|Membership||What's Happening||Committees||Publications||Assembly Commission||General Info||Job Opportunities||Help|
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Interim Report on
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Ordered by the The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development to be printed 11 October 2002
Report: 01/02R (Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development)
NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT:
MEMBERSHIP AND POWERS
The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Assembly Standing Order No 46. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and has a role in the initiation of legislation. The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.
The Committee has power:
The membership of the Committee since its establishment on 29 November 1999 has been as follows:
Mr Billy Armstrong
TABLE OF CONTENTS
AGREED TERMS OF REFERENCE FOR AN INQUIRY INTO THE 2001 FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE OUTBREAK IN NORTHERN IRELAND
The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development has agreed to conduct an Inquiry into the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Northern Ireland.
Terms of Reference
The Committee wishes to make enquiries and report to the Assembly in such a way as to:
Methodology to address the Terms of Reference
1. The Committee wishes, in its deliberations, to take account of recent work, and established practice, on Foot and Mouth disease, both locally based and further afield. The DARD review is to consider, in particular, the work of the Vision Group and inquiries being held in Great Britain. Accordingly, the Committee proposes to:
These aspects will be carried out by desk research (through the Assembly's Research Services) and through scrutiny of the DARD review findings in this area.
2. The Committee is extremely anxious that the causes of the Northern Ireland outbreak and DARD's response to it, including issues surrounding imports and exports, should be fully explored and made public. However, the Committee acknowledges that the terms of reference established for an independent review, commissioned by DARD, suggest that much of this ground should be covered in that review. Committee members have agreed that every effort should be made to avoid duplicating the work of DARD's review. Accordingly, the Committee intends to scrutinise the review closely, with a view to identifying any gaps in its coverage and investigating these areas. Furthermore, the Committee will conduct at least one public evidence session to examine and discuss the review's findings with the Department.
This aspect will be carried out by the Committee, with input from the Assembly's Research Services where appropriate, with a public evidence session after the Minister has supplied the Committee with the results of her review. It is possible that organisations or individuals may make written submissions regarding the Department's review. These would be considered and taken into account, either through correspondence with DARD or during the public evidence session.
3. In considering the current position, the Committee will consider, and comment on, current practice in terms of import and export restrictions, movement controls etc., which were implemented as a response to the outbreak and which remain in place.
This aspect will largely be achievable through desk research (of Hansard and DARD press releases) and correspondence with DARD. It is also likely that external evidence will be submitted. From consideration of this, the Committee may wish to hold one or more evidence sessions.
4. The Committee intends to ensure that the human aspects of the outbreak are given appropriate prominence in its Inquiry. Accordingly, the Committee will examine the ways in which farmers were treated by DARD and other statutory agencies throughout the crisis. This will inevitably include aspects of the flow of information to farmers. The Committee will therefore examine the general issue of communication during the outbreak period. Written submissions will be sought, followed by appropriate public evidence sessions.
This aspect will be led largely by written evidence submitted to the Inquiry, followed by oral evidence sessions as appropriate. Correspondence with DARD, and some involvement by the Assembly's Research Services, should assist with the communication aspects.
5. The Committee aims to identify areas of the agri-business sector that were adversely affected by the outbreak, and to explore how DARD and other agencies responded to that sector's needs. Accordingly, the Committee intends to commission independent external research, addressing:
This aspect will involve an external primary and secondary research programme, use of existing output/income data from the sector (if it exists) and primary survey research which would be robust enough to allow for sectoral estimations. This will require additional and very specific terms of reference, in order to commission the research. It will be important to spend time to ensure that these terms are comprehensive and that the appointment of a Researcher or Advisor meets the requirements of the Assembly and others. Equally important will be the process of ensuring that the appointee is capable of producing the required outputs.
The Committee will, for the purposes of this Inquiry, define agri-business as businesses concerned with agricultural produce and services, together with rural tourism accommodation and activity products
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
FRIDAY 11 OCTOBER 2002
Present: Dr IRK Paisley MP MEP (Chairman)
Mr Armstrong raised the issue of the publication of papers relating to the Committee Inquiry into the Foot and Mouth Outbreak in 2001.
Resolved: That the Committee ordered the Terms of Reference, Minutes of Evidence, written submissions and research papers to be printed.
[Extract of Draft Minutes of Proceedings]
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
SUGGESTED CHANGES TO THE TRANSCRIPT
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Friday 20 September 2002
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paisley Jnr
Mr M McDonald ) The Rural Development Council
Mr N Flynn )
The Chairperson: Welcome. I apologise on behalf of the Committee, as it is running late. I believe that you want to make a statement.
Mr McDonald: We want to thank the Committee for the opportunity to give evidence. We will give a short presentation, and after that the Committee will have the opportunity to ask questions. With regard to the foot-and-mouth disease review, we want to tell the Committee what the Rural Development Council does, and what it did in 2001 for several communities. We will focus on the human-interest aspect of foot-and-mouth disease - how it affected farmers and others, and the relationship between farmers and other people in rural communities.
The council has been a key delivery agent in the rural development programme since 1991. It has 21 corporate members, eight of whom were appointed by the Minister. The membership is broadly based, encompassing community, business, environmental, agricultural and local government interests. Its aim is to help rural Northern Ireland to make a full and balanced contribution to the region through the delivery of funding programmes and by contributing to policy development.
The council has been responsible for approximately £9 million under the building sustainable prosperity programme, and £5·5 million under PEACE. Its current round has attracted over 300 applications for total grant aid of £23 million. However, it has only about £2·3 million to allocate. It is, therefore, about 10 times over-subscribed. The third pillar of the council's role is to give policy advice in order to aid rural proofing through the rural baseline report. I want to thank the Chairman for his involvement in that, and for his attendance at launches.
At Easter 2001, the Rural Development Council set aside a small sum of money, about £5,000, specifically to aid those areas affected by the foot-and-mouth disease disaster. It retained some temporary staff to facilitate development work in the affected areas, and used a process that it calls "a learning regions framework" - a mechanism to bring multi-sectoral people together, not just farmers. The line that the council took with farmers was that while the crisis might have emanated within the agricultural sector, the solution might not be found there. It was important to start off by stressing to farmers that we needed to talk to tourism providers, to business, and to the environmental sector in order to determine collectively why the foot-and-mouth disease crisis had happened, and how we could find a pathway out of it.
The Cushendall group, the lough shores group and the group from the western shores of Lough Neagh invited the Rural Development Council to help them. The south Armagh group declined an offer from the council to undertake the same process there as it had in the other regions, or to train one of the group's development workers. The group decided that it had enough direct support from the Department of Agriculture.
Mr Flynn and I will talk you through the work the Rural Development Council has done.
Mr Flynn: Good morning. I will pass around copies of my submission to make things easier to follow.
