".....modellers had announced that the outbreak had been "out of control" (in the scientific context) and had therefore favoured what Dr Shannon described as a mathematical approach of "slaughter by numbers". Generic models had supported the contiguous cull but Dr Shannon had suggested that the data be scrutinised by independent modellers."
FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE LESSONS LEARNED INQUIRY
Note of meeting
Date:8 April 2002
Present:Dr David Shannon – retired Chief Scientist, DEFRA
Dr Iain Anderson, Inquiry Chairman
Alun Evans, Secretary to the Inquiry
1. Dr Anderson welcomed Dr Shannon and confirmed the purpose of the meeting. A
member of the DEFRA Inquiry Liaison Unit was also present. Dr Anderson invited
Dr Shannon to make any opening remarks.
2. Dr Shannon described his role and that of his group prior to his retirement. As
Chief Scientist of MAFF/DEFRA, he had been responsible for the operation of his
group, which dealt with a broad range of topics. About 110 people, about half of
whom had been scientifically trained (although not necessarily to PhD level), had
been in the group which had comprised one policy and two scientific divisions. He
cited five broad areas of responsibility:
•Providing scientific advice, especially of a strategic nature;
•Managing the department’s Research and Development programme;
•International relations on R&D (especially in the EU);
•A representational role on various bodies and councils etc;
•Plant genetic resources.
3. He had provided scientific advice, especially on strategic issues and areas where
there were no more specific arrangements such as SEAC for BSE). There had
also been other sources of scientific advice within MAFF, not exclusively his group.
4. Dr Shannon had been responsible for the department’s R&D programme and its
research policy. Budgets for the research had been held by the relevant policy
group to ensure that projects underpinned policy. Thus the R&D budget for FMD
had been held by those responsible for FMD policy. The FMD research
programme had been about to undergo review at the time of the outbreak and the
Institute of Animal Health (IAH) Pirbright Laboratory had submitted comments
regarding the FMD research programme in January 2001.
5. He had been involved in international relations related to R&D, with the EU and
worldwide as appropriate, e.g. with the USA in discussion about the SmartCycler
6. Dr Shannon had represented the department on research councils, such as the
BBSRC, and had been familiar with the work of Pirbright. He had also been a
member of the Ownership Board of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).
7. Dr Anderson asked about the level of awareness of the department to FMD prior to
20 February 2001. Dr Shannon replied that experienced vets had headed one of
his scientific divisions and there had been four vets on the staff. There had been
co-ordination with the vets in Jim Scudamore’s and Neil Thornton’s groups. Dr
Shannon’s group had been an interface between MAFF policy and scientific advice
from the wider world. In terms of awareness and priorities BSE had been the
headline policy issue prior to 20 February. Scrapie in sheep, TB and Classical
Swine Fever had also been significant priorities, as had non-animal health issues
such as human responses to organophosphorus dips, antibiotic resistance and
food safety. Rabies had been an important policy issue, but not at R&D level.
8. In contrast, exotic diseases had not been a particular priority, although the
department had an ongoing programme of research covering a range of exotic
diseases including FMD. Dr Shannon commented that since an outbreak of FMD
had not occurred for 33 years, there would have been difficulty making a case to
Treasury to invest substantially in better vaccines and diagnostics for FMD at that
time, given the urgency of other priorities. He added that he had not been
responsible for surveillance, which was entirely for the CVO, but there were
obviously very close links, e.g. with R&D on diagnostic tests.
9. Dr Shannon said that the relationship between his group and that of the Chief
Scientific Adviser (CSA) had been good. They had exchanged frequent
communications and had supported each other in attempts to secure funding for
R&D. As a formal process, the CSA’s committee comprising the Chief Scientists of
all departments had met about every six weeks to discuss emerging issues and the
role of science in government. BSE and issues of inter-departmental interest had
been raised e.g. Gulf War Syndrome. FMD had not been discussed, although Dr
Shannon had discussed biosecurity in its broadest sense with his MoD colleagues.
10. However, following the experience of BSE, a horizon-scanning R&D project had
been established within the Department’s programme.
11. Turning to the events of the outbreak, Dr Shannon said that, following 20 February,
he had spoken with his Head of Veterinary Science and had offered his veterinary
resources to the CVO, although they were not drafted into operations, as he
presumed the CVO thought they were better doing other work on BSE, scrapie and
TB which were ongoing priorities. He had taken the view that there was no need to
interpose himself between the CVO and his source of expert scientific advice,
Pirbright, as long as the relationship worked effectively, and all the evidence was
that it did. He had considered research needs, but there was little else he could do
in the short term to support the vets.
12. On 20 March, Dr Shannon had proposed to Baroness Hayman a "B team" of
scientists to support the "A team" (who had been dealing with the epidemic until
then). This would have been a back-up source of expertise which could have,
hopefully, taken some of the less high profile work off those most involved in the
front line. However, this team never got going because, at about the same time, it
had been decided that Dr Shannon would attend the FMD Science Group that the
CSA (Professor David King) had convened.
13. Dr Shannon reflected on whether, in hindsight, he and his staff should have
engaged earlier with the modelling work being carried out in MAFF. He knew that
Pirbright had investigated the epidemiology, but perhaps they could have been
better supported. Epidemiological expertise had been brought in from the VLA and
from overseas to form part of the MAFF epidemiological team at Page Street that
had collaborated on the Interspread model from the VLA, but this team had
reported to the CVO or the Head of Animal Health, not to the MAFF Chief Scientist.
