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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 113)



Mr Breed

  100. Has not the history of this whole lesson to be learned some time ago been problematical? Just going back in the history and looking at some research that has been done, we had the Fellows Committee in 1912 following an outbreak who said that in future we should consider inoculation for surrounding farms; we had the Sir Ernest Gowers report in 1952-54 which said that vaccination would be useful for severe epidemics, and then we had the Northumberland Committee in 1969 saying that contingency plans should include ring vaccination for the vicinity of any outbreak. Is it not the fact that, after all those, we go back and actually we do not take very much notice of that; each individual outbreak is then looked at in isolation and we go through the whole process again? What are we going to do this time, 100 years possibly almost later than the original, which is actually going to nail this once and for all?
  (Mr Scudamore) Firstly, this is not a strictly veterinary judgment. There are so many other issues that it is not a purely veterinary issue. It is an economic issue, a rural issue, a whole range of issues—many of which I am not competent to talk about. What we also need to look at is what has happened in the country and if you look at the UK outbreak we have had different scenarios in different parts of the country. If we had done a 3 km vaccination around Northampton it would have been a complete waste of time. We would have put resources into vaccinating and not into control of disease. What we are going to have to look at is what happened in different parts of the country. There are other parts of the country like Cumbria and Northumberland where the agriculture and the situations are entirely different, so maybe we need to look to different control measures in different parts of the country for different circumstances. In Cumbria and Northumberland, for example, I believe there are lots of small farms which are fragmented; people help each other out; there is a lot more movement of people backwards and forwards; there is stock on outlying land and there is an entirely different situation to that you find in Cheshire, for example, where we eradicated it very quickly. One issue is whether we adopt the same procedures in every part of the country or do we have to do something different? Secondly, if as a country we decided to vaccinate the whole of Cumbria, would that have been acceptable to the farming community, the retail community and everybody else? So the second issue is, if we are going to have a policy of vaccinating in certain areas, we need to have everybody brought into that policy. We need to know the implications in terms of trade and tourism—and even if we vaccinate and we still have disease there could be an impact on tourism—what the impact on trade is—there is a national impact on trade—and would it work? There are a lot of issues in all of this which I do not think we can decide now which need to be decided both in a UK context and in a European Union context and in a world context. If we are looking to have vaccination more routinely then we are going to have to look to changing world standards for trade.

  101. What you are saying is we ought to develop contingency plans for the patterns of farming for different parts of the country so when an outbreak occurs we have a contingency plan which relates to the farming activity in the area in which that outbreak has suddenly occurred?
  (Mr Scudamore) That looks as though it is going to be a particularly important aspect. There is no doubt that in this outbreak we have not had one outbreak. To talk about "one outbreak" is not very sensible. What we have had is about thirteen outbreaks. We have had the Cumbria/Northumberland which is very similar in terms of the farming patterns and in terms of the way the outbreaks have spread; we have had the Devon outbreak which is different again; we have had the smaller outbreaks round the country and the way we handle each of those might be different depending on, as you say, the type of agriculture, the way it is spread, how people operate and what goes on in that part of the country.

Mr Drew

  102. On vaccination, surely the problem is that people are trying to come up with a veterinary solution to what is a multifaceted problem. It is an economic problem. In vaccinating these animals there is going to be no return. It is going to cost you more to vaccinate than you are going to get back from those animals, and that should surely be the baseline from which we are looking at this.
  (Mr Scudamore) If you vaccinate the animals, the only concern that international trade will have is whether there is virus present in those animals or in the product of those animals. If there is no evidence of that then I cannot see any reason why trade cannot take place. What we really need to do, though, is develop a system where we can vaccinate animals, we can separate out vaccinated animals from infected ones, and demonstrate that vaccinated animals do not carry the virus. If we can do that then there would be no impact on trade but that comes back to research and development and it comes back to the newly developing tests which are coming on the market which need to be validated, and we need to try and work out a system of eradicating disease using vaccination. But you still come back to the question of what is our objective? Is it to eradicate the disease using vaccination or is it to live with the disease and just vaccinate?