In the first step of the process, the Rural Development Council's base-lining unit prepared an area profile. That showed substantial demographic and statistical similarities in both areas; higher than average unemployment; an entrepreneurial spirit; and a high number of commuters. We then carried out some one-to-one structured interviews with key stakeholders in the area, such as GPs, other statutory bodies, farming representatives and community leaders. We commissioned Family Farm Development Limited to carry out individual farm visits to over 30 households in the one kilometre restriction zone in the lough shores area. That approach was unnecessary in Cushendall, because all of the farmers affected there attended our first meeting.
We organised focus groups with representatives from different sectors of the area, such as farming groups, non-farming businesses, community service providers such as schools, healthcare advisory services and community groups. At these sessions, participants were facilitated to work through the Rural Development Council's learning communities model, which is a means to identify lists of ideas for action. These were prioritised using a voting process, and focus groups were then drawn together and re-examined at a community conference, where the prioritisation of actions developed so far was completed.
The outcome of these activities is detailed in the report, copies of which have been sent to the Committee. As requested by the two groups, nothing was left out. We can say confidently that the level of participation was high, with local communities involved and taking ownership of the exercise. From the slides, you will see that 310 people participated in the Cushendall area and 85 in the lough shores area.
I will not repeat the detail of the report, but will mention a few key considerations that arose from our activity. These plans express the thoughts and ideas of local people from a range of different backgrounds and interests in the area who have all, in some way, been affected by the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. The production of the plans was centred on a participatory approach, which placed emphasis on the views and ideas of local people. The Rural Development Council simply facilitated the process and wrote up the report. The resultant action plan represented local consensus on how the areas can re-build themselves. The communities should be commended for their capacity and ability to respond so quickly and comprehensively.
Our close involvement soon led us to understand that the main issues for both groups could be summarised by the terms "closure" and "vision". There was a need for closure on the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak experience, with questions like, "Why should it happen here? Why were we affected, and will it happen again?" recurring. A sense of loss remains; not just financially, but as a result of the caring relationship which existed between farm households and their animals. Farming in these areas is not solely based on commercial aims; farmers also have an embedded sense of community spirit and a sense of place. The action plan expressed some obvious indicators of the need for closure and that strong sense of community. Those indicators included: the need to continue the group experience to get an explanation of why the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak happened and whether it could reoccur; a request to give the area priority status; a review of the compensation offered to take account of other hardships in the area, which is past the post now; a request to establish a central organisation to help co-ordinate the use of funds in the area and to draw down additional funding; and, finally, a need to use a range of techniques to help people express their feelings and worries, particularly stress and health related concerns.
The last slide details the vision element of the action plan. I will summarise some of the most important issues. There was uncertainty as to whether to restock, and if so, with which type of animal. Insecurity existed as to how to deal with the dramatic changes in households' cash flow, ranging from the arrival of a large compensation cheque, to uncertain future income streams. The farming family required support as it became drained through coping with the substantial change to its lifestyle. In many cases depression was evident.
There was a willingness to examine new business proposals to consider diversification as an income alternative, to re-examine the traditional best use of their land and the people who live there and, therefore, to identify where they should concentrate their energies for the future. Community organisations must continue their work in developing a strategy. They have become a powerful collective voice for the farming community.
There was an ever-present call for a one-stop-shop approach, which would simplify bureaucracy and procedures for many of those socially excluded households who were struggling to access the complex support funding mechanisms. There was a call for the foot-and-mouth areas to be recognised as special cases, and for the establishment of some form of community support funding programmes specifically for those areas.
The report is much more detailed. I appreciate the Committee's time constraints and hope that the work has been of some help.
The Chairperson: The Committee's report will mostly concentrate on the preventative measures that can be taken now. Is a preventative system currently operating?
The inquiry by the Royal Society had 10 key findings. The inquiry stated that the overall objective of any policy must be to minimise the risk of disease entering the country. How can that be accomplished?
Mr McDonald: The responsibility and guidelines for that are outside our control. Controls were placed at roads and railways and general entry points were tightened up. Continued vigilance is required there. However, given our remit and expertise, we are not best placed to advise the Committee about that.
The Chairperson: Are preventative controls still in place? Are all the barriers down?
Mr McDonald: We do not have any particular knowledge or expertise on that.
The Chairperson: How much money would the Rural Development Council need if it were asked to co-operate with others in a preventative exercise?
Mr McDonald: From our experience with the two farming groups, it is not so much about having a pot of money to deliver directly to farmers. It is more important to have flexibility as an organisation, so that when a crisis like that arises, we can place staff in a support mechanism to help those affected - be it the farmers or the wider rural community - and to analyse the problem and identify solutions. That should not be a high-cost exercise.
The problem with the foot-and-mouth crisis was that we had no one single mechanism to do that. We had to look at what we were doing, re-adjust our operational plan and decide that some flexibility was needed. Any organisation must plan for a crisis. We should learn the lessons from the last foot-and-mouth outbreak so that there is some flexibility. A small sum of contingency money would enable us to recruit new or temporary staff to work with farm groups.
The Chairperson: How much did you spend during the last foot-and-mouth outbreak?
Mr McDonald: We spent £5,000, which was a small amount of money. It probably cost us more in terms of staff time and expertise. Had the system commissioned staff externally and brought in consultants, those costs could have been between £20,000 and £25,000. It was not high-cost for us because we had in-house expertise, not just in relation to farmers, but with the broader rural community.
The problem is that we do not have a particular role in the new programme to do that form of strategic or local work with farmers. There is a gap to be addressed regarding how farmers can get into the rural development programme. It has clearly been shown that there must be some mechanism to work with farmers so that they can engage with the wider community.
The Chairperson: Has that link been broken now?
Mr McDonald: We established credibility with the two farming groups. Through the learning regions framework we trained some of the people in those communities to analyse problems and articulate solutions if something were to arise in future. We left behind something sustainable.
Mr Savage: During the last spell of foot-and-mouth disease there was speculation that three sites for the disposal of animals would be created if it should happen again. Have those sites been identified, or was it only talk?
Mr McDonald: The Rural Development Council has had no consultation with regard to sites or their possible location. Were the Government to propose such sites, our rural baseline and the rural-proofing checklist, as provided in the report, would be used to assess the impact of the sites on the environment, on the farmers and on the wider community. A checklist or mechanism is necessary to assess their necessity, location and scale. To date, however, there has been no direct consultation on that proposal.
Mr Savage: I hope that it never comes about again. However, if that is to be the means of disposal, surely it would be better to do a bit of groundwork on it now.
Mr McDonald: I agree that, if it is the intention of the Government to have clearly-identified disposal sites, there is merit in thinking now about the crisis plan - whatever that will be - and in going through the process of identification. It is probably necessary to do that confidentially, because it could ring all sorts of alarm bells, and it might never happen. However, any crisis management should clearly identify how the sites will be earmarked and where they will be located.