14. Dr Shannon’s major involvement with handling of the outbreak had been via his
membership of the CSA’s Science Group, since the first meeting on 21 March
convened by Sir John Krebs. Dr Shannon had captured his views about the CSA’s
Science Group in two minutes he had written at the time, and in an article that had
been published inScience & Public Affairs. He stressed that he did not wish to be
critical of modelling per se, yet it was important to learn the lessons. In his minute
of 12 April, he had expressed his concerns to Professor King about the way in
which the group had been operating, and had subsequently also written to the
MAFF Permanent Secretary (Brian Bender) on 27 April.
15. Dr Shannon had been concerned that the group had not been formally constituted
and had functioned as a personal advisory committee to the CSA, rather than
reporting to Government via the relevant Secretaries of State (MAFF and DTI). The
members of formal committees, such as SEAC, were accountable for their advice,
but the Science Group had enjoyed enormous power without any formal
responsibility. MAFF had picked up the bill, but due to time constraints, the
department had not had time to comment in a considered way on advice which had
gone straight to the Prime Minister and, on certain occasions, to the media.
16. The composition of the CSA’s Science Group had changed over time. The initial
composition had not been as Dr Shannon would have expected, but had resembled
a modelling sub-committee. Initially, there had been limited knowledge of
agricultural systems and serology, and it contained no FMD experts from outside
the UK. In future, he suggested that the numbers of experts needed in different
areas (for example virology) should be decided and others such as economists and
representatives of the wider public interest should also be members.
17. The CSA, in Dr Shannon’s view, had been too closely involved in the deliberations
of the group to take an independent view. Challenging the output of the group had
been difficult, since it could have been regarded as a challenge to the integrity of
the CSA himself.
18. As an example, Dr Shannon explained that the computer models had included
assumptions, the details of which had not been understood except by the
modellers. One factor (the number of infected farms that arose from one IP) in the
Imperial College model had been halved during the course of the outbreak.
However to his knowledge this had not then been used to reproduce the original
curves A, B and C used in publicity, or to apply them retrospectively. Dr Shannon
believed that it was essential that such a scientific advisory group should, in future
be able to challenge assumptions, such as those used by the modellers.
19. Vets and representatives from MAFF who had attended the CSA’s group had not
been independent of the modelling work and had not been in a position to
challenge the conclusions. To some extent, this was because any challenge from
them had sounded defensive since they were directly involved in disease control
20. Whilst many of the academic members of the Science Group had been able to
make time to consider their advice, other members had had insufficient time to
make decisions or comment. For example, Pirbright with all its expertise had found
its resources stretched to the limit and they had found difficulty in contributing fully.
Dr Shannon wondered whether more support could be given to those short of
resource in future.
21. He also cited some other lessons for the future regarding the science advisory
•Questions should be posed and responded to formally
•The department receiving the advice should be free to challenge it (e.g. the
CSA should be independent)
•The committee’s views should be formally recorded and communicated , so
there were no surprises
•A shadow committee should be established to be available, if and as
necessary, and to plan in advance of an outbreak.
22. Asked about whether science had led the policy Dr Shannon confirmed that, in his
view, it had however there had been two opposing views. On the one hand
modellers had announced that the outbreak had been "out of control" (in the
scientific context) and had therefore favoured what Dr Shannon described as a
mathematical approach of "slaughter by numbers". Generic models had supported
the contiguous cull but Dr Shannon had suggested that the data be scrutinised by
independent modellers. For example the distinction between Dangerous Contact
(DC) and Contiguous Premises (CP) had been subtle and allocation of the data
required judgement. On the other hand there were those who believed that there
should have been a more risk-based approach. The vets had consistently
expressed their view that the disease would be controlled given time and
resources. Pirbright had apparently not been convinced of the need for the
contiguous cull except in so far as it would help to tackle accidental spread of the
disease caused by, for example, poor biosecurity.
23. Dr Shannon said that he and his MAFF colleagues had voiced their concerns and
had tried to bring to bear practicality in the Group’s discussions. The group had
acknowledged these concerns. Richard Cawthorne and John Wilesmith had been
considering regional variations and geography, so there had been an attempt to
build in recognition of local factors.
24. One of the benefits of the Science Group had been the emphasis given to
achieving the 24-hour deadline for report to slaughter, even though it had been an
established target well before the outbreak.
25. On the question of resources, Dr Shannon commented that once the PM became
involved, he had emphasised that if additional resources were required, the
Department should have them. Prior to his involvement, the impression obtained
was that the Department might have to meet the additional costs at the expense of
other programmes. He recommended that, in future, finances should be rapidly
assessed and a mechanism identified to trigger release of resources.
26. A policy decision had been taken to release the data requested by the modelling
groups following the 21 March meeting, although Dr Shannon had not been aware
of how the modellers had received data prior to then. The modellers had raised
constant concerns about its quality and issues surrounding the quality of data had
been flagged up and addressed by MAFF at the meetings. One of the problems
was that some farm data had been used for different purposes from those for which
it had originally been intended. That said, Dr Shannon strongly supported the
contribution that modelling could make in any further disease outbreaks and
believed that the discipline had made much progress during the course of the
27. In response to a question on bioterrorism, Dr Shannon replied that a terrorist attack
was likely to be widespread as distinct from a natural outbreak, which might start
from a narrow focus. Hence disease control plans based on a natural outbreak
might not be adequate to cope with a terrorist attack. He assumed that colleagues
were considering these issues more fully. He agreed with the US view that farms
were vulnerable to attack but equally did not have the publicity value of events such
as those that occurred on 11 September.
28. Dr Shannon’s said that the biggest lesson of the crisis, in his view, was that events
like this would happen, particularly with increased world trade and rapid human
travel and it was necessary to be prepared for them.
FMD Inquiry Secretariat