Briefing Note To Temporary Committee on Foot and Mouth Disease

By Guy Thomas-Everard
Broford Farm

I am an Exmoor Hill farmer. In May of last year MAFF were insistent that my stock should be slaughtered. I disagreed with MAFF's assessment of the need to slaughter my stock and as a consequence I refused to give my consent to have my healthy stock slaughtered. After a stand off of 7 days MAFF backed down and I saved my a herd from an unnecessary slaughter and the taxpayer from having to spend between £1.5- £2 million in compensation (2.4 million euros - 3.2 million euros). There was much media interest in my position partly because there were a large number of cattle involved and because my wife and I were due to marry on 19th May.

I farm two farms in a family partnership consisting of my mother and myself. I am the managing partner of this farming business. The two farms farmed by the partnership are Broford Farm and Week Farm. On these farms I raise cattle and sheep. We employ a total of six people on these farms. These consist of tractor drivers, a herd manager and stock managers. At the time that MAFF tried to slaughter our stock we had 920 cattle at Broford Farm and at Week Farm we had 60 cattle and 300 ewes.

In April 2001 Somerset was declared a Foot and Mouth Free county. On 26th April we had a contractor who lives and works in Somerset, on to both Week and Broford Farm to dehorn a number of calves. The contractor, Robert Norman owned 10 beef cows that were kept for him throughout the winter at Greenway Farm, Wiveliscombe, Somerset. Greenway Farm had a milking herd of 300 goats. The farm is owned by Tony Woollaston. Tony Woollaston looked after and fed Robert Norman's cattle which were kept in a shed at Greenway Farm, some distance above and away from where the goats were housed. Robert Norman only saw his cattle at the goat farm on Saturdays.

On Saturday 28th April Robert Norman moved his cattle from the cattle shed at Greenway Farm. I understand that he first moved them into a handling yard with a loading ramp which was normally used by the billy goats housed beside this yard. There the cattle were duly inspected as being free of FMD by his vet, Geoffrey Johnson, under Robert's FMD movement licence. Robert then loaded the cattle into a Land-Rover and trailer and put them out to grass near Wiveliscombe. He made several journeys and the cattle remaining were left in the goat yard while this happened.

Three days later on the morning of Tuesday, 1st May 2001, Robert Norman spotted first one cow and then in the afternoon another two with symptoms of FMD and reported this to MAFF via his vet. I understand that Robert was then questioned extensively on Tuesday evening about the 15 farms on which he worked by the SVS (State Veterinary Service) Disease Control Manager, Jonathan Milree and repeatedly again on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday by another SVS vet, Richard Snell, and later by an Investigation Officer, Brian O'Lough.lin, from MAFF's Legal Department. They were all far more interested in Roberts movements than where his cattle had been. (I consider that Robert's cattle were infected on Saturday (28th) by contact with FMD virus from lesions in the goat's feet remaining on the floor of the goat's yard (used only on that day for the vet to inspect the cattle and for loading Robert's cattle). The development of FMD in Roberts' three cows exactly 72 hours later would appear to substantiate this.)

On Wednesday, 2nd May 2001, the senior MAFF SVS (State Veterinary Service) vet from Dorset, Mr Malcolm Wigglesworth, served a Form D notice on me (prohibiting livestock movement and usually implying recurring MAFF veterinary inspections) over Week and Broford Farms because we were classified as a Dangerous Contact as a result of Robert Norman's visit 6 days before on Thursday, the 26th April. Prior to serving the notice Mr Wigglesworth inspected all the cattle on both farms for any symptoms of Foot and Mouth. He found no signs of the disease.

Mr Wigglesworth advised that he did not think we had too much to worry about given that 6 days that had passed since Robert's visit - the signs of FMD would have shown by this time in cattle. He told us that this particular FMD virus shows in cattle within 2 to 4 days. He said "as we had reached Day 6 we could breathe again, when we reached Day 10 we could sleep again at night and by Day 12 we could sleep easy". However he said that for certainty our stock would be regularly inspected by a MAFF appointed "clean" vet until 3 weeks had passed since Robert Norman's visit.