Mr Savage: You mentioned Lough Neagh, and farmers on the lough shore are having difficulty with their land becoming bogged down. What are the current water levels of Lough Neagh? How much higher are they this year than in any other year?
Mr McDonald: I do not know. That is not in our field of expertise.
Mr Savage: Farmers have lost land, and that is being blamed on the water levels of Lough Neagh. I understand that the levels are controlled by the floodgates at Toome. Farmers have been unable to cut their silage, and have lost the crops.
Mr McDonald: Enough natural water has come from above to increase the levels, without having to open the gates at Toome.
Mr Paisley Jnr: It was horizontal.
Mr Savage: If water levels in the lough cannot be controlled, that is important.
The Chairperson: It is a good job we cannot control the water levels from above, or there would be an international crisis. The position is that the Rural Development Council felt that it made a very useful contribution, and that currently no real push has been made by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to make preventative agreements about the future. Is that a fair summary?
Mr McDonald: It probably goes further than if the Rural Development Council had been asked to express an opinion. If asked, the council would say that the Department needs to give us, as an organisation, the flexibility to engage as a crisis arises. We happened to have that flexibility last time. This time, with regard to the number of applications I mentioned in my introduction, several farm groups are not in crisis but are simply applying to the council for help in capacity building and strategic development. The Department needs to identify the possibility of introducing a measure into the programme to provide that sort of ongoing support, and not only in crisis. Farmers are asking how they can collectively target the money available outside agri-rural development for broad, community-based rural development. We have already made that point directly to the Minister and the Department.
The Chairperson: Yes, but is it not the case that so far you have had no communication from the Department saying that it is setting up a preventative plan so as to safeguard us more sufficiently and efficiently if this should happen again? There has been no communication between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and yourselves about that?
Mr McDonald: Not on that subject.
The Chairperson: That is important to us. In the United States of America, for example, every second year they have a trial period where they say that they have foot-and-mouth disease and determine how to handle it. They organise as if the disease were present. We have learnt a lesson. We were very fortunate; the good Lord was good to us. The disease did not spread; if it had, what a calamity it would have been. The threat was a big enough calamity. We are eager to ask everyone coming before us what preventative steps they feel should be taken.
Mr McDonald: I have personally raised through the ministerial stakeholder forum what we perceive as a gap in the programme to provide this broad level of technical support to groups, not just when in crisis but on an ongoing basis. We await the outcome of those deliberations to see how the Department responds.
Mr McHugh: You are welcome to the Committee. Many farmers may say that we have had a worse year this year than we had with foot-and-mouth because of the weather. Nevertheless, we would not want foot-and-mouth every year either, because of the wider impact, beyond farming. That seems to be overlooked to some extent - even in the submissions from councils and other such bodies. They tend not to consider the impact on tourism in their area. Ramblers were affected, and various other local industries had to close down virtually completely. The massive economic impact has perhaps not been totally taken into account. What was the extent of the impact on the implementation of your projects and on funding programmes? Were people stalled for a year? Was there a problem? I have not really heard about that.
I am also interested in the work done by Family Farm Development. Considering your funding now, are farms and farm families a programme target group? Looking at the programme itself, it would seem difficult for them to get into some of the themes. They are probably confined to the tourism theme in some instances. If they are to look at things in a new light and move to new approaches, they must be able to get within that. How many on farms will now have time to get involved in new industries, new approaches or anything else? They are tied up with trying to survive. Often, that is a war that takes place on the farm day to day. Is there room for the upskilling of women on farms, so they can do something different as a second tier? Have you been able to do any sort of research on this? Something can be done with farm families; the impact of foot-and-mouth and the economic impacts of recent years show that there is more willingness for farms to move into new approaches than the old grass-based enterprises of the past.
Mr McDonald: There were delays in our programmes during the foot-and-mouth crisis. It affected our PLANET programme, which involved farm groups as well as broad community groups. We simply could not get out to those farmers who were naturally dealing with the crisis. The programme had to be put on hold. So, there were delays in people completing the training course that we had engaged them in.
The Chairperson: Are those now back on line?
Mr McDonald: Those were subsequently completed. They ran beyond the original deadline, but we had to seek departmental approval to extend the financial deadline for payments to those groups.
That was agreed, but it caused a delay for several groups.
We have responsibility for about £9 million of the £80 million rural development programme. The Department, local action groups, and natural resource tourism have responsibility for the remaining £70 million, so I cannot speak for that money.
We have received 300 applications for funding. I do not have the exact figures, but I can provide the Committee with a breakdown of those. A reasonable number of the applications were from farm family interest groups, but primarily, our programme is not targeted at individual farmers. The other £70 million of the rural development programme may target farmers, as may the £220 million for the agri-rural development programme delivered directly by the Department. However, farm families can become involved as part of a community group.
Several applications that are currently under assessment will be successful and will act as good demonstrations of how farmers can become involved in agri-issues in particular, but also in broader rural issues. That takes time, and there is much scepticism. We create a great deal of bureaucracy because we report to the Public Accounts Committee. We must ensure that the correct systems are in place, which is not done easily. The 32-page application form puts people off. However, we have no say in its design, and we must adhere to the rules. Despite that, we have managed to introduce a broad suite of proposals. Those will test several options that will include the involvement of farm families.
Mr Flynn: One factor that comes out of the report very strongly is that the two groups - the two examples we talked about - found great benefit in working together. They are very determined to continue that process, because it is a way to access the various sources of funding. They made a determined and continued call for a one-stop shop as a way to ease bureaucracy and make funds more readily available for farmers. That seemed to set a good example.
Mr McHugh: Has there been any follow-up help for potential suicide cases and people suffering from depression? Have those people been left to flounder?
Mr McDonald: Family Farm Development Ltd, on which I also sit as a director, was involved through the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's rural stress initiative. The rural stress website was developed by the rural stress initiative and the Armagh and Dungannon Health Action Zone, managed by Eleanor Gill. The initiative was very successful, although I do not know whether it is still operational.
The family farm development project is a very useful organisation that brings together farm unions, community development activists, the Rural Development Council and some departmental staff, as observers. Unfortunately, we in the family farm development project faced a crisis ourselves at the time with regard to funding and trying to target the new programmes. The programmes were not open for us to bid for. However, we are still ticking over. An integrated organisation, such as Family Farm Development Ltd, which has all the relevant players, is ideally placed to provide that sort of support to farmers and the rural community. It would be a retrograde step if Family Farm Development Ltd, the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association (NIAPA), the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU), the Rural Community Network or any other organisation decided to do this on its own. This requires the joint effort and expertise of all the players. We have been making that point to the Minister, and we will make it again when the rest of the programme opens for bids. Family Farm Development Ltd will bid to deliver that service.
