Examination of Witness (Questions 400-419)
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
400. Can I lead onand it may not be logicalto
the question of food imports. Obviously this is crucial for everybody
involved, particularly for farmers because of the consequences
of swine fever and foot and mouth. The Government has identified
that it is likely the infected meat came from abroad but is unable
say basically when and where. You come out quite strongly on this.
Can you say what weaknesses you identified in the current import
controls that we have?
(Sir Donald Curry) We state, as you say very strongly,
that control at ports, points of entry needs to be seriously stepped
up and there should be greater monitoring and greater enforcement.
The evidence would suggest that other countries have much more
stringent and more strictly enforced controls at the point of
entry than we have here. Australia, New Zealand and the States
have been cited as examples where controls are much stricter than
they are here. We believe government has been lax in this area
and needs to seriously strengthen their control. We heard from
Mrs Beckett last week that the Government is now doing that and
there has been a strengthening of control. If that is the case
we welcome that. It certainly does need to happen.
401. You talk in general terms here but what
specific controls are you talking about? Are you talking about
the fact there should be a strengthening of Customs & Excise,
a strengthening of inspectors to deal with the health problem
of imported meat? What do you have in mind?
(Sir Donald Curry) There are two areas where we need
to be rather more rigorous than we have been in the past. One
is on the quality of the food that is legitimately being brought
into this country, to ensure that it is being produced to the
standards that we require, and that our food processing industry
is obliged to conform to, and that the controls that are exercised
in other countries are adequate. There is a need to monitor this
sufficiently. We have had, thankfully, a few examples where good
policing has identified spinal cord on carcasses over the last
12 months and that inspection needs to be rigorous. Of greater
concern is the illegal importation of food brought in in suitcases
and the like through airports and points of entry. People, passengers,
tourists need to be scrutinised, I think, to a much greater extent
for what they may be carrying into this country. That appears
to be acceptable in other countries. They do not see that as an
interference with free trade or the freedom of the individual.
We need to have stricter controls through inspections at points
of entry to ensure that we are not bringing in illegal meat that
may be carrying infection and disease.
402. You put in your Report that DEFRA "must
draw up a sophisticated assessment of the risks of illegal imports,
and then lead a cross-departmental approach to implement it .
. ." I think a number of us are worried that DEFRA has the
ability even to run itself let alone to lead a cross-departmental
approach. Do you have any faith that DEFRA will actually be able
to do this?
(Sir Donald Curry) Clearly because Customs & Excise
have a responsibility in this area, it is not entirely DEFRA's
responsibility. What we are saying is where it involves other
government departments, there needs to be a co-ordinated approach
to this problem. It is not just a single department's a responsibility,
so the policing and monitoring of this needs to be a government
action. I hope that they will take this recommendation seriously
and deliver it.
403. Obviously there would beand I think
we are all agreed here on the measures that should be takenextra
cost implications in this. Were these extra cost implications
part of the ball-park figure of about £500 million?
(Sir Donald Curry) No.
404. They were not?
(Sir Donald Curry) We did not include the additional
costs that might be incurred in more rigorous controls of points
405. I welcome this part of the report which
is taken from, among other people I am sure, the things that I
sent in. On the import controls one of the things that is absolutely
clear is that there needs to be one executive authority to handle
this matter. Keith hinted at that without drawing it out forcefully
enough, that having it handled by the Port Authority, Customs
& Excise and other agencies, depending precisely what you
are talking about, produces this under-funded, quite often poorly
legislated system. Some things which are clearly a danger to this
country's health are not even subject to any penalty. You cannot
fine someone or do anything about the offence that is perceived.
Do you think that is one of the things that perhaps should have
been brought out more forcefully and clearly in this Report, that
there should be one executive agency to handle this problem and
not the current confused matrix of bodies which we always tend
to rely on in this country?
(Sir Donald Curry) I hope that if the cross-departmental
discussions take place as envisaged that that might be one of
406. In my earlier question to you I referred
to the small section of your Report which related to animal welfare
and my disappointment that there had been relatively little research
in that area. I am back to Keith Simpson's area of licensing again.
You say that you are aware that a small minority of producers
are operating well below the provisions of the welfare codes of
good practice. Are we talking about the red meat area or the white
meat area? Did you look at intensive farm production?
(Sir Donald Curry) We would not want to exclude either.
Both would be included within this concern we have.
