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FMD FORUM BRIEFING FOR MEPS ON UK GOvernment BRIEFING: 16TH DECEMBER 2002

Tom Griffith-Jones, Stable Cottage, Gaddon Leaze, Uffculme, Cullompton, Devon EX15 3DL

tel.: 01884 841015

 

(Tom Griffith-Jones' comments on the BRIEFING FOR UK MEPs PREPARED ON 12 DECEMBER 2002 by the UK Government are in black)

 

REPORT ON MEASURES TO CONTROL FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE IN THE EU IN 2001 AND FUTURE MEASURES TO PREVENT AND CONTROL ANIMAL DISEASES IN THE EU  (A5-0405/2002)

 

1.            Following the establishment of the Temporary Committee on Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) by the European Parliament, the UK Government has throughout been committed to assisting the Committee in any way possible. Ministers  and officials have met the Committee including the former Minister of Agriculture, Nick Brown, and the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett.

 

2.         The Temporary Committee was also able to receive the reports of the independent inquiries commissioned by the UK Government into the FMD outbreak, the Lessons Learned report by Dr Iain Anderson and the report of the Royal Society into infectious diseases of livestock. Representatives of the Royal Society inquiry also gave evidence to the Committee.

 

3.         The Temporary Committee adopted its report on 20 November. The report will be considered for adoption by the Plenary on 17 December.

 

4.            However, this regrettably contains some errors of fact in respect of the outbreak in Great Britain. These include:

 

        The allegation that lack of an effective system for identifying and tracing rapidly the transport routes taken by sheep hampered efforts to control disease; this was not the case.

v     Why has the Government proposed a new Livestock Identification Programme, as recommended by the Anderson Inquiry, if such problems had not hampered control of fmd?

        The allegation that there were violations of animal welfare legislation during culls and in connection with the movement ban; there is no evidence for this and any allegations of welfare breaches were fully investigated

        These violations are well documented throughout the epidemic, and to claim otherwise is gross deception.  The vet Helen O’Hare, a TVI during the epidemic, catalogued about twenty of these in her report to Anderson.  Many other reports identified incompetent shooting of livestock on various farms, in particular at Knowstone, here in Devon.  The RSPCA investigated over 90 complaints, 20 in detail.  They found good evidence that offences had been committed, but without the physical evidence of the carcases, decided that prosecution would be fruitless. The allegation that farmers were intimidated and pressurised in connection with the culls; there is no evidence offered for this.

v     I experienced bullying, intimidation and aggression at first hand, and my report went direct to your Committee at Okehampton.  This was done both to me and to my Clients.  The attack on me by a policeman, orchestrated by Stella Bevan, a senior vet at Exeter, and the subsequent bullying, intimidation and pressurising of my elderly and infirm Clients, the Bensons, as well as the bullying and intimidation of both my Client Rosemary Upton and me at the gate of her farm, again at the behest of Stella Bevan, is evidence enough.  These two cases are both serious infringements of our civil liberties, and even if there were not the dozens of other well-documented cases of similar abuse, they show a pattern of behaviour which, from Government officials, is quite unacceptable.  The Cumbria Inquiry also flagged up this behaviour, from the evidence which it received, and states “In some instances the approach that the authorities were described as having taken bordered on the totalitarian” (p34).

v      

        The allegation that contiguous culls involved lax biosecurity and infringements of welfare law. Again no evidence is offered and this was not the case.

v     Substantial evidence of this, some of it on video, was gathered in Cumbria.  Detailed evidence was given to the Cumbria Inquiry by Nic Green, and I’m sure that he will have submitted similar evidence to your Committee.

        The inference that the contiguous cull was not effective in curbing the disease; the Lessons Learned inquiry noted that it played a critical part in disease control in the 2001 outbreak.

v     It was not within the remit of the Lessons Learned Inquiry to deal with the science of the disease or its eradication, so any comment by Anderson on this subject is made without adequate investigation.  The evidence from the model of the disease currently being researched by Reading University shows that the epidemic had peaked before the introduction of the contiguous cull policy, so it did indeed have no impact on the control of the epidemic.  Dick Sibley, a Devon cattle vet, observed early in April 2001 that this policy was already being credited with reducing the epidemic, when it still hadn’t even been implemented!
Of 33,005 farms culled as “contiguous”, 210 were tested: NONE positive;
of 7,178 farms culled as DCs, 396 were tested: ONE was positive;
where farms adjoining IPs were not culled, as happened at the start of the epidemic, for instance in Highampton, here in Devon, none of those farms in Highampton subsequently went down with the disease.  Had they been culled, it would have availed nothing.