Mr Kane: What percentage of applications did you receive from each county, and what percentage of applications from each county was approved? Are you targeting any areas of the Province in particular?
Mr McDonald: The first call for applications was open to the whole of Northern Ireland. That seemed right because we needed to test the ground initially to see which areas had a weak infrastructure, and where most applications were coming from. I do not have the figures in front of me, but I will provide those to the Committee. The figures will give the Committee a breakdown of the number of applications received, and the number of applications approved on a county basis, on a district council basis, and on a sectoral basis, that is whether the applications were from farmers and whether they were male or female. Depending on the measure and the programme, there has been a particular shortage of applications from certain counties.
We are evaluating the results of the first round so that at the second launch of the programme, which will probably be in spring, we will target those areas from which we received the least applications. We will do that by talking to local councillors, increasing advertisements, or staging roadshows.
We must also decide whether, given limited funds, we want to target particular areas and not open the programme to the whole country at the second launch. Those issues are being researched. I can give the Committee any information that will answer any of its questions.
Mr Kane: Do you know which areas are being targeted?
Mr McDonald: No county or district council is being targeted in any particular way; that is open across the country. Some of the measures showed a gap in County Down and east Antrim, and other measures showed parts of Armagh that submitted a limited number of applications. What we do will depend on our reasons for advertising the scheme.
As well as advertising a programme that asks people what they want to do, we also want to take a more programmed approach that initiates certain events for specific areas; for example, north Antrim. Rather than advertise the scheme itself, we would advertise a particular scheme for which a range of activities would be carried out. We are taking a more proactive approach based on the information that we have to date.
Mr Douglas: You mentioned the loss and the devastating effect that foot-and-mouth had on families. The loss of stock is difficult to understand when you are not involved. Those who were affected by foot-and-mouth were compensated for that loss, which will stay in their memories to the end of their days. Those who run bed and breakfasts were also affected, because they are dependent on people's ability to move freely in the country. As you support small businesses and so forth, should you have had the flexibility to be able to do something for those people at such a time?
Mr McDonald: It is very hard to regain lost confidence. You can compensate for lost animals, you can restock, and you can rebuild your business, but it will take a long time to recover from the depression, lack of confidence and lack of innovation that that causes.
Rural development is not a safe bet - it is a risky environment. In business matters, the private sector would choose the safe areas and proposals. Thirty per cent of normal new start-ups fail anyway, but the agriculture industry would probably be looking at a 50% failure rate given that it is a very high-risk group. There is a long learning curve, and it is difficult to encourage people to put their money on the table and take a chance.
We are about to launch a programme that will examine the rural retail sector in particular - the small rural shop and the post office that in many instances is the backbone of a rural community and sells more than its goods and services. For example, I may meet someone there and put up a notice selling something. A lot of those businesses cannot survive and compete with the major retail units.
We received money from the Peace programme to work with small rural retailers. There would initially be a business-mentoring scheme to help them. Many rural shopkeepers probably do not do a business plan. We want to know how they distribute their products, where they store their goods, if they can buy in bulk, and if there are advantages in collective bargaining and collective purchase.
We are also considering implementing a rural-award scheme for rural shopkeepers, which will either let them carry out a small improvement to the shop or display something at the front of the building.
Ten years ago, LEDU operated a programme for the rural retail sector, and since then it has received no direct support. We intend to launch such a programme in the autumn. That is a direct response to the particular needs of those parts of the community that perhaps were not supported in the foot-and-mouth crisis. The rural shop suffered because tourists passing through were not there to buy goods. That is one example of how we would try to reshape our programmes in response to particular needs.
Mr Flynn: Many of those in the two areas to whom we spoke - farmers and non-farmers - felt that those who had had their animals culled were the lucky ones, and that the people beyond those areas suffered more.
The Chairperson: We got that message loud and clear. I think that the next time the British Government will think about inoculation. They have made it clear that they will never spend money. However, that is a topic for another day.
We take the point, which is very valid, that the people who culled were fortunate and did well financially. There is only time for a short question from you, Mr Armstrong. We will let you start asking the questions at the next meeting.
Mr Armstrong: Mr McDonald asked "why here, why us, and will it happen again?" Foot-and-mouth disease can occur at any time because we are not in control of it. Our borders mean that there are no restrictions on the import of livestock and, although there are controls such as veterinary checks on meat that comes in on the hook, that is how foot-and-mouth disease entered Northern Ireland. How can the Government alleviate that problem? We can have measures such as fortress farming in place, but why should we do that when foot-and-mouth disease initially comes in through meat on the hook?
Mr McDonald: That is a difficult question; I cannot answer, because the subject is outside my area of expertise.
The Chairperson: You are wise to not know the answer.
Mr McDonald: I have complete ignorance of that subject and ask for the Committee's indulgence.
Mr Armstrong: Fortress farming saved the farming industry. However, it is difficult to maintain because consumers are keen to visit farms, which increases the risk of diseases spreading. Although Eleanor Gill and Lily Hughes did a good job, a lot of damage is done because so many people have the right to do things that spread diseases on farms.
Mr McDonald: I agree with Mr Armstrong. When the foot-and-mouth crisis first occurred, containment in Northern Ireland was the result not just of a dedicated effort by farmers, but by everyone who had access to the countryside and farmland. At international and global level, the problem was that when, for example, people in the States watched the news and saw footage of animals burning, they over reacted. It is hard to strike the right balance. If people are told to stay away from the countryside and six months later they are told that they can come back again, from a PR and marketing point of view the damage is done. We must decide how best we can deliver the message in the community and at a UK and international level - irrespective of what that message is - because if people do not understand whether they have access, long-term damage can be done.
Mr Armstrong: It is a similar situation to the bush fires in Australia. The authorities want people to steer clear of those areas but, once the fires have been put out, they want people to return.
Mr McDonald: It is like the stories that people hear about Northern Ireland. People assume that we are all killing each other; rather, we are having a good time at the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development. The press do not always tell the right story.
The Chairperson: Your evidence shows that the Rural Development Council coped reasonably well with the foot-and-mouth outbreak. Of course, we did not have the severest test because there was only one outbreak. From talking to others, it is clear that the Department has not suggested that a preventative scheme be implemented immediately.
Your evidence highlighted that the training and co-ordination facilities that the council supplied were its best contribution to alleviating the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Mr McDonald: I agree. In the council's opinion, throwing money at the problem would not have solved it. The council dealt with the human issue, so that not only farmers but the wider community understood what they had to do to overcome the problem. The council believed that it was important that someone provided that support and did a bit of handholding.
The Chairperson: Although the Committee always enjoys your company, your time is up. Thank you very much.
