SPRING MOVEMENTS REGIME – WRITTEN STATEMENT

 

Summary

 

The Government proposes – subject to satisfactory further consultations with the livestock industry – to make significant changes to the animal movements regime in England and Wales with effect from 4 March 2003:

 

7                    A reduction of the 20 day whole farm standstill to six days for cattle sheep and goats but with far fewer exemptions;

7                    A joint commitment by government and the industry to a package of measures to improve the level of biosecurity and disease surveillance; and,

7                    A readiness to increase the length of the standstill back to 20 days if the disease threat increases.

 

Scottish Ministers will be considering the Scottish position in the light of this announcement.

 

The Standstill Regime

 

Since the end of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak animal movement controls have been in place, underpinned by a 20-day standstill period for premises following the arrival of incoming animals.  These controls were imposed on the basis of strong veterinary and scientific advice.

 

There have been successive relaxations and exemptions from the 20-day regime in England and Wales and separately in Scotland, notably a system of isolation or separation for incoming animals, in order to meet industry concerns about the costs imposed by the standstill rule.

 

Recommendations of the Independent Inquiries

 

The two independent inquiries into FMD – the Lessons Learned and Royal Society Inquiries - reporting in July 2002 endorsed the retention of the 20-day standstill on disease control grounds, until such time as the Government had carried out a detailed risk assessment and wide-ranging cost-benefit analysis of the impact of different standstill periods. 

 

As a result, Defra commissioned two interrelated assessments:

 

7        A risk assessment of the impact of different standstills on the ‘Silent Spread’ of the disease, before it is known to be in the country;

7        A cost benefit analysis of the cost to the industry and disease control benefit to GB as a whole of different standstills;

 

Separately Defra had already commissioned a risk assessment of the probability of disease reaching GB livestock either from illegal imports or from meat  imported legally from Third Countries; emerging results from that risk assessment were also relevant to this work.

In its response to the FMD Inquiries the Government said it would draw on the emerging findings from these studies to inform a decision on the movement regime for Spring 2003, because of the significant numbers of animal movements that take place at that time of year.

 

Emerging Findings from the Risk Assessments

 

These risk assessment and cost benefit studies have been tackling novel and complex problems, in a relatively short time.  The emerging findings do not provide unequivocal answers to the questions posed.

 

Nonetheless, on animal movements the risk assessment and cost benefit analysis provide evidence for four conclusions.  First,  they suggest that standstill rules can play a useful part in limiting the spread of foot and mouth disease during the period before its presence in the country has been identified.  Secondly, however, initial disease spread is likely to be dominated by early animal movements over which standstills have limited impact, and by other spread mechanisms which they do not affect.  Standstills therefore appear to have rather less effect than might have been anticipated in confining outbreaks to local areas.  Third, in disease spread terms in the majority of scenarios the differential benefit between a six and a 20-day standstill is relatively small and in cost benefit terms a six day standstill is more effective in most (but not all) scenarios.  And fourth, and perhaps most important, the model shows that the key factor affecting the ultimate scale of an outbreak is the time to detection of disease, not the length of standstill.

 

The Government's Conclusions

 

The Government’s veterinary and scientific advisors do not consider that the currently emerging conclusions from the movements risk assessment are sufficiently robust definitively to determine the optimum length of standstill period.  However, the balance of view of the experts in risk assessment is that, while the second phase of the risk assessment work should continue to the end of May 2003 as planned, there is unlikely to be a significantly better basis on which to make a decision about the standstill then than is available now.  The Government therefore is faced with making a decision now on the evidence available to it, balancing scientific, veterinary, economic and other factors.

 

The Government considers in the light of the evidence that a standstill period provides a valuable long-term element in the movement regime.  The emerging results from the cost-benefit analysis suggest a reasonably robust cost-benefit case for a 6 day standstill (compared with no standstill).  But, bearing in mind the uncertainties on the movements risk assessment, the emerging results cannot at this stage provide a robust conclusion on whether or not the economic benefits of 20 day standstill (net of costs) are greater, or less, than for 6 days.  The results do however strongly indicate that it is equally important to address factors such as disease surveillance, biosecurity standards on farms, in markets and in the transport of livestock, and above all efforts to raise awareness and commitment in the livestock community to reporting suspicion of disease.