On the Thursday, 3rd May, Mr Wigglesworth rang to say a "clean" vet from a private practice would be out to inspect our cattle on Friday. I waited throughout the morning of Friday for this vet. At I .3Opm I rang MAFF's office in Taunton to find out when the vet would arrive. A MAFF civil servant, Martin Boyce, told me that a vet would ring back shortly. No one did. At 4.30pm my father rang and was told a vet would ring back, again no one did. At 5.00pm a deluge of calls came in from friends and the press saying that MAFF had held a press conference saying that my stock was to be slaughtered. As a result I telephoned MAFF in Taunton and spoke to the SVS Disease Control Manager, Jonathan Milree. Mr Milree said that as far as he knew London was still deliberating on the matter.

On Saturday 5th May my father sent a letter to the Divisional Veterinary Manager, David Bowman. (A copy of this letter is attached) That evening my father received a telephone call from Mr Bowman who said that my cattle were to be slaughtered the following morning. During that conversation my father asked Mr Bowman how I should go about appealing the slaughter decision if I so wished. Mr Bowman replied that there was no right of appeal. This is not true and I believe Mr Bowman was aware of this when he made the statement.

At 8.45pm that Saturday night, a MAFF SVS vet, Miss Sue Waterman, arrived together with a Somerset County Council Trading Standards officer at the Broford farm gate (which is over half a mile from the farm buildings and the cattle). Miss Waterman wanted to come onto the farm to value the cattle, which seemed rather impractical given that it was getting dark by this time and there are no lights in 6 of the S cattle buildings. My parents refused her entry onto the farm to value the cattle but repeatedly invited her to send any "clean" vet to inspect that the cattle remained free of FMD. Miss Waterman admitted, after persistent questioning, that she had indeed been on a FMD suspected holding in an FMD Infected Area near Okehampton within the previous 3 days (the MAFF definition of a "dirty" vet). Miss Waterman and the Trading Standards officer argued until 11.30pm with my parents as to the need for her to value the cattle that night.

We were aware that if a farmer agrees to allow a valuation he waives all rights to appeal against a slaughter notice. My parents realised that was the reason for the determination to come in and "value" the stock even when it was dark. My father suspected that if he refused entry to Miss Waterman to inspect our cattle as a vet, that refusal would give MAFF justification to obtain a Court Order to enter and slaughter all my animals. My father was therefore particularly careful to repeatedly invite an inspection by a "clean" vet but to refuse a one-sided valuation by a potentially infected person who was not a professional valuer. He insisted that the Trading Standards officer record the invitation to inspect the cattle, that Miss Waterman was not a "clean" vet, and that my father had not agreed to allow a valuation.

On 6th May (Sunday) my solicitor, Alayne Addy, sent a letter to MAFF asking them to send a vet to inspect our stock as per the Form D notice served on 2l~ May (in spite of my telephone requests on Friday May 4th no inspection had taken place). In addition, in the letter, Miss Addy set out the circumstances and details of Robert Norman's contact with his cattle which made it more appropriate for our cattle to be inspected rather than slaughtered. She explained this as follows:

At about 11.00am on Sunday 6th May, I received a call from MAFF to say that a vet would be with me shortly to carry out a further inspection of our stock. At 12.00 midday a MAFF SVS vet, Malcolm Bruce, and a Trading Standards officer arrived at the farm gate. Mr Bruce said that before coming onto the farm he had three questions to ask. (i) Could he carry out a valuation of the stock on Broford and Week farms?
(ii) Could he inspect the stock for any symptoms of Foot and Mouth?
(iii) Could I show him where the animals that Robert Norman had had contact with were, so that he could asses what risk they posed to the other cattle on the farm?