Mr McDonald: Thank you.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Friday 20 September 2002
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr D Rutledge ) Livestock and Meat Commission
Mr D Ritchie )
The Chairperson: I welcome Mr David Rutledge and Mr David Ritchie of the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC). Perhaps you would like to make a short statement, after which we shall ask some questions.
Mr Rutledge: We are happy to accept your invitation to contribute to your inquiry in any way we can. With regard to the finished livestock products from the beef- and sheepmeat sectors, the outbreak did not cause massive disruption to either industry. In the early days of the crisis there was disruption to the markets for both beef- and sheepmeat, but for beef that lasted only a matter of days. In the case of sheep, the disruption was more prolonged, and those producers marketing early lambs undoubtedly suffered a negative impact. However, only a small proportion of our lambs were brought to finish in the period before the export ban was lifted in early June 2002.
From that time onwards, returns on finished lambs in Northern Ireland were at a record high. In anticipation of the ban being lifted, the LMC had a market development executive actively working in France, and the result was that, as soon as that happened, there were quite a number of customers waiting for Northern Ireland lamb.
While those comments relate to an overall industry level, and looking at the year as a whole it could be argued that no serious economic damage was done, that would not properly reflect the undoubted hardship suffered in a number of areas. First, those farmers visited by the disease in Northern Ireland or Great Britain who were not responsible for its arrival on their farms through any illegal or unethical practices deserve the sympathy and support of all.
Secondly, it is worth mentioning the livestock auction markets, whose businesses undoubtedly suffered a serious impact. It is appropriate to acknowledge that, to the knowledge of the LMC, there has not been any vehicle for mart compensation, other than perhaps some small relief on rates bills.
It is also important to remind ourselves that the disruption to livestock auction marts and the ban on private sales and livestock movements had a significant effect on many farms. Some were left with surplus stock which they would have preferred to sell; others were left with a deficit of stock with which they would have planned to carry on their business and make a profit.
We cannot give you any quantitative measurement of the impact of those latter matters other than to accept the logic of the assumption that most livestock farmers will have experienced some level of disruption. Those closest to the outbreaks clearly suffered the most direct impact. Livestock was slaughtered and taken from the farms by the Government in their effort to contain the disease.
There is also a general perception that the impact of foot-and-mouth disease is past, but that is wrong because the market, particularly for beef, will be significantly affected for some time yet. I shall hand over to David Ritchie, who will give you a little more detail about the overall market effect and mention the lingering impact. Mr Ritchie is our economist and the person responsible for market statistics at the LMC.
Mr Ritchie: As part of our written evidence we submitted graphs illustrating cattle and sheep prices over 2000-01. We shall examine the background to those before looking at 2002. With cattle, there was broadly speaking little change in prices in 2001 over the previous year. Over the year as a whole, there was an increase of only 1p per kilo, 156p per kilo being the average. There were fluctuations. In the first two or three weeks of the foot-and-mouth crisis very little slaughtering took place in Northern Ireland plants, and the industry ground to a standstill with an obvious market loss. We then had a month or two with a market gain because the market picked up owing to the initial cutback in Great Britain production. Afterwards the market settled down, and over the year there was little impact.
Essentially, there was a shortfall - not a scarcity - of beef in Great Britain, mostly made up from increased supplies from the Republic, which had its own problems owing to BSE. The market was stable. Some felt it could have been better without foot-and-mouth disease, although our forecasts at the start of the year were that the year 2001 would be similar to 2000. In that sense, you could argue that there was no foot-and-mouth disease effect, and we believe that that was owing to a major British beef promotional campaign throughout the year. That isolated the Great Britain market - not from foot-and-mouth disease but from the European BSE crisis - and was a major factor in 2001.
However, 2002 is a slightly different picture. The foot-and-mouth disease crisis is over, yet the aftermath is affecting the market. Cattle prices are so far similar to last year but with some fluctuations. We had a good start to the year, essentially because of a good Christmas trade, and stocks had to be replenished. Since March the market has been flat and disappointing, and there is no sign of its picking up. There is a twofold reason for that. First is the aftermath of foot-and-mouth disease. United Kingdom beef production in the year 2000 was over 700,000 tonnes, which has since fallen, and it is falling again this year. The forecast for 2003 is down to 550,000 tonnes as a result of the culls across the water.
In the law of economics, scarcity normally leads to a stronger trade, but in this case it has not made up for that. The UK has always imported beef, but it is now importing a bigger proportion. Viewing that proportion against a fairly stable consumption level, the overall volume of imports in the year 2000 was over 205,000 tonnes. The forecast is that in 2003 it will be almost double that amount - 390,000 tonnes - going up from 20% to 40% of the market.
Imports occur in two ways. Beef from the Republic is getting into supermarkets; there is a shortage of British beef, and the supermarkets are willing to take Irish beef at a cheaper price. Even cheaper beef is also coming in from third countries, particularly those in South America. With up to 40% of next year's market being imported, imported beef is, to a large extent, dictating the price level and pulling it down. When they had 20% of the market, there was some effect, but you could insulate yourself. At 40% you cannot, and there is a residual effect.
Something else is also affecting the market this year. Supermarkets are stocking British beef, but there is no promotional money behind it. You could say this is fallout from political devolution, but the British beef campaign has ground to a halt. It is hard to say how much is attributable to the aftermath of foot-and-mouth disease and imports and how much to the fact that British beef is not being promoted.
Sheep enjoyed record prices in 2001. This year has been as good but not better than in the past. What we have not had is as good a second half of the year - prices then were at record levels. It is not a good comparison, but in 2001 the average price was 256p per kilo for lambs, which was £15 a head greater than the previous year, representing an increase of 43%. It is fair to say that the previous year was not particularly good. That £15 had to be offset by the fact that people received a higher market price and reduced yield premium - down £5·25.
There was an overall improvement to the lamb trade. In the early months trade was poor, and there were three reasons for that - two major and one minor. The relatively minor reason was that we could not export lamb to the Continent, particularly France, for we did not have a big trade at that stage; it still hit us, however. The major reasons were that we had no live export trade to the Republic, and Great Britain could not export lamb to France. Great Britain was our big market; suddenly that was vastly oversupplied, and the price came down.
However, we secured regional status for the second time and advanced it in early June. Within days lamb was exported to France, and the price shot up. The French market was badly undersupplied owing to low quantities of Great Britain lamb. We got another boost to prices in late August when the live export trade recommenced. There was extra competition because the whole of Ireland was putting everything it could into France, and the prices were phenomenal. Those who were marketing in spring and early summer were adversely affected. However, for the greater proportion of the year and the greater proportion of lambs - about three quarters, owing to seasonal factors - we benefited from higher prices.
