three methods come in and we have
to see how we can detect them and eliminate them. The critical
question is enforcement and funding and resources. I think that
is an issue which needs to be looked at.
43. We had an outbreak detected in the middle
of February of this year and we are now towards the end of October.
What stage has this process of deliberation reached?
(Mr Scudamore) As I say, there are initiatives under
way. I cannot recollect, I am afraidI can have a guessbut
the initiatives involve publicity, which we have been pursuing
44. I have noticed that as a traveller.
(Mr Scudamore) There are cross-departmental initiatives
to look at how we can improve things and how we can look to detecting
things. We are having to see what we can actually do with containers.
We cannot turn out all the containers, so the question is what
do we do with them?
45. Last point. As I said, it is not rocket
science and it is done elsewhere in the world. I think many people
will have accepted an urgent adoption of the measures taken in
other countries and the methods that are used in other countries,
but, again, the British civil service approach is to seek to reinvent
this process to a particular British specification, which of course
takes a very long time and does not necessarily produce the best
(Mr Scudamore) I do not necessarily agree with that.
I think it is a very complex issue.
46. It is a complex issue that has been solved
in other parts of the world. Why can it not be solved here?
(Mr Scudamore) If we take things like "sin bins",
where people coming into the country throw their meat, there are
all sorts of public health issues related to that, in terms of
piles of meat piling up, and there is the possibility that other
materials will be thrown into these bins.
47. We are not the only country in the world
that has people bringing in meat that is banned. Are we? It is
a global issue and it is addressed by civil servants and politicians
globally. Surely there are models which can be adopted from elsewhere
which would suit our requirements, although they might be inconvenient
to the particular administrative structure of the British civil
service and local government.
(Mr Scudamore) I think I have answered as far as I
can at the moment.
48. Can I disagree with what has been said.
If it was so easy to stop smuggling we would not have a problem
with illegal immigrants, we would not have a problem with drugs
and we would not have a problem with cigarettes and drink being
brought into the country. So when you made the point that we will
eliminate this, I do not think it is possible to eliminate it.
I think it is a cul-de-sac we are going down, in reality. The
question is, we have to stop it getting into the animal food chain.
That is where the work has got to be done. Why did we not ban
pig swill earlier? What was the agricultural view on this? Were
the farmers objecting to banning pig swill and what will be the
view in the future, do you think?
(Mr Scudamore) We wish to reduce the risk that meat
comes into the country, but there is still the chance that it
could get in and we have to have in place the measures to prevent
that meat coming into contact with animals and, if it does come
into contact with animals, to prevent the disease spreading from
those. On swill, it is actually a very useful way of getting rid
of by-product. After the 1967/68 outbreak there was no recommendation
to ban swill. The recommendation after that outbreak and subsequently
was that we had to tighten up the control on swill. In other words,
the swill had to be collected by licensed collectors, it had to
be taken to licensed swill plants, those swill plants had to have
facilities to reach certain temperatures and pressures so that
the swill could be treated and the temperatures they reached would
destroy the virus in the meat. So there was actually little risk
that if the swill was treated properly there would be virus left
when it was fed to the pigs. When it was subsequently fed to those
pigs, the pigs under the Movement and Sale of Pigs Order were
only allowed to go direct to slaughter. So there were measures
in place all the way along the chain to make sure that the way
it was collected was kept under control, it went to the swill
plant, was treated and was fed to pigs and those pigs had to go
to slaughter only and could not enter the general pig chain. So
I think all of those measures were in place.
49. It depended on people actually carrying
out the regulations.
(Mr Scudamore) Yes, that is right. Swill plants were
subject to more inspection by the government than any other pig
farms. They were licensed and they were checked four times a year
to make sure that they were complying with the rules. What any
enforcement cannot do, however, is to make sure that every day
those people do what they are supposed to do. What we could do
was to license them, explain what was needed and to enforce it
by the regular visits, and from 1967 until now the swill plants
have operated and they have operated without causing any problem.
The numbers of swill plants has gradually reduced. There were
large numbers in the 1967/70 period and they have gradually come
down so that there are relatively fewer of them nowadays. That
was the position on swill plants at the beginning of this outbreak.
Since then swill has been banned. The question then arises, where
does the swill go? It goes into landfill sites. So we stop one
problem but we might create other problems, which we need to be
very careful about.
50. Mr Scudamore, you will be aware that Devon
County Council's inquiry which they held in public has recently
published their preliminary findings. There is an assertion in
there that the handling of foot and mouth disease outbreak in
Devon at least, (which is all they were looking at) was "lamentable".
What is your response to that? Coupled with that, were you or
any of your staff asked to give evidence to that inquiry?
(Mr Scudamore) We are asked to give evidence to lots
of things. The reason we did not give evidence to that inquiry
is that we will be giving evidence to the two official inquiriesthat
is the Anderson Inquiry and the Royal Society Inquiry. Secondly,
my staff are extremely pressed workwise; we have a huge job ahead
of us, even now, and the staff in Devon were concentrating on
restocking, cleaning and disinfection and serologically testing.
I think I ought to pay tribute to those staff in Devon. If you
look at those maps I have given you, they got well ahead of other
counties in doing the serological testing and clearing the protection
zones. So, at the moment, my staff are concentrating on dealing
with disease, controlling the restocking and we are aiming to
get Devon a free county as soon as we can, because that then has
impacts on farmers. Going to inquiries is actually very time-consuming.