 

It is recognised that an early move to reduce the standstill from 20 to 6 days  would carry some risks.  However, the Government has concluded that the best approach is to put in place a standstill of 6 days for cattle sheep and goats, with effect from early March, provided that over the next couple of weeks the industry demonstrates a commitment to an effective programme of controls and further work to improve disease detection and biosecurity.  If we are to go beyond the most precautionary approach, there must be a real gain to be had from doing so.  The 20 day standstill will remain in place for pigs.

 

Measures to Improve Disease Detection and Biosecurity

 

The change Ministers are announcing today is therefore dependent on the adoption of an accompanying package of measures by early March, the main points of which are:

 

7        a responsibility will be placed on lorry drivers, farmers and others to ensure that they, and the exterior of their vehicles, are clean when entering livestock markets;

7        livestock market operators will be required to sign a formal undertaking to comply with strict operating procedures;

7        there will have to be complete separation in time and space between dedicated slaughter markets and other livestock markets.

 

At the same time, most of the additional controls over the cleansing and disinfection of livestock vehicles introduced following the FMD outbreak will be maintained, and the current requirements for standards of biosecurity in markets will be maintained and kept under review.  The Government is also introducing new rules for the individual identification of sheep and goats from 1 February.

 

The Government will also:

 

7        tackle non-compliance more systematically by removing farmers’ right to move animals under general licence if they break the rules;

7        put in place a joint campaign with the industry to promote high levels of compliance and accepted tough treatment of those breaking the rules.

 

The Government will consult on the following proposals for possible introduction later in the year:

 

7        the introduction of revised FMD biosecurity guidance by 1 July 2003, as required under the Animal Health Act 2002;

7        a ban on animals being kept on market premises overnight;

7        a requirement for all  vehicles to be cleansed and disinfected before leaving markets and abattoirs;

7        a requirement for market operators to ensure that a vet attends every market;

7        a requirement for farmers to consult a vet at least annually for advice about disease detection, biosecurity and farm health plans.

 

The Government will commission further work into:

 

7        the impact of dealers on the pattern of livestock movements, and the options for controls;

7        the possibility of imposing a distance limit of (say) 150 kilometres on the movement of animals through markets, or of making such moves subject to special licences.

 

In addition, Government will work with industry, the veterinary profession and farm assurance schemes on a package of education and best practice guidance, covering in particular the recognition and reporting of disease, and the encouragement of farm health plans covering disease surveillance, biosecurity and movement records.

 

There would also need to be a commitment that the industry will engage constructively in consultations on the delivery of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and on future systems of risk sharing between government and the industry of the costs of animal disease.

 

At the same time, the Government recognises the need to maintain and enhance its efforts to minimise the risk of an FMD outbreak posed by illegal imports of meat and animal products, building on the illegal imports action plan and the conclusions of the risk assessment on illegal imports.  We intend to consult further with stakeholders on a revised and updated version of the action plan.

 

Return to the 20 Day Standstill if Risk Increases

 

The Government will also put in place arrangements – along the lines recommended by the Royal Society Report – for triggering a 20-day standstill should the threat of disease increase or the evidence base otherwise changes so as to justify a longer standstill, or if there is significant non compliance with the new or existing biosecurity provisions.    The regulations setting out the move to a 6 day standstill will have an expiry date of 31 July 2003, so that the position can be reviewed at the end of May.

 

The Government is publishing today a summary document describing the emerging findings from the risk assessments and cost benefit analysis and the advice we have received on them from peer reviewers and from our veterinary, scientific and economic advisers.  It will also set out more fully the proposed new measures on detection and biosecurity.  Detailed reports on the risk assessments from the external contractors will be published within the next couple of weeks when quality assurance is complete.