My reply to the first question was that my solicitor had already written to MAFF saying that before any valuation could be carried out they must first satisfy me and her of their legal right to do so, or words to that effect. On hearing this the Trading Standards officer took a note of my reply and left. I informed Mr Bruce that I was happy for him to come onto the farm for the purpose of the second and third question. I asked Mr Bruce if he would carry out a full examination of the feet and mouths of all the calves that Robert Norman had contact with. Mr Bruce said that this was above and beyond a normal examination but he was happy to meet my request.

We then inspected all the cattle on Broford and Week Farms. Then after lunch we put each calf that had been in contact with Robert Norman in a holding pen or "crush" and Mr Bruce clinically examined the feet and mouths of all the "at-risk" calves. Mr Bruce could sec no signs of foot and mouth.

At 500pm that Sunday (by then 10 days after Robert Norman's visit and 15 days after his contact with his own cattle) Mr Bruce telephoned the MAFF office to say that the inspection had taken much longer because of examining the mouths and feet of all the calves, and that all the cattle were in good health. Despite this information the MAFF official Mr Bruce was talking to instructed him to serve a Form A notice on the farms. At this point in the telephone conversation Mr Bruce's demeanour changed and he was clearly angered by this instruction. He did however complete and serve a Form A notice (Form A notices restrict the movement of personnel on or off a farm).

On Monday, 7th May, MAFF held a "Stakeholders' Meeting" involving the NFU, (Anthony Gibson - Regional Director, two Exmoor farmers, Oliver Edwards - Somerset County Chairman, Andrew Hawkins - Hill Farming Committee Chairman) a local auctioneer (Tom Rook), Exmoor National Park (Dr Stone), West Somerset District Council, the Army (Major Richard French, Giles French and Alistair Roxborough) and MAFF (Timothy Render and vets - Jonathan Milree and Alison Hyde). I was not invited to attend or send a representative to this meeting, which surprised me, as I was surely someone with a stake in this matter.

At the meeting MAFF officials persuaded those present that my stock should be slaughtered rather than monitored because they were deemed to pose a very significant risk to Exmoor. At the meeting one of the MAFF vets told those present that FMD can take up to 21 days to develop from the date of contact. (This is at odds with the Regional Commission for Europe of the OlE (Office International Des Epizooties) which states "The incubation period is 2 - 14 days" and in Chapter 2.1.1, Article "For the purposes of this Code, the incubation period for foot and mouth disease (FMD) shall be 14 days."

I understand this is based on the fact that the longest conceivable period of incubation for FMD is 12 days to which 2 days shall be added for security to give the above period of 14 days. The MAFF vet stated that where the source of infection is an infectious bovine, the disease tends to develop within 5 days. However in our case where the virus was supposed to have been transferred on someone's clothes, the amount of virus transferred is small and therefore (it was alleged) it could take 21 days for the disease to develop in my cattle. This information was repeated to me by the NFU. I checked the validity of these statements with an epidemiologist, Dr Richard North. He referred me to the DIE Article statement. He also disagreed with the MAFF vet's assessment, because the transmission of the virus by direct contact from someone's clothes onto a young calf would in fact be a greater concentration of the virus onto the animal than would be the case where calves come into contact with a few droplets of the virus in the air. Bearing in mind that young calves are very susceptible to this strain of FMD then the disease should have shown itself in my calves before the date of the stakeholders meeting. MAFF did not tell those present at the meeting that an "ELISA" test of a steer at Maundown Farm, Somerset (Mr Bosworth's Farm) had come back negative nor did they say that they were shortly expecting the results of a second confirmatory test.

MAFF then put great pressure on the NFU to publicly support their position. The MAFF civil servant, Tim Render, who chaired the meeting, insisted that this was done before the NFU spoke to me or any members of my family.

After this meeting MAFF then informed the press that they were going to obtain a court order to allow them onto the farm to carry out the slaughter.