407. Is it your belief that that small minority
is a rather larger minority when you look at certain white meat
areas such as poultry production?
(Sir Donald Curry) Can I correct something which you
said earlier. We did talk at length with the Farm Animal Welfare
Council and indeed had some work carried out by them for the Commission.
So we did have some research commissioned by them
408. I stand corrected.
(Sir Donald Curry)Which was helpful. However,
there is serious debate, of course, about space allowances and
the like within the white meat sector. I would have to say that
improvements in animal welfare standards need to be based, as
far as it can possibly be, on sound scientific knowledge. For
example, we conducted within MLC quite a lot of work on behalf
of government into the transportation of animals and journey times
and distances and the like. There is a very emotive element about
this saying that animals should not be transported more than a
few hours in the lorry and should be slaughtered as close as possible
to the point of rearing. There is a huge amount of emotion but
when you explore the stress levels scientifically on the movement
of animals it is difficult to prove that the stress is any greater
whether an animal travels two hours or ten hours. The greatest
stress is loading and unloading. Any fundamental improvement in
animal welfare standards should be based, as far as possible,
on sound scientific knowledge of what happens, not on an emotive
view that ten square foot is the space allowance. One needs to
base it on, as far as possible, sound knowledge. We are recommending
a review of the standards within the assurance schemes and that
could include all of these issues, space allowances, etcetera,
but it must be based as far as possible on sound scientific knowledge.
409. I accept that. A final question Chairman.
You recommend efforts to establish EU-wide agreement but the export
of cruel practices, if I can call it that, is typically from non-EU
countries. Some of the intensive poultry production is now being
sourced in Thailand and in the red meat area Botswana and Argentina,
so raising concerns on an EU-wide basis would not contribute much,
(Sir Donald Curry) I agree. Our poultry producers
here find it exceedingly difficult to compete with poultry production
in other parts of the world, particularly the Far East, and it
is an important competitive factor. Standards that are required
here by our retailers and food service sector should also be applicable
to suppliers that are sought elsewhere in the globe. It is a thorny
issue with food producers here that they are required to comply
to a different set of standards and others may be free to import
products that are not subject to the same rigorous standards.
410. The point I am making is that this is an
economic issue and should we be doing more to improve labelling
and consumer awareness of standards that do exist in other countries
from which we are sourcing? Would that not help farmers?
(Sir Donald Curry) We have taken, quite rightly in
my view, a positive approach to this rather than a negative, saying
we need to promote our food as having been produced to best practice
standards, and encouraging consumers to purchase our food because
we can give them assurances which other food may not carry.
411. A very quick point that I hope encapsulates
all the different arguments in this area. Surely DEFRA should
be producing an annual report to the effect of just bringing forward
the numbers of cases of illegal imports taken at the ports, and
looking at some labelling issues in terms of what is being labelled,
how it is being labelled. There are so many lists about because
there is such a lack a information which people could then at
least evaluate. Is that not something the Report could have highlighted
even more trenchantly?
(Sir Donald Curry) We want illegal imports banned
412. They are banned.
(Sir Donald Curry) We do not want to be exposed to
the risks. We want barriers to prevent them from coming in in
the first place is what I am saying. We state categorically that
labelling needs to be much clearer and we feel very strongly about
413. I wonder about your recommendations on
research. There is a plethora of bodies doing research in this
area of food and farming but you recommend two more. You want
a Priorities Board and you want an Applied Research Forum. Surely
this is pie-in-the-sky, albeit locally produced "Curry pie-in-the-sky".
You do not say anything about where the money is going to come
from, how it is going to tie in with the existing research and
whether farmers are going to contribute to this. All this is left
unresolved. It is therefore a fairly naive recommendation, is
(Sir Donald Curry) No.
414. Paid for in euros!
(Sir Donald Curry) We recommend that there is Priorities
Board established for government funding of strategic and basic
research. It is essential, in our view, that the government funding
of research is influenced by industry priorities and indeed consumer
priorities, and that there is a vehicle through which the determination
of government priorities has within it industry representation,
consumer representation and, indeed, one could argue, environmental
representation, too, so the research priorities are properly set
and influenced by what is regarded as priorities by these industry
and stakeholder representatives. Government mayone assumes
they aretrying to interpret now what the research priorities
should be, but they should be honed by the influence of those
who are actually closer to the coal face. It may be an extension
of an existing forum but there is a need to have a Priorities
Board that is influenced in such a way. The coming together of
applied research bodies in a forum is an important link in this
research chain in that currently there are many organisations
funding applied research, the Levy Boards for example, but most
of them operate within their own silos without being influenced
by other sectors. We believe, in order to ensure that the research
funds that are available are properly targeted and utilised to
greatest effect, that there should be a debate which takes place
between the various bodies that are responsible for applied research.
