Report on FMD Stakeholder meeting with the CVO on FMD Control Strategies and EU Directive Transposition, 4th August 2004, Page St.
Preparatory literature sent out in advance of this meeting subtly suggested a sea change in proceedings for this meeting, erroneously presumed to be a case of DEFRA employees demonstrating to the new chief that they can, when pushed, do all the normal things (such as circulating the Agenda and relevant literature in advance).
Confirmation that this was more than a window-dressing exercise was apparent before the meeting-room door had fully swung open – large and readable name cards demonstrated where DEFRA personnel and the Chair were to sit (precluding the need for a guessing-game and last minute rush to change seats in order to hear), similarly sized personal name and organisation cards were presented on entry and - blow me – microphones installed, so that we could all hear one another; in fact, when the air conditioning impinged it was stopped by order of the Chair. Nothing extraordinary in any of this, one may think, other than the fact that Stakeholder’s had almost given up requesting all of the above as so many repeated attempts had proven fruitless.
The Chair then opened proceedings by welcoming us all, stating that this was the first FMD Stakeholder meeting that she had chaired, and then proceeded to introduce to us the themes we would hear reinforced throughout the meeting, namely, the crucial importance she would attach to communications, that this meeting was an important staging point in the process we were all involved in, that our efforts were appreciated as vital to a strong partnership between DEFRA and Stakeholders (defined as those affected) and that this event was to be seen as a clear signal of good and open communication.
We were then all asked to introduce ourselves and briefly state both our interest in attending and our opinion of developments so far. This we usefully did, which gave DR an opportunity to form a quick opinion of the Stakeholders present, their concerns, critiques and ‘temperature’, and also allowed all Stakeholders not only to do the same but also to spot who was new to their role and who there from 2001 – an important observation.
DR then accurately stated that we have made a lot of progress but a lot of practicalities still have to be worked through. Also, that some of the issues are not (to understate somewhat) ‘instantly solvable’ so, returning to the Animal Health and Welfare maxim, reiterated that prevention is better than cure! (In my introductory piece I stated that I was concerned at the lack of progress in uptake or deployment of Rapid Diagnostic Technology, a point which the CVO noted). “Communication is at the centre of all of this – including peacetime” she said. We therefore moved on to item 2 on the Agenda – Communications.
The CVO stated that from the outset her intention is total transparency. The Agenda and papers will go on DEFRA’s website, where others unable to attend can view and contribute. All present were then asked if they had any objection to this meeting being minuted and minutes being displayed on the website and as there were no abstentions such was agreed.
(A list of attendees will be found on DEFRA’s minutes of this meeting which will be posted on their website).
We then moved to item 3 on the Agenda, the paper curiously named FMD – 01.
Debby Reynolds then explained that although this is not the first paper any of us have received on FMD, it was the first of the new transparent regime.
The floor was then handed to Ian Aitken to talk us through the paper, which he promptly did, with little deviation from the written text. As most Stakeholders had read the document previously and / or been present for at least some of the previous meetings of the past few weeks, many were familiar with the bulk of the paper which therefore delayed us little.
Bob Tyler asked about the creation of a two-tier market arising from the life-long export ban on Vaccinated stock, a point later echoed by Keith Baker and again by the representative of the Livestock Auctioneers Association. No clear answer was obtained, leaving a task to be worked on, but I surmised that the feeling was that, like so many farmer-perceived market related problems arising from vaccination, the realities of the new scenario in the event of the next non-minor outbreak, given the stark choice between uncompensated welfare cull and the relative safety of potentially slightly reduced prices for finished fat and breeding stock, many would choose the latter. Meanwhile, most of the livestock producing organisations appear to be keeping their cards close to their chest, (although the pig sector are avowedly accepting of this present scenario) operating on the basis that this Government may not be in power come that dreaded day, and that negotiations on welfare cull etc, etc, will begin again then. However, further work on this, role-playing various scenarios is advisable, to attempt to foresee all possible (including deviant) outcomes.
John Thorley reported that in 2001 importers were asked and agreed to divert meat to other markets to give UK producers access to our own – a question I had raised on Monday (25th July) but with little positive outcome – I did not know (nor obviously had anyone present then) that this had been successfully done, although on what scale John did not say – a question to pursue with him.