In the latter part of 2001 Great Britain secured regional status and was allowed to export lamb. However, it did not do so until 2002. On about four occasions there were rumours that Great Britain was about to export lamb, and the price fell for a couple of days before bouncing back up. However, when Great Britain started to export in 2002, the French bonanza disappeared. Compared to a normal year, the French market is still short of lamb. Owing to the high prices of last year, demand has fallen, and they are getting more lamb from Great Britain than they got from the Republic and us last year. The market is content; prices are cheaper, and the bonanza has gone. Lamb prices for the first half of 2002 were much the same as last year. However, for the second half so far, and for the rest of the year, they will be well down, for last year was the bonus, and that has disappeared. We are back to a normal trade.
The Chairperson: That was a survey of what has happened. Have the Government been in touch with you about maintaining a preventative barrier against a future outbreak of the disease?
Mr Rutledge: There has been no specific communication regarding planning future strategies.
The Chairperson: The threat has ceased, but preventative measures have not yet been put in place.
Mr Rutledge: From the veterinary perspective, we do not have an absolute familiarity with what controls remain at ports, other than casual observation as we travel. We should not worry, unless there is an inadequate level of control
The Chairperson: Do you agree with the general thought which seems to be abroad that, if we get the disease again, it will be imported?
Mr Rutledge: That is a veterinary question; it is a contagious disease. My understanding is that travel routes would aid the physical transmission of the disease.
The Chairperson: We have two doors: the sea could bring it in from Great Britain, and we have a land barrier, so we could be struck from either side. We know the rumours about how it was spread when it came before, and some of those had some basis in fact, as far as we could ascertain. Do you agree that we still have two potential highways along which the disease could come?
Mr Rutledge: There are sufficient grounds for us to continue to worry, and controlling the importation of meat and livestock is critically important. I assume that you are referring to the unnecessary and unproductive movement of livestock. That has been curtailed to a significant degree by the controls which remain in place.
Mr Armstrong: Can you suggest a good approach to ensure that a disease cannot enter the island of Ireland or the UK?
Mr Rutledge: It is easy to say that we must clamp down on every piece of meat or livestock which might cross our borders. On the other hand, the survival of Northern Ireland's livestock production in the longer term depends on export markets, whether for beef or sheep. In that sense, we cannot have free trade in one direction and obstructions in another. That presents us with a conundrum, which can be resolved by examining other major livestock-producing countries. This is anecdotal to some degree, but other countries have a far tighter regime on the control of the movement of meat, for example, through people carrying it in suitcases. Even after the crisis and news reports on it, it is both frightening and appalling that such activities seem to be continuing. Without having any major impact on formal trading and the open market, there should be controls to prevent a disease arriving through illicit trade.
Mr Armstrong: If our standards are so high, should products imported into Northern Ireland be of the same standard as Northern Ireland products exported to other countries? How could that be done?
Mr Rutledge: There are several aspects to that. It goes without saying that there should be a level playing field so that our industry need not face hurdles which other industries do not. We are strong supporters of that. However, it must be remembered that, as a consequence of foot-and-mouth disease, customers perceive a greater risk from Northern Irish products than products from Australia, New Zealand or some South American countries, although there have been quite frequent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth there. We promote the level playing field through Government regulation and through trying to convince industries and customers to deal with us equitably.
Mr Armstrong: Scrapie is another potential problem. Will that affect sheepmeat and other meat imported into Northern Ireland?
Mr Rutledge: I am not familiar with scrapie in all countries, but the major competitors in sheep are New Zealand and Australia. My understanding is that there is no history of scrapie there at all.
Mr Savage: How are processors coping with trying to regain markets which were lost owing to BSE?
Mr Rutledge: We are delighted with this morning's news from France, of which the Committee will be aware. It will be very significant if the French Government confirm that they will accept the advice of their food safety agency and open their markets. From time to time, we have sought opportunities for Northern Ireland to re-engage in beef exports. The most attractive opportunity for the past year and more has been to sell red offal to France. If the ban in France is lifted, it will be the first opportunity to re-engage in export. The currency problem remains in regard to prime cuts, although there are occasional seasonal opportunities to sell prime beef to European markets. The currency is against us, but the offal market has been consistently better in mainland Europe, particularly in France. That is one of the first opportunities which will open up for our industry.
Mr Savage: We all know that confidence for farmers and fatteners is very low, having been damaged by events during the last four years. We want to retain an agriculture industry here, but how can we raise confidence? The farmers have been losing money, and that cannot continue. Restoring confidence must involve effort from the fattener, the LMC and the many other players. If we do not raise the fatteners' and farmers' confidence, they will lose interest in livestock farming.
Mr Rutledge: That is a complex dilemma. We agree with the point about the fatteners not making much profit. However, there is a problem in that, for several reasons, the fatteners have a shortage of raw material. If you look at what has happened in the marketplace, you will see that all the profit has migrated back to the calf-producers. They have been getting any profits available in the beef sector, and that leaves nothing for the finishers. That problem is being compounded by the payment of suckler-cow premium on heifers. The raw material for the fattener is drying up.
There is a big issue about cattle from the Republic of Ireland and beef labelling. The produce which historically came to Northern Ireland farms for finishing and processing found its way into the British meat market. That is no longer possible because of the forceful implementation of beef-labelling regulations.
We can all work at the problem, but I do not know how we can move the margin to share the profits better among the farming community - never mind beyond that community. The debate about the apportionment of the profit margin between processors, retailers and farmers goes on.
Mr Savage: Finally, the number of cattle coming from the South into Northern Ireland factories seems to undermine the prices paid to our farmers. This week, in one place alone, four double wagons were brought up from the South. The cattle were killed in our factories, and I have the facts to prove it. That practice is undermining our farmers.
Sometimes I might disagree with the LMC, but I agree with one thing that it said several weeks ago, which was that Northern Ireland farmers are not getting a good enough price for their top-quality cattle. How can we ensure that the farmer gets a fair price for such animals? When I hear about the other cattle coming in, I think that it puts the LMC on the spot, for those cattle must go through the livestock market, and the Department's officials deal with them in the factories. A great deal of work must be done to address the issue.
Mr Rutledge: Our capacity to influence what anyone pays for anything is limited. However, the big contrast between beef and sheep is that the sheep farmers have the opportunity of every market available, including live exports. That is denied to the beef-producer, and as we work past the BSE crisis, we hope that all market opportunities will be open to such people, and that we can therefore have more confidence in payments as a fair reflection of value.
Mr Douglas: You mentioned the difficulties surrounding imports at ports and airports. Serious misgivings about the procedures in place were detailed in submissions received by the Committee. What would be required to curb illegal lamb imports, especially those going direct to slaughter? Considering the fact that the outbreak in Northern Ireland occurred because sheep were imported, do you believe that they should be subject to individual traceability?
