Reaction to foot and mouth disease
251. In response to the foot and mouth disease outbreak, the Government
established three inquiries: the 'Lessons Learned' Inquiry; the
Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock; and
the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food. The Policy
Commission inquiry was announced by the Prime Minister on 9 August
2001. It followed a commitment in the Labour Party election manifesto:
"independent and wideranging views are essential
to the development of strategic and longterm policy. We
will set up an independent commission to advise on how we create
a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector
within a thriving rural economy which advances environmental,
health and animal welfare goals".
We have discussed the Policy Commission's recommendations elsewhere
in our Report. In this section we turn to the report of the Royal
Society and Lessons Learned inquiries.
252. The reports of the Royal Society and the Lessons Learned
Inquiry were published on 16 and 22 July 2002, respectively.
The Secretary of State made a statement to the House on both reports
on 22 July, and
we took evidence from Dr Iain Anderson, the chairman of the Lessons
Learned Inquiry, on 23 July,
and from members of the Royal Society's Inquiry team on 16 October.
253. The Lessons Learned inquiry made a number of criticisms of
the Government's handling of the outbreak. Its central recommendation
was that the Government
"should develop a national strategy for animal health
and disease control positioned within the framework set out in
the report of the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and
One of the key objectives of the strategy, the inquiry found,
was to "reduce livestock vulnerability by reforms in industry
In particular it proposed that farm assurance schemes should reward
and reinforce disease awareness and biosecurity. It put forward
the possibility of a licensing system for farmers and supported
the retention of the 20-day restriction on moving animals brought
onto farms, introduced during the recent foot and mouth disease
outbreak. Such proposals will have significant implications for
the livestock sector, in particular for livestock markets.
254. As we have said, the best way to reconnect farmers to
their market is by reducing the number of links in the food chain.
In such circumstances it is inevitable that livestock, for example,
will be increasingly sold directly by farmers to retailers or
processors in a long-term contractual relationship. The need to
improve and maintain biosecurity through measures such as the
20-day standstill (which is heavily contested and subject to different
approaches in Scotland and England which the Government has signally
failed to explain) also suggests that fewer sales will be made
at livestock markets. Livestock markets will become more heavily
dependent on the sale of store animals and may develop as commissioning
agents for contract purchasing thus adjusting to the trend to
create closer and more permanent links along the food chain. The
Meat and Livestock Commission should monitor total annual returns
to livestock farmers selling on a contract basis with those selling
255. Like the Lessons Learned inquiry, the Royal Society report
made a number of recommendations which would apply only in the
event of a disease outbreak. However, it too proposed licensing,
recommending that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs should "ensure that all keepers of livestock (including
that not kept for food production) are properly registered and
submit to DEFRA each year the name of their nominated private
veterinary surgeon and a health plan approved by the same veterinary
256. The recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Royal Society
inquiries might be adopted in the context of the proposals outlined
by the European Commission in relation to the Mid-Term Review,
discussed below. Auditing farms and including animal health and
welfare requirements within cross-compliance conditions could
have the effect of a licensing system, as long as it is applied
to all keepers of livestock. We therefore recommend that the
Government explore, with the European Commission and other European
Union Governments, whether the registering of keepers of livestock
(for example, through imposing cross-compliance conditions on
farmers and through the proposed audit of farms) could play a
role in creating a new confidence between consumers and farmers
(although we recognise that some keepers of livestock are not
subsidised and that therefore not all aspects of these recommendations
could be accommodated through crosscompliance). The
annual veterinary approval for health plans proposed in Royal
Society's report might also provide the basis for livestock farm
assurance scheme. We further recommend that the agriculture
industry is consulted about the design of assurance schemes which
would incorporate the proposals of the Royal Society.
257. The Royal Society's report proposed several changes to the
future management of the agricultural science base and of the
State Veterinary Service. In oral evidence, Professor Sir Brian
Follett, the Royal Society Inquiry's Chairman, expressed concern
that "much of animal disease research in Britain is fragmented,
poorly led and needs a complete overhaul".
258. The Royal Society noted that the state funding of agricultural
research has been tightening for twenty years and this, together
with the reactive direction of research, responding heavily to
the latest crisis, has both weakened and narrowed the research
base. In our Report
into the Departmental Annual Report 2002 we also referred to concern
about spending on scientific research, and recommended greater
funding of research, if necessary.
We support the Royal Society's recommendation that an additional
£250 million be spent on livestock research over the next
and strongly endorse its call for a strategic review of how livestock
disease research is managed.
We believe that while DEFRA should play an important part in this
review it should be led from outside the Department. We also support
the proposal that research spending be directed towards possible
future risks, many of which, it appears, currently are minimally
259. Moreover, the Royal Society was "concerned about the
attractiveness of the State Veterinary Service as a career".
One difficulty it referred to was the minimal support that seemed
to be available to those in the Service seeking to improve their
The limited role played by MAFF and now DEFRA in supporting university
veterinary education was also remarked on.
The Government should examine how it can improve the attractiveness
of the State Veterinary Service, and particularly how it can better
support education relating to the veterinary care of farm animals.
260. The Royal Society drew attention to the need to establish
an advice structure which could gather and disseminate scientific
advice both from within Government and from outside. It recommended
a Chief Scientific Adviser's Group, chaired by DEFRA's Chief Scientific
Adviser, which could be activated rapidly in the event of a disease
welcome the establishment of the Chief Scientific Adviser's Group.
Arrangements concerning the role of the group should form part
of future contingency plans.
261. The misery of the foot and mouth disaster has provided a
mass of data on the various outbreaks of 2001. In the context
of a crisis the analysis of each outbreak's pattern could not
be carried out with precision. Data errors and lacunae were not
unusual. It is important that we gather as much information
from this mass of data as we can, and that the data is shared
as rapidly as possible with the wider scientific community so
that we can continue to learn from our experience. Government
has not always had a satisfactory record in allowing access to
its data. It is critical that this is not the experience of those
seeking to research aspects of this outbreak. The Government should
define, in partnership with both scientific and farming stakeholders,
the data that would assist in the analysis and management of any
262. Although there was a lack of consensus about modelling of
the foot and mouth outbreaks, it played a critical role in the
management of the disease. The models used are not the only ones
that are relevant to the analysis and prediction of outbreaks.
It is important that the Government, as part of its planning
for infectious disease control, has rapid access to a full range
of potential models and to the expertise needed to make appropriate
use of them, and that it invests in the development of these tools.