Fred Landeg then clarified the situation regarding meat from vaccinated animals as such-
Live animals that are vaccinated can never be exported.
Meat for export – see grid.
After final Disease-free Status declared – no differentiation made (ie on exported products).
A string of questions then followed. Topics covered included :–
The problem of third country reluctance to accept perfectly safe product (from both a human and animal perspective), not least arising from real-world dog-eat-dog
opportunism operating in the global marketplace – not resolved.
The importance of always referring to ‘products from vaccinated animals’ (not ‘v… meat’).
Second-guessing the size of the next outbreak (to extrapolate that volumes of product from SZ and PZ will be small) being unwise- even though six-day movement standstill is in place, and better tagging.
“Day One GB Movement standstill” thundered the CVO, “or possibly before Day One,” demonstrating that this significant lesson has definitely been learned.
Chris Lewis asked about Welfare – the scenario where stock are trapped with no grass and plenty only a short-but-prohibited distance away. Chris requested that the movement of stock (under [veterinary] supervision) within a holding be looked at as well as disease control.
Prior to the meeting Chris (Sheep Veterinary Society lead vet, practicing sheep keeper from the Shropshire / Cheshire border, independent consultant, former SVS employee and a key man at the ministry in 2001), mentioned that at a meeting two days previously DEFRA had agreed never again to initiate what he was referring to as the ‘ Welshpool shambles’. In other words, Contiguous and DC culling would never be initiated until the supposed IP was proven to be infected.
Fred Landeg replied that you have to balance the risk of spreading disease, that decisions on these local movement issues have to be made locally and that there are constraints within the Directive.
The Genus rep (contracted Vaccinating agents) requested an orchestrated ‘peacetime’ information campaign to assuage farmer fears of, or predjudice against, vaccination by demonstrating that most of the obstacles to use are chimaeric. The NFU agreed to cooperate with this.
John Thorley requested or suggested a biennial report on the global FMD situation, not least as a very useful way of keeping these issues current.
Bob Tyler returned to the 2-tier market question asking how, if an animal is regarded as potentially a disease risk for export, is it safe to move it within the country and who would willingly take (ie buy) that ‘risk’? Again no answer, so a task in process to resolve this.
Bob then asked if DEFRA would appoint professional commercial PR personnel to avoid the sort of misconceptions in the public consciousness that are so difficult to allay during an outbreak and caused his members so much damage in 2001. ‘Have the dialogue to do the job properly, sensitively, get the public to say it’s a good thing’.
The NFU rep expressed the view that some farmers feel that the present bio-security arrangements are excessive and verging on the punitive, and the NFU would welcome communications that would help explain why the need for their ongoing continuation.
The NFU rep then queried why a V-tag was necessary at all given the improvements to livestock Identification both present now and in the pipeline.
The CVO welcomed John’s initiative if it would lead to behavioural change, though from what to what was not specified.
McCartney BMPA raised a point of concern (that licences are specifically required for all red-meat abattoirs in the event of an FMD outbreak, potentially causing needless delays) – a point that was duly noted for action by the CVO.
Derek Armstrong MLC asked that we all be kept abreast of the latest technology and science (a request that dovetails with John’s).
The CVO then led us through FMD – 03, seeking partners or suitable interested parties to help progress the differing strands, which remained as printed other than that Nigel Bagley (AIMS) was brought into 2, the MLC to 3, the BDAA into 4 (Communication issues), ‘industry’ at 7 was described as ‘BMPA, MLC, anybody who can contribute to write to Graham Lewis’, ‘industry’ in 10 was described as (broadly) those at the Whitehall Place meeting (Friday 29th July) and that ‘industry’ in 11 referred to the whole group present.
Sue Payne from Food Aware, Consumers Association, asked for help and offered to help in promoting the issues involved.
The CVO thanked her and all Stakeholders present for having taken the time and trouble, some on many occasions, to attend and participate in this process, defined for the future as a partnership, and one which the CVO hoped all the group would soon feel they could sign off to.
Finally Debby requested us all to take away a determination to find solutions to the problems presented, to challenge ourselves as to how we can better contribute to building a partnership that all stakeholders can trust as being competent to most effectively prevent or most effectively deal with Foot and Mouth Disease incursions to these shores.