Mr Rutledge: There are two sides to the debate about individual traceability. From the marketing point of view, it would be a good thing in the sheep industry. However, from a practical standpoint, it is a fraught and complex process. The French aspiration to have declarations on sheep over or under six months old has been deferred by the new French Government. If it is introduced, however, individual identification will be a great asset in the marketplace. If it disappears, it is arguable whether the merit of imposing the burden of individual identification on the farming community will be worth it.
Mr Douglas: What else can be done about illegal importation? There is no doubt that sheep and cattle are coming in for slaughter.
Mr Rutledge: The importation of cattle for slaughter is not illegal if they are properly certified. I cannot say that none is coming in illegally, but for the most part movements of live animals are subject to a certification process.
Mr Ritchie: The problem - which one hopes has been resolved - was not that sheep were illegally imported, but that they did not go where they were supposed to go. If they had gone where they were supposed to go, they would have been slaughtered, and we should not have had a case. We do not know; they might have been out of the way before the disease spread.
The other problem is the illegal import of meat. The problem starts in Great Britain. Draconian measures would have to be taken to stop it, and I do not think that the public would wear them. It is ridiculous to hear stories about suitcases dripping with blood.
Mr Douglas: Australia and New Zealand have managed to curb that type of thing. I have no problem with draconian measures.
The Chairperson: It would worry me if preventative steps were not being taken. We are still subject to pressure, and it could easily be amongst us quickly. Once it got a grip, it would be hard to stop. There will be no culling money; it will be a different ball game, and there will be great change.
Mr Rutledge: It looks as if the European Commission is moving in the direction which you have described.
The Chairperson: That is the message which I am getting.
Mr Rutledge: That could have an impact on our export marketing, since several potential customers -
The Chairperson: Yes. People will feel that the disease has been cured, but it is not fresh meat, although Argentina, for instance, does not know what has happened. The Argentinians do not know about the meat or what inoculations it has received; they think it is great stuff.
Mr Kane: An abattoir in short supply of stock can ring a source for stock to slaughter. The source may state that he can supply but that the 90-day period of retention stipulated is not up on some of his stock. The owner of the abattoir will reply, "We shall sort that out", and, needless to say, the stock is supplied. Where do producers adhering to the rules and regulations stand? Rules are being flouted right, left and centre. The LMC is turning a blind eye, and that is happening under the Department's nose.
As far as I am concerned, the individuals responsible for the farm quality assurance scheme are not carrying out their duties. The Department should actively take on the job of developing a compulsory farm quality assurance scheme, and this Committee should propose that. That is the only way forward for producers who are adhering to the rules and wish to develop their enterprises. The farm quality assurance scheme does not satisfy the requirements laid down, and it definitely does not inspire farmer confidence. Can you gentlemen take action on this, or is it a lost cause? Is your organisation a dead loss?
Mr Rutledge: Your last comments may or may not be valid, but farm quality assurance is clearly a big issue in the farming community. There is massive change, and we could occupy the Committee for a full morning going through all the changes on farm quality assurance - not locally but throughout the UK and further into Europe.
Regarding the earlier part of Mr Kane's contribution, those circumstances do not imply anything illegal or unethical. There is a massive market for commodity beef- and sheepmeat. The entire catering sector does not require farm quality assurance. A processor buying a product to sell on the commodity market - mainly into the catering trade - does not need farm quality assurance. The implication of something amiss is not necessarily proof that anything is amiss.
The Chairperson: What about the 90-day period of retention?
Mr Rutledge: There is a 90-day qualification period for eligibility for farm quality assurance, which is triggered on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service computer. The number of days from moving onto the farm is recorded, and in that 90-day period the animal will not come to the abattoir. For such meat to be identified and labelled "farm quality assurance" under the beef-labelling scheme, it must be on the farm for 90 days.
The Chairperson: That does not apply to the catering business.
Mr Rutledge: The catering trade, for the most part, seeks the cheapest product, and that is where the majority of the South American beef is going to. Some major customers, such as the Great Britain multiple retailers, are bringing in a little, which worries us, but at present it is a small part of their trade.
The Chairperson: Correct me if I am wrong, but I am clear in my mind that the catering trade does not want anything too expensive - they are not worried about speciality meat and will buy it anyway. If someone wants to slaughter that meat, it can be slaughtered even though it is not up to the standard of quality assurance.
Mr Rutledge: There are exceptions. I do not refer to everyone in the catering trade, but the broader part of the catering trade does not require farm assurance. That does not mean that the product is unsafe or unfit in any way. It is not absolutely devoid of controls; it must comply with legal production requirements in whatever state it originated. In general, your statement was correct.
Mr Kane: There is no doubt that the cattle had "farm quality assurance" stamped on them. Their retention period was not completed as had been stated. The rules and regulations are flouted right, left and centre, regardless of whether Mr Rutledge wants to admit that. That is a fact, and it happened. I have information from a departmental official, whom I shall refrain from naming, that it happens day in and day out. The LMC does nothing about it. That, to be frank, is the situation.
The Chairperson: When you answer that, Mr Rutledge, if you care to do so, perhaps you could explain something important about which I am not clear. We pass judgement, but the farm assurance scheme is not your responsibility - or is it?
Mr Rutledge: We seek in our activities, and in our participation in the farm quality assurance scheme, to make a marketing tool available to Northern Ireland. That is necessary if we want to serve the best-paying customers, who are the multiple retailers. The scheme is essentially run by an industry board, which is a mixture of producers and processors with the involvement of retailers, scientific experts and others. Under the EU standard for such schemes, the process of on-farm inspections has had to be passed to an independent body, which is owned by a broad cross-section of the Northern Ireland agrifood industry. The participation of the LMC simply promotes that, both to the farming community and to our potential customers, the retailers.
The Chairperson: The Minister said this morning that it is not your responsibility.
Mr Rutledge: There is no statutory obligation on our part to do that; however, we are required to ensure that the product is available for the markets. Clearly, the best-paying markets for Northern Ireland beef are those which require farm quality assurance, namely the Great Britain multiple retailers. That is the best market in Europe - probably in the world - for beef.
If I might return to the question, from time to time it annoys us that people cite supposed facts without evidence. If there is evidence of the circumstances described in the question, that evidence should be reported to the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service, who are the official body with the power to do something about it. Certainly, the LMC would do so if the evidence were there.
Mr McHugh: The point concerning the catering trade is important, but people are not, in general, aware of that. The caterers use the largest percentage of meat, and they can more or less do what they like with it. They can get around everything, including labelling, and can source their raw product from almost anywhere. We have no control over that. Probably the only way to get around it is for people to ask in hotels or whatever for the exact source of the meat. People tend not to do that, however; it is treated as if it were of the same quality as that stocked by the multiple retailers. That is a mistake. Perhaps there is a marketing fault in advertising which could be corrected by the farmers.