  103. You mentioned tests and what matters, of course, is how close are we to having a reliable test to identify infection or infected animals whether they are vaccinated or not. There has been an argument about this. Some people maintain that we could have been using existing technology; other people say the development has not been validated; it is not state of the art; it has not been used on a large scale yet. Where are we on this? How far away are we, in your judgment, from having this instrument at our disposal which is going to make the argument of a contiguous cull presumably redundant?
  (Mr Scudamore) It would not unfortunately because of the way the disease operates. There are two types of tests we are looking at. The first one is to identify whether the animal has antibodies to the vaccine or antibodies to the virus and those tests are becoming available, and I see one of the companies has put one on the market in the last month which will detect vaccine antibodies against disease antibodies. That would be quite helpful because if you vaccinated large numbers of animals you could then screen them and say, "Well, that is vaccinated, that is infected", and you could remove infected animals. But the second type of test is to identify the virus in a quicker and more effective way and these are the tests you are talking about using what is called PCR technology which is a molecular technology looking at the genetic material. Those tests are around but they need to be validated, but with all these tests you have to look at the disease and how it operates. If an animal becomes infected, when would the virus be in the blood and when would the test pick it up? If the animal is infected and it develops clinical disease and excretes the virus, when can you pick that up? So whilst the test might be available, the way in which they are used needs to be validated otherwise you would get false positive and false negative results. We would not want to use tests against the wrong results because if it gave us false negative results and we said, "It is all clear" we would leave infected herds; if it gave us false positive ones then we would kill them unnecessarily. But we do need to begin to use the new technology in the molecular methods and there is no question that all these methods have to be used. What we are looking into is whether they should be used on the farm or in the laboratory; whether we use field tests or laboratory tests.

  104. There is an enormous difference between the two.
  (Mr Scudamore) The advantage of the laboratory test is you could have standardised procedures; you know that the results are uniform. The advantage of a field test is you can do it on the spot and get an instant result. An ideal test would be a microscope slide where you take a sample from the animal's mouth, put it on the slide, and if it goes red it is positive and if it does not go red it is negative. These are the sort of things we would want to see.

  105. But in the circumstances of an epidemic taking Mohammed to the mountain must surely be rather more desirable than the opposite?
  (Mr Scudamore) Yes.

Mr Drew

  106. Finally, is your problem not one of numbers but of psychology? There was certainly a view expressed to me by some TVIs about the quality of people in the State Veterinary Service. I think they were quite unjustified but there has certainly been for some time low morale in the SVS. Should we not properly fund it and rebuild it?
  (Mr Scudamore) That sounds very good!

  107. That is a big issue, is it not?
  (Mr Scudamore) We do have a service which is exhausted at moment. We have been working since swine fever began in August last year and I ought to pay tribute to our staff who have put in a tremendous amount of work—

Diana Organ

  108. Particularly those in Gloucestershire.
  (Mr Scudamore) I think it applies everywhere—those in Devon, those in Dumfries. They have done a tremendous job in very unpleasant circumstances because no one likes doing the type of work we do. There is a lot of criticism around which is increasing about the way people operated, but I do think that people on the ground have done a tremendous job and I am very grateful for the thanks we get.

Mr Jack

  109. There is an allegation today made by Evill & Jones described as the country's biggest contractor of vets that you were splashing cash about with gay abandon and pinching all their people, and as a result it is said that the National Audit Office are going to investigate your largesse with salaries and the risks that were thereby created by moving all those vets to fight foot and mouth with other areas of activities. Is there any validity in this?
  (Mr Scudamore) The responsibility for meat hygiene lies with the Meat Hygiene Service so the delivery of all the meat inspection and all the veterinary requirements in abattoirs is the responsibility of the Meat Hygiene Service which is part of the FSA. Evill & Jones are contractors who provide vets to the Meat Hygiene Service so the first question is whether the Meat Hygiene Service had any problems and, as far as I am aware, I have not heard of any but they might have reported in through other channels. I should also comment about the Meat Hygiene Service who have also done a tremendous job in all of this. They have picked up disease on a number of occasions; they have looked after the cleaning and disinfectant in abattoirs; they have dealt with all the controls on movements from farms to abattoirs, so they have done a tremendous job. Evill & Jones provide contract vets so it is up to the Meat Hygiene Service to decide whether it has got enough vets or not and to make representations. On the question of salaries, we pay a certain rate for TVIs working normally with our staff, the people working on foot and mouth disease, because we had to attract people to work for us and to some extent it was supply and demand—we needed vets and we had to pay to get them. So we pay them £250 a day. For that we get from a lot of them 12-14 hours work a day in very unpleasant circumstances, so I think they are paid a reasonable amount for the job they do. A lot of them come from practice and while they are helping us they have to get locums in to work in the practice and they have to pay people to fill in the practices, so I think the pay we are providing the TVIs who are not full time employees—they are only going to be there while the foot and mouth is on and then they will leave—is reasonable in terms of supply and demand of what we need, and in terms of vets in abattoirs that is the responsibility of the Meat Hygiene service and it is up to them to make representations if they have a problem.

