Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs First Report


The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:


Introduction and Summary


The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 has had a devastating impact on many parts of the United Kingdom. A number of investigations into the origin of the outbreak and the way in which it was dealt with by the Government have been launched. The Government has itself commissioned three inquiries, into the lessons to be learned, scientific questions raised by the outbreak, and the future of farming. We have not sought to duplicate those investigations. We have, however, taken evidence, principally from Ministers and Government officials between March and November 2001. As part of this Report we place that evidence in the public domain, so that it is available to the inquiries into the outbreak. We also draw out the key issues raised in that evidence, which relates to the origin of the outbreak, the way the disease spread, the policy and practice of culling, and vaccination. The Government-commissioned inquiries will not achieve their aims unless they address those key issues. We may well decide to analyse the results of the inquiries with a view to drawing out their essential lessons and to consider whether all relevant questions have been dealt with in an effective and well co-ordinated way.


1. On 20 February 2001, foot and mouth disease was found in pigs at an abattoir near Brentwood in Essex.[1] The case marked the beginning of the first major outbreak of the disease in this country since 1967. New cases continued to occur until 30 September 2001, when the last reported case of the disease was found on a farm near Appleby in Cumbria.[2] Outbreaks of the disease were confirmed on 2,030 premises in the United Kingdom,[3] and the livestock on those farms was destroyed. In addition the animals on more than 7,500 further farms contiguous to those where cases were found or where the disease was suspected were culled.[4] In all four million animals have been slaughtered.[5] A further two million animals were destroyed under the Welfare of Livestock (Disposal) Scheme, which was introduced to pay for transport, slaughter and disposal of animals to address serious welfare problems caused by the ban on the movement of livestock as a result of foot and mouth disease.[6]

2. The impact of the disease has extended well beyond farms in those areas directly affected. Movements of livestock in all parts of the country were restricted, and exports of livestock, meat and animal products were banned as soon as the outbreak was detected:[7] each has only recently begun to be resumed.[8] The movement and export restrictions caused enormous disruption and imposed a heavy financial burden on many farmers and others in related trades such as livestock traders, auctioneers and hauliers.

3. The interdependence of many industries in rural areas has meant that the devastation wrought by foot and mouth disease has spread much wider than the agricultural sector. The scale of the outbreak has had consequences too for businesses based in urban areas. The unforgettable images of slaughtered livestock, of burning pyres of dead animals, and of carcasses being transported to burial pits had a particularly damaging impact on both domestic and foreign tourism: the then Tourism Minister reported in March that for foreign tourism "the image of cattle burning has probably been the single most damaging thing".[9] In April the President of the American Society of Travel Agents commented on the effect on potential tourists of the "image of thousands of animals being slaughtered on our screens, and of men in flak jackets, like military commandos, with huge machines burying carcasses".[10] Nationally, the closure of the rights of way network and its effect on visits to the countryside has had severe consequences for domestic tourism. The result was, the Government has estimated, that tourism spending in England alone fell by £3.3 billion,[11] with the number of overseas visitors to the United Kingdom in the summer of 2001 falling by up to 11 per cent,[12] and their spending by up to 16 per cent,[13] though this may have been affected by the strength of sterling. The outbreak has cost the Government £2.7 billion in all,[14] including £1.2 billion paid to farmers in compensation for culled livestock, and £700 million for cleaning premises and vehicles and hiring vets.[15] The total cost of the outbreak to the economy of the United Kingdom has been estimated by the Institute of Directors to be around £10 billion, or approximately 1 per cent of gross domestic product.[16]


4. Given the scale of the devastation caused by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, it is not surprising that there has been considerable pressure for a full public inquiry into the circumstances of the outbreak, not least to learn lessons for the future. The Government, however, has been consistently opposed to such an inquiry. The then Minister of Agriculture told the Agriculture Committee in April that a public inquiry might not be an adequate response to the outbreak, since it might not "have a hard look at the future of the livestock sector".[17] The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has subsequently told us that she is opposed to a public inquiry since such an inquiry has "a very specific legal identity ... [and it] involves very substantial amounts of time, very substantial amounts of public money".[18] Instead she sought an inquiry which would be "thorough but not long [and] drawn out".[19]

5. Instead, on 9 August 2001, during the Summer Parliamentary recess, the Government announced in a press release from the Prime Minister's office that three separate inquiries would held into the foot and mouth disease outbreak and into the future of farming.[20] One inquiry, to be headed by Dr Iain Anderson, was commissioned to look into "the lessons to be learned from the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001 and the way the Government should handle any future major animal disease outbreak".[21] The Secretary of State told us on 17 October that the inquiry would not begin until Dr Anderson's efforts to obtain "the information and advice and input he is seeking will not impede the handling of the disease ... he certainly hopes to complete his work in six months from when he is in a position to be able to begin it".[22] On 14 December the 'Lessons to be Learned' inquiry launched its framework document,[23] which set out a number of 'key questions' about the outbreak, and set a timetable for completing the inquiry by "mid-2002". It also revealed that Dr Anderson intended to conduct the inquiry alone, supported by a secretariat. This secretariat is drawn entirely from the Cabinet Office, which will inevitably make people doubt whether it is truly independent. There is therefore a strong case either for introducing an independent element to the secretariat, or for Dr Anderson to work with others in conducting his inquiry.