Within a forum they should discuss what priorities their particular
sectors have identified as needing funding and, where possible
shared funding, and there will be areas to a much greater extent
than there are now where there is shared responsibility for funding
projects, so we get maximum benefit from the research funding
that is available to us.
415. Your Report calls for measures costing
around £500 million over the next three years to bring about
a change in the direction of farming and food. That is not really
likely, is it?
(Sir Donald Curry) What, that we will get the money?
416. That you will get £500 million from
Gordon Brown over the next three years?
(Sir Donald Curry) I think the case for funding this
programme is a sound one. The industry is going through a period
of immense difficulty. It has bounced over the last five or six
years from crisis to crisis. To have an industry that is continually
knocking on government's door saying, "We have a continuing
crisis, we need another emergency aid package", is not a
sustainable way to behave.
417. You could say all that about manufacturing.
(Sir Donald Curry) We need to get the farming industry
back on to a sustainable footing. In the short term that will
require additional resource to help it through the transitional
period and we believe that the recommendations of the Report and
the funding attached to it is justifiable. It will not be easy,
of course, against the backdrop of serious pressures on public
expenditure on the Health Service and defence, which were identified
yesterday in the FT as priority areas, however in government
terms this is a relatively small amount of money for the benefit
it can bring. It is crucial to the industry and crucial that the
modulation recommendation is seen as a component of this. We believe
that levering out the funding that is needed to be able to offer
some of the existing support, which after all is taxpayers' funds,
will be helpful.
Mr Mitchell: You can say all that about manufacturing
and that makes a bigger contribution to exports and to economic
activity and to GDP.
Chairman: That is a statement; you do not need
to answer it.
418. Picking up finally on cost, Sir Donald,
you talk about £500 million of new money, government money.
Have you estimated the whole costs, including the existing funds
that are applied and that you want to redirect and the costs that
would be met by the industry? Is there a global figure, part of
which is the £500 million new money?
(Sir Donald Curry) Within the report, the modulation
recommendation would add £200 million to that figure, which
is the extent of the modulated funds over two years. We have attempted
to calculate the cost to Government. It is difficult to calculate
the cost to industry of all of the recommendations we make in
this report but we know that substantial additional costs are
going to have to be borne by the industry to implement the various
regulations that have been signed up to, or are about to be signed
up to by Government, which is why we have strongly recommended
the environmental audit approach to minimise the impact of those
costs. There is a need for the industry to play its full part
in delivering the vision and the recommendations within this document,
and for sections of the industry that will involve some cost but
the cost is in order to get it on to a more sustainable footing
and more profitable footing. That will mean in some cases investment
to achieve that. It is very difficult to quantify that across
419. Indeed difficult but perhaps something
it might be helpful to think about. Could I turn to priorities,
which does follow, and the point about Gordon Brown maybe not
providing £500 million immediately or over three years. Where
would you start? Is there an order of priorities amongst the 100
plus recommendations that are in your report?
(Sir Donald Curry) Yes, there is. There is a need
to discuss immediately with industry and stakeholders the ranking
of these recommendations in terms of their priority. I am already
having initial discussions with a number of key people on this
subject. It is essential, for example, that the collaborative
board is established as soon as possible in order to seriously
accelerate progress in the area of collaboration/co-operation.
It is essential that the food chain centre is established so we
begin this process of supply chain analysis and benchmarking and
we get those underway straight away. It is important we begin
the process of reviewing our recommendations on research and development
and look at encouraging development farms to trial research work,
and we have those tools available. There are a number of other
things. We need to begin the debate on the broad and shallow scheme
and its components. We are encouraging the retail and food processing
sectors to adopt the code of practice immediately, and there seems
to be a willingness to accept that recommendation. There are a
host of recommendations which we can introduce now with small
amounts of seed corn funding from Government which are crucial
to encourage our industry to look at market solutions to its problems
and to begin to focus on the market place and drive this message
of greater competitiveness, greater efficiency, greater focus
through the industry now. It does not require hundreds of millions
of Government funding to get that underway. We want to get that
underway as soon as possible.