Throughout the period of the Form A notice MAFF kept changing their position as to what the potential source of infection was that caused my cattle to be classified as a Dangerous Contact. First it was the possibility that Robert Norman transferred the infection from his own cattle, then it was a possible contact Robert Norman had had with a steer belonging to Simon Bosworth at Maundown Farm, where Robert Norman had been to dehorn other cattle the day before he visited my cattle. We learnt that this steer on Maundown Farm had FMD-like symptoms. Mr Bosworth's entire herd was slaughtered on 4th and 5th May. A blood test of this animal was taken on 4th May. The result of this "ELISA" test was negative. This test is very quick (4 hours) but not totally reliable, as a consequence further detailed tests were carried out by Pirbright Laboratory.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, 8th May, Jonathan Milree telephoned me to say that results had come back on the goats at Greenway Farm and these showed a very high level of FMD infection with FMD lesions that were over 2 weeks old. Mr Milree then asked me if in the light of this information I would allow my stock to be slaughtered. I explained that to my mind it made my case for not slaughtering stronger because it showed that the source of the Wiveliscombe outbreak was not Robert Norman passing FMD infection to his own cattle but it was now confirmed that FMD had been in the goats for some time. I reiterated the details of Robert Norman's movements and the circumstances of those movements with regard to his cattle as detailed in Alayne Addy's letter to MAFF dated 6th May.

I also explained that it seemed very unlikely that Robert could have bought the disease to my cattle, because I understood that the last time he had been to see his cattle was 5 days earlier when he was driving his wife's car and was wearing his Rugby kit. When he came onto my farm (5 days later) he was wearing different clothes and driving a different vehicle. I asked Mr Milree if he was aware of these details, he replied that he was not in his office and did not have the file in front of him so could not answer that question. I then asked which was the source of potential infection for my cattle, Robert Norman's contact with his own cattle or with the steer at Maundown Farm (Mr Bosworth's). Mr Milree replied that it was most certainly not the Maundown Farm cattle. We ended our conversation by my agreeing to report his news about the positive FMD test result of the goats to my family to consider if we should allow slaughter, and Mr Milree agreeing to reiterate what I had said about Robert Norman's movements to his colleagues.

On the six o' clock television News that evening, Tuesday, 8th May, it was reported that MAFF were reconsidering their position in the light of new evidence that had been brought to their attention by me. I did not receive any direct notification or answers from MAFF.

At midday on Thursday, 10th May, MAFF issued the following press release:

"The initial decision to categorise the farm as a Dangerous Contact was based on the veterinary advice available. A primary concern was the need to protect Exmoor from what was seen as a serious disease risk

Subsequently new information came to light, in particular blood tests from a farm linked to this case were negative. As usual in such cases, the new information was examined and the veterinary epidemiology reassessed In the light of this the epidemiologists concluded that the farm was not a dangerous contact.

After clinical examination, the Form A restrictions on the farm will be lifted, with regular veterinary surveillance maintained

The new information MAFF spoke of (in addition to the negative FMD test) was in fact the information concerning Robert Norman's movements and the circumstances of those movements. Both my father and I had drawn this information to MAFF's attention on 6th May. MAFF were also made aware of this information by my solicitor's fax of 6th May to Mr Bowman (Divisional Veterinary Manager). Therefore this "new information" that had come to light had in fact been known by MAFF for 4 days when MAFF made this announcement. The reference to the negative blood test is also curious. The blood test was the negative result on the steer at Maundown Farm.

As I have stated above, on Tuesday 8th May Mr Milree told me during our telephone conversation that the cattle at Maundown Farm were most certainly not considered to be the potential source of any infection to my cattle. I now realise that to be in a position to make such a statement Mr Milree must have been aware then (8th May) that the second test on the Maundown steer was negative. It would seem curious that the results for the goats should be available on 8th May but not the result of the blood test of the steer as both tests were taken on the same day.

A final inspection of the stock on both Week and Broford Farms was made on 16th May and we were freed from the FMD Form D notice on 17th. I then got married on 19th May and ends