  110. So you would refute the observation in this Financial Times press release by somebody who said this was a "grotesque waste of public money"?
  (Mr Scudamore) I would certainly refute that, yes.

Diana Organ

  111. Obviously the eradication of disease was at the forefront of your mind but the implications of the policy did have a disastrous effect on tourism and many rural businesses, and one of the things that really affected the downturn in tourism, I suggest to you, was the vision that people had on their TV screens of the massive funeral pyres. It looked medieval and barbaric; it was extremely distressing for local people—particularly young children going to and from school—to see them and the smell was unbelievable for the days they were burning. Do you think that in future, if we are going to have eradication of the disease again, it can be successfully done using funeral pyres like this? I understand that we obviously cannot use burial in certain places because of the height of the water table after flooding in the previous winter. Are we going to do this again? It is so barbaric.
  (Mr Scudamore) This is a major issue which I hope will come out of the lessons learned. The question is, if you have an eradication programme, how do you deal with the carcases? We now have the hierarchy which includes rendering followed by incineration, followed by landfill, followed by burning, followed by burying, so the hierarchy for disposal of carcases would follow that order. We would go for rendering first, followed by incineration, followed by landfill, followed by burning, followed by burying, so there is a hierarchy that we would use.

  112. But in the rural areas of Devon and Gloucestershire they were burning all the time.
  (Mr Scudamore) The question there was whether it was the very large pyres or the small pyres because there were two different types. There were small ones on the individual farm and the very big ones to get rid of backlogs. There is no doubt that all of this needs to be looked at very carefully. If you are going to have an eradication programme that involves disposal of carcasses, you have to decide how you are going to dispose of those carcasses safely and effectively. It does raise the question of rendering capacity and whether that is sufficient for what we need or whether we need more rendering capacity to link in with the policy that we have. You raise a very important issue on the disposal of carcasses. It is not an issue just for this country, it is an issue everywhere. The reason the Dutch vaccinated was to allow them to have an orderly throughput through rendering plants, so the main reason they vaccinated was to enable them to control the disposal of carcasses. Even countries where you think there would not be a problem, like Australia, have a disposal problem if they have a large outbreak. You are absolutely right that we have not looked at the hierarchy, and if we are going to have a policy like this we need to look at rendering, incineration and landfill.

  113. So the use of vaccination means that we would not have to use burials so much and they would come much lower down in the hierarchy because we would then wait for the rendering capacity to become available?
  (Mr Scudamore) One of the reasons we looked at vaccinating as a contiguency method, particuarly in Humberside, was the sheer volume of animals to be disposed of. One of the options if you vaccinated is you can reduce the level of disease and if the policy is to kill the vaccinated animals, you can control and organise the rate at which you kill them and where you kill them. You might even be able to kill them in abbatoirs and then dispose of them through rendering plants. The disposal of carcasses and vaccination are linked quite closely together, albeit the Dutch still had an eradication programme where they used vaccination.

  Diana Organ: Thank you. I just hope we do not have to look at those pyres again.

  Chairman: Mr Scudamore, Mr Hathaway, you have had a very long session and we have covered an enormous amount of territory. Thank you very much for coming. We will see you from time to time as we have done in the past. This is one of a series but it has been very helpful and we are very grateful to you. There are one or two items you were going to let us have information about. We have Professor King next week so we will cover some of the same territory and we may cover a little diversion to brains if he has produced his analysis by then. Thank you very much indeed.

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