        The allegation that there was further transmission of the virus due to the movement of carcasses to mass burial or incineration sites. There is no epidemiological evidence that transport of carcasses from infected premises through uninfected areas resulted in the transmission of infection to previously uninfected areas.

v     This is a pathetic claim.  There is an appalling scarcity of epidemiological evidence about the transmission of the disease at any stage of the outbreak.  The Ministry’s preferred explanation for the way it came into the country in the first place is pure supposition, based on conjecture, which I find intolerably inadequate as any kind of sound scientific analysis.  How it then travelled between farms, as the Cumbria Inquiry points out, “—in the vast majority of cases it has not proved possible to pinpoint a specific route of transfer of disease --”(p38). 

What there is is substantial evidence of body fluids leaking from the carcases of diseased animals being carried on lorries unsuitable for the purpose, at least at the early stages of the epidemic.  From the Ministry’s own analysis, in over 90% of cases in Cumbria, the spread was attributed to “—contamination in an area of an infected place resulting in infected material on roads or other common facilities, due to the movements of contaminated people, vehicles and things”(p38).  The Cumbria Inquiry took this information direct from Defra’s own publication Origin of the UK Foot and Mouth Disease Epidemic 2001.  If there is any truth in this assertion, then the leaking contaminated body fluids were just such a medium of transmission as identified here.

        The suggestion that the 3 km cull in Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway may not have had a basis in domestic law.

v     Our High Court case, MAFF v Upton, showed quite clearly that the Government had no pre-emptive right to come in and kill animals which could not reasonably be considered to be infected, nor likely to infect others.  Why otherwise has it wasted so much time and effort in forcing through the Animal Health Act 2002?  So, according to learned Counsel, Stephen Smith QC, (our Counsel for the Grunty case), and sound legal argument, during the epidemic, there was no basis in domestic law for either the contiguous, or the 3km, cull.

        The allegations that there were breaches of human and environmental health guidelines from emissions and groundwater pollution following pyres and mass burials and that there was no monitoring of the environmental effects of these disposal methods. In fact the relevant UK and European legislation and guidelines were followed, and in particular the Waste Licensing and Groundwater regulations. Monitoring has been undertaken and continues in certain cases.

v     Why was it, if this is the case, that the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health wrote to the Minister of Agriculture in early March 2001 expressing concern that Environmental Health Officers were being excluded from exercising their proper role in making risk assessments on matters of environmental health? (p72, Cumbria Inquiry)  “However, even well into April, collaboration on the monitoring of air quality was not as close as we would have expected.”.  Also, why have I, here in Devon, had reports of private farm water supplies being poisoned by careless neglect of the effluent from carcases left rotting on farms for weeks?  The Royal Society report observes, on information from the Environment Agency:  “Particular problems were experienced with groundwater in Devon, which had suffered the heaviest rainfall for decades.  Some 150-200 FMD-related pollution incidents have been recorded in all;”

 

4.       More positively, however, the report acknowledges that the speed of spread of the virus was unprecedented, as was the scale of the outbreaks. It also notes:

 

 “the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office observed in March 2001 that the UK’s organisational response to the FMD outbreak was effective and efficient, at both national and local level, and the speed with which the central and local crisis centres were set up was impressive. The selfless commitment of the staff detailed to tackle the crisis was also singled out for comment. The FVO also remarked, however, that the extent of the epidemic quickly outstripped the resources available to control the disease.”

v     Here, I regret that the more pertinent and relevant comment is the last and damning observation that resources were quite inadequate.

 

5.       The recommendations of the report in many cases usefully support and complement those of the two GB inquiries given the wider EU remit of the report. Many of the actions recommended for Member States are being taken forward as described in the UK Government's response to the FMD inquiries. The UK looks forward to working with the Commission on those recommendations addressed to that body.

v     Such a smug and complacent comment shows the complete lack of understanding by the Government of the mess which it made of handling this epidemic.

 

6.        Further briefing  may follow on the amendments proposed to the report