6. Another inquiry, to be conducted by Sir Brian Follett on behalf of the Royal Society, began its work in October 2001. The inquiry team comprises fifteen academics and others, supported by a secretariat from the Royal Society. They have been asked to consider questions "relating to the transmission, prevention and control of epidemic outbreaks of infectious disease in livestock".[24] To do so sub-groups have been established to look into vaccination, surveillance and diagnostics, and prediction, prevention and epidemiology.[25] It will make recommendations by Summer 2002.[26]

7. The establishment of an independent Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food fulfils one of the Government's manifesto commitments.[27] The Commission will "advise the Government on how we can create a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector which contributes to a thriving and sustainable rural economy, advances environmental, economic, health and animal welfare goals, and is consistent with the Government's aims for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, enlargement of the European Union and increased trade liberalisation".[28] The Commission is chaired by Sir Don Curry, former Chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission. It was initially due to produce its report by the end of 2001,[29] and is now due to do so by the end of January 2002.[30] We intend to consider the Policy Commission's findings during our inquiry into the Future of UK Agriculture: Farming beyond subsidies?.[31] In this Report we focus on the other two inquiries.

8. Mrs Beckett assured us that this "inquiry process" would meet "the underlying need that lay behind that understandable and justifiable call for a full public inquiry, namely that people wanted a full investigation of what had happened ... the independent process we have put in place will actually give people what they want more speedily and effectively".[32] The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has welcomed the Government's approach, echoing that the inquiries should be "thorough and as swift as possible".[33] That said, the NFU also argued that "it was absolutely crucial for the inquiries to be seen as open and transparent by the farming industry and for their reports to be published in full".[34] For that reason we are concerned by reports that the Royal Society inquiry has already taken some evidence in private.[35] We are also concerned by the decision of Dr Anderson to conduct his inquiry without the benefit of a team of colleagues who might provide different experiences and views. We also note that the Framework Document published by the Lessons to be Learned inquiry does not make clear what, if any, evidence that inquiry will take in public.[36]

9. The Government-commissioned inquiries are not the only ones investigating the outbreak. Already there have been reports into ways to encourage rural recovery by Lord Haskins and the Rural Task Force on behalf of the Government.[37] Some local authorities have also announced inquiries into their local circumstances: that held by Devon County Council is now complete,[38] and Northumberland County Council has recently begun its own inquiry.[39] The advantage of such inquiries is that they give a taste of the localised factors that were operating and the different policies that were adopted accordingly. This showed that there were a number of different outbreaks occurring in the country at the same time. The Royal Society of Edinburgh is to conduct an inquiry into the outbreak in Scotland, the control procedures employed and the impact on the Scottish economy.[40] The National Audit Office has begun an investigation into several aspects of the outbreak, including the effectiveness of contingency planning, the way in which the outbreak was handled, the cost-effectiveness of the Government's response, and the overall cost of the outbreak.[41] There are also inquiries underway at European level.[42] Such inquiries may reach different conclusions, and risk adding to confusion, rather than clarifying matters. At present there is no mechanism envisaged to test the conclusions of these reports and to pull them together. We may wish to examine what role we can play to achieve such an outcome.

10. There are strong arguments in favour of holding a full public inquiry, principally that it would have allowed those affected by the outbreak to see that their concerns were being properly investigated in depth. The Government has, however, chosen another approach. The advantage of the Royal Society and the Lessons to be Learned inquiries is that they may more quickly lead to facts being established, and lessons being learned, than would have been the case if a full public inquiry was undertaken. However, that advantage will have been wasted if the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries do not conduct themselves transparently, taking evidence from as many sources as possible in public unless there are very clear reasons not to do so, and if their reports to Government when completed are not published in full and without delay, and are subject to critical analysis and debate. It will also be vital that the Government's response to these reports co-ordinates their findings in such a way as to provide the basis for an improved strategy to counter a future outbreak of foot and mouth or other animal disease.


11. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease has obviously been of prime concern to us since we were set up in July 2001, and to our predecessors on the Agriculture Committee. We have taken evidence about the matter principally from Ministers and Government officials.[43] The purpose of this Report is twofold. First, we wish to publish the evidence we have received, all of which is reprinted with this report. It will be of general interest, but will be of particular value to those participating in the Lessons to be Learned and Royal Society inquiries into the outbreak of the disease. Second, we do not seek to duplicate the work of the Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries. Instead we seek to draw attention to key questions and concerns raised by the evidence we did receive. The Lessons to be Learned and the Royal Society inquiries must address these key issues. We intend to examine the reports of the inquiries when they are published to ensure that these key issues have been addressed, and to maintain a strong interest in the conduct and progress of the inquiries.