I think our view was that we were still in the middle of an outbreak,
we still had a lot of work to do and that staff should concentrate
51. Perhaps only one or two people for about
an hour. If you are already preparing information for other inquiries
presumably it would not have been that much more time-consuming.
(Mr Scudamore) I think it would have been. Coming
to a Committee like this, Chairman, takes a lot of preparation
and a lot of time to read up and get all the facts and figures.
If you do not get them right you then have even more of a problem.
What we would want to do is give our evidence to the other two
inquiries so that we can look back and get all the facts together
and then the lessons can be learned from that. I think the Devon
Inquiry, which is very useful, will go into the other inquiries
and it will enable them to start looking at the issues raised
David Taylor: Your response to the assertion
which was the core question?
52. What is your response to the fact that it
was considered, as I say, "lamentable"?
(Mr Scudamore) My response to that is I cannot really
comment too much on that because, in fact, this will be an issue
that will be looked at by the lessons learned inquiry. What I
would say is that we have had an immense outbreak, we have had
wide distribution of an unprecedented nature, we have had resources
which have been stretched to the limit and we have had staff who
have been working 14-hours a day to try and control it.
53. Who decided that DEFRA officials would not
participate in this inquiry? Who took the decision?
(Mr Scudamore) I think that was a decision within
DEFRA and, obviously, that is an issue for ministers.
54. I am sorry, is the answer that a minister
gave the instruction? Is that the answer?
(Mr Scudamore) The answer is that it was discussed
within DEFRA and it was decided, with ministerial agreement, that
officials would not give evidence to the Devon Inquiry, for the
reasons I have given, in terms of time, the resources and the
need to get on with the job that we are doing.
55. So the minister said, based on advice from
officials, that DEFRA should not participate in the inquiry?
(Mr Scudamore) I was not intimately involved in those
decisions, but decisions like that are made by ministers on advice
and in discussion. I do not know if Roy wants to say something
56. There was also a mention in the report about
the potential breakdown of communication between farmers and MAFF
staff and allegations of insensitivity and belligerence and so
on. Could you comment on what your response to that is? Secondly,
in terms of the recommendation that a development of a national
contingency plan to cope with foot and mouth would help with future
outbreaks, we are aware that a contingency plan existed following
1967. When in the commencement of this outbreak was it realised
that that contingency plan was wholly inadequate to deal with
the outbreak which was then before you.
(Mr Scudamore) On the communications and lack of sensitivity,
communications are essential and we need good communications and
I think one of the lessons which is going to have to be looked
at is how we communicate. I do not think this is unique to DEFRA.
In communicating with an outbreak of this size, how one communicates
from the centre to the local offices is an issue we need to consider:
how the local offices communicate to farmers, the sheer volume
of communication that has to go on has to be seen to be believed.
For example, we wrote to farmers; the ministers sent various letters
to farmers on biosecurity and on all sorts of different things;
we had media briefings, but it is a very difficult topic and how
do you get messages and information when things are changing so
rapidly. In the first two months of this outbreak everything was
changing so rapidly, and I said it was unprecedented. We had to
learn as we went along with a lot of this. No one has had to deal
with a widespread sheep disease in a dense animal population before.
We had to learn a lot as we went along and we had to change policy
as we learnt the lessons through the epidemiology. I agree with
you that communication needs to be looked at and improved, and
we had very great difficulties in knowing the best way to get
it through to people. Do you put it on the website? Do you send
them letters? Whichever method we used, there were always people
who did not get it.
57. Was it a lack of staff on the ground that
(Mr Scudamore) Yes. We had a major problem with staffingI
am quite happy to admit thatbut we started off with an
outbreak in Essex. It then escalated so we had virtually twelve
geographical areas with what were 1967/1968 type outbreaks; we
ran out of vets; we did not have enough technical staff; we had
to train people to bleed animals; we had to find administrative
staff and even drawing on other government departments we have
had a serious resource problem. We have had to agree this with
other government departments to get in people; we have had the
army in, so we have had a serious problem with resources due to
the size of the outbreak.
58. You ran out of vets. Whose decision was
it to decline the offers of retired vets to assist in the earlier
months of the outbreak.
(Mr Scudamore) There are quite a lot of complicated
issues related to vets and retired vets. One issue is we do have
health and safety rules and one reason we are always concerned
about employing older members of profession is that, if they are
on farms and handling animals, we have to be quite happy that
there are no health and safety issues. One of the lessons we learnt
quite quickly was that retired vets would be invaluable working
in offices so people with experience who might not be wanting
to go out on the farms were very valuable working in offices.
So we did have difficulties to begin with in recruiting people
but in fact we have taken retired vets for quite a long time now.
59. Health and safety issues for these older
vets who were offering their help and would have been available?
Health and safety issues affecting them.
(Mr Scudamore) Yes. We are responsible for our staff
and the environment they work in with respect to health and safety.
If we send a man out to a farm who is not capable or able of dealing
with large cattle and he gets killed or breaks an arm, we are
in a very difficult position. We have to be quite clear that the
people we are using in these sorts of jobs, which can be very
dangerous if you are having to examine cattle on farms, are able
to do it. One of our concerns was that we have to have fit and
healthy vets on the farm to do that work. I will be retired before
long and I am not saying that retired people are not fit and healthy
but we have to be quite clear that the people who do these jobs
are able to do them. We do have retirement at 60 in the Civil
Service. We keep LVIs on until 65 and in exceptional circumstances
up to 70, but we have been employing people in their 80s.