1   MAFF News Release 60/01, 21 February 2001; see Back

2   The complete list of confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease can be viewed on the DEFRA website at Back

3   See Foot and Mouth Disease: Daily Situation Report, DEFRA, 24 October 2001. Back

4   See HC Deb, 6 November 2001, 146W. Back

5   See Foot and Mouth Disease: Daily Situation Report, DEFRA, 30 November 2001. Back

6   See MAFF News Release 111/01, at Back

7   See HC Deb, 26 February 2001, col.598. Back

8   See Autumn Movement Controls, DEFRA, 11 September 2001, 131/01; see also Exports of Pig Meat to Resume, DEFRA, 30 October 2001, 199/01; see also DEFRA Lifts Last FMD Infected Area, DEFRA, 28 November 2001, 267/01. Back

9   Quoted in Scare stories blamed for fall in visitors from overseas, Guardian Unlimited, 31 March 2001. Back

10   Red carpet rolled out for foreign travel chiefs, Guardian Unlimited, 18 April 2001. Back

11   See HC Deb, 28 November 2001, col.965W. Back

12   In August and September, compared to August and September of the previous year. Back

13   See September tourism figures confirm industry losses, and August tourism figures show 12 per cent drop, British Tourist Authority; see Back

14   HC Deb, 27 November 2001, col.834. Back

15   See How foot and mouth billions were spent, The Times, 28 November 2001, p.B3. Back

16   Taken from Cost of Foot and Mouth to business considerable, says IoD, Institute of Directors Press Release, 19 April 2001, which can be seen via A figure of £20 billion, drawn from the work of the Institute, was reported in How the foot and mouth disaster of 2001 began, (Daily Telegraph), 12 August 2001. Back

17   Evidence taken on 23 April 2001, HC (2000-01) 363-iii, Q.303. Back

18   Evidence taken on 17 October 2001, HC (2001-02) 274-i, Q.53. Back

19   HC Deb, 12 July 2001, col.1002. Back

20   See Inquiries into the Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak and the future of farming, No. 10 Downing Street Press Notice, 9 August 2001; see http://www.number­ Back

21   See No. 10 Downing Street Press Notice. Back

22   Evidence taken on 17 October 2001, HC (2001-02) 274-i, Q.54. Back

23   See Foot and Mouth - Lessons to be learned inquiry starts today, and Inquiry into the lessons to be learned from the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001: Framework Document; both documents are available on the Internet via the homepage of the inquiry, at http://www.fmd­ Back

24   See No. 10 Downing Street Press Notice. Back

25   See Royal Society Inquiry into infectious diseases in livestock: Second progress report, which can be viewed via the homepage of the inquiry at Back

26   See Royal Society Inquiry terms of reference, at Back

27   See Ambitions for Britain: Labour's Manifesto 2001, p.15; see Back

28   Terms of reference of the Commission; see http://www.cabinet­ Back

29   See No.10 Downing Street Press Release. Back

30   See HC Deb, 29 November 2001, col.1095W. Back

31   See Back

32   Evidence taken on 17 October 2001, HC (2001-02) 274-i, Q.53. Back

33   NFU comments on launch of inquiries into foot and mouth, NFU Press Release, 9 August 2001. Back

34   NFU Press Release, 9 August 2001. Back

35   F&M closed doors, Farmers' Weekly, 30 November 2001, p.8. Back

36   Inquiry into the lessons to be learned from the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001: Framework Document, December 2001, which can be seen at Back

37   Rural recovery after foot-and-mouth disease, Lord Haskins, October 2001, and the Report of the Rural Task Force: Tackling the impact of foot-and-mouth disease on the rural economy, Rural Task Force, October 2001. Back

38   See the Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry: Preliminary Findings, October 2001. Back

39   See Foot and Mouth Inquiry, Northumberland County Council Press Release, 15 November 2001. Back

40   See Foot and Mouth Disease in Scotland -- inquiry calls for views, Royal Society of Edinburgh Press Release, which can be viewed via Back

41   Work in Progress: Foot and Mouth Disease: Back

42   Including inquiries into the cost-effectiveness of the Government's response and, it has been reported, a forthcoming Temporary Committee into Foot and Mouth Disease ordered by the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament. Back

43   From the then Minister of Agriculture and the Chief Veterinary Officer on 21 March (HC (2000-01) 363-i) and on 23 April (HC (2000-01) 363-iii); from the Minister for the Environment on 28 March (HC (2000-01) 363-ii), from the FMD Science Group and the National Farmers' Union on 25 April (HC (2000-01) 363-iv), and from the Meat and Livestock Commission and the Centre for Alternative Technology on 2 May (HC (2000-01) 363-v), and from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Chief Veterinary Officer on 17 October (HC (2001-02) 274-i), from the Chief Veterinary Officer again and the Head of the FMD Division, DEFRA, and the Chairman of the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food on 31 October (HC (2001-02, 323-i), and from the FMD Science Group and Professor Roy Anderson on 7 November (HC (2001-02) 323-ii). Back

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