It is a major problem for farms trying to produce high-quality beef. As a result, the catering trade, which is the biggest food user, is not using local produce and does not need to. Indeed, the catering trade would rather not use local produce so that it can source produce at the lowest price.
Importing low-priced animals was one of the reasons for the outbreak of foot-and-mouth. Farmers had to struggle to make any sort of profit, which made some people inclined to source something from somewhere else, including smuggling, which allowed foot-and-mouth to come here from Britain.
Quality has never paid. You are in the business of quality assurance and trying to raise quality standards on farms. Over the last 20 years, it has never really paid farmers to produce quality beef. They have always been confounded, in that Friesian or Holstein beef will still fetch the highest price for McDonald's burgers. That is the reality, whether here or in the US. The end product still fetches a high price, but the farmers do not see that return for the high-quality beef which you force them to produce through quality-assured schemes.
Nit-picking by people from quality assurance schemes who look for bars on doors of empty houses which have absolutely nothing to do with the production of beef in an attached shed or farm drives farmers away from those schemes. Along with all sorts of regulations, the pressure is making the industry uncompetitive. Will you consider being a little more flexible in dealing directly with farmers, especially given the current immense crisis in the industry?
It is quite an important point that regimes cannot be strictly adhered to when the whole industry and many farms are close to meltdown. That is a major annoyance for farmers about whom we are hearing. We must move towards the vision group's proposals to try to take us to a new point. Unless you are able to deal with the issue of paying for quality beef and driving towards world prices, what is the point in having open markets to France when they want low-priced products? How do we ever reach the open market?
Mr Rutledge: There is much to answer. Beef labelling does not apply to the catering sector, but the infrastructure which delivers the product to the catering sector means that it is labelled until a caterer brings it into his premises. However, the caterer does not have to convey that information to the consumer. Labelling applies in a sense, but the information need not be conveyed to the consumer, as retailers are required to do. The catering sector is probably marginally bigger than the retail sector, and that is where beef consumption is growing.
I said that we could spend a massive amount of time discussing farm assurance in detail. The fundamental change brought about by the EN45011 standard is that whatever is written into a quality standard must be delivered. If farmers see that as nit-picking and annoying, the difficulty is that it is what the industry agreed as the standard. A farmer will get angry if he does not comply with the quality standard in some small respect, but we must look beyond that. Where bureaucracy is involved, whether through taking a photograph or making some minor amendment, the vast majority of farmers are passing the inspection very satisfactorily.
We must remember that this is the first cycle of EN45011-standard inspections. We expect that the second year will be much easier because farmers will already have had an inspection. I agree that there has been great annoyance about the perceived niggling aspects of the scheme. However, an independent structure has been set up to monitor compliance with the standard, so we must comply with it. What is written into the standard is to some degree out of the hands of the Northern Ireland industry. Although we can write whatever we like, under the arrangements in place, our scheme must be equivalent to schemes operated in Scotland, England and Wales. Through our contact with the Great Britain body, Assured Food Standards, we have established equivalence for the Northern Ireland scheme. That equivalence allows us a little leeway to do things differently here and there. However, we must be full square behind UK standards on major issues.
Mr McHugh: The industry in England works on a different scale, and the farms are much larger. There have been no grants for farm infrastructure here for several years now, and that infrastructure is falling apart. Many farmers work only part-time and do not have time to carry out all the small repairs necessary. I should like to see the figures for the vast majority which you mentioned.
The Chairperson: The figures are important. What percentage of meat is not up to the catering-industry standard and what percentage is quality-assured?
Mr Rutledge: Some 80% of the cattle slaughtered in Northern Ireland are eligible for farm quality assurance status and are marked as such. However, the carcasses of those animals are broken down into an estimated 70 different items, which do not necessarily all go to a customer who requires farm assurance. Thus many items are eligible for farm quality assurance status but are not sold to farm quality assurance outlets or customers.
I am reluctant to give you definitive figures for the current period. However, I recall that around 30 or 90 days after the inspection, 83% of the farmers were judged to be complying with the standard, although a significant percentage had a few minor non-conformances. The cycle lasts 18 months, and as we only started EN45011 inspections immediately after the foot-and-mouth crisis, it will not end until August. We shall be able to give the industry and commentators a more definitive picture when a full cycle has been completed.
The Chairperson: Those figures are important for the future of the industry.
Mr Rutledge: We monitor them.
Mr Kane: The Committee will not get the true figures.
The Chairperson: We shall get figures from the organisation which Mr Rutledge heads. Those figures will be the figures according to that organisation. We shall have to decide whether they are credible.
Mr Rutledge: We should not treat the Committee with contempt by giving it figures which we do not believe to be true.
Mr Kane: It has happened in the past.
The Chairperson: We cannot get into that now. The Committee meeting has lasted 25 minutes longer than planned. We have heard Mr Rutledge's views, which have given us much food for thought. The questions asked today probe matters essential to the Committee, especially the farm assurance scheme.
We feel that the farm assurance scheme, rather than doing what it was supposed to do, has become a liability to farmers. They are carrying something that is of no benefit to them. Given all the trouble which they have had, they are not getting the price which they should compared with others who do nothing and still get their beef sold.
Mr Rutledge: Remember that South American beef struggles to make £1 a kilogram. We are not at that price level. Our average price last year was £1·56 a kilogram. We are not currently competing with those commodity suppliers. People who say that there is no benefit must carefully examine the alternatives of going for the commodity markets.
The Chairperson: Many farmers are telling us that they are worried that they are going to all that trouble while there is another entrance into beef sales where people do not know the standard of the meat. On the Continent, there is a change. When I went to the Continent, there was cheap meat. Today, its buyers want quality-assured meat. There is a far bigger market on the Continent for quality-assured meat than there has ever been.
Mr Rutledge: The biggest single customer whom the Northern Ireland industry ever had was the company which set up farm assurance in Northern Ireland.
Mr Armstrong: How many tons of meat do the caterers take a year?
Mr Rutledge: Of the 930,000 tons of total UK consumption, about half goes to the catering trade.
Mr Armstrong: How much of that is imported?
Mr Rutledge: As Mr Ritchie said, about 40% of the total is expected to be imported next year. It is building up from about 20% in 2000.
Mr Armstrong: More imported meat is being bought every year.
Mr Rutledge: That is because of a major deficit in the UK supply base as a consequence of the foot-and-mouth disease culls.
The Chairperson: The meat cannot be supplied because there were so many animal deaths. By culling so many, we opened up the market to other suppliers.
Mr Rutledge: There is a major dilemma when we talk about the promotion of British meat. If there were to be a major campaign, would it simply promote the product of another country? That was debated in the industry and affected the restructuring of the Meat and Livestock Commission in the UK.
Mr Armstrong: What age is the meat which is coming from other countries? Is it over 30 months old?
Mr Rutledge: Inevitably, much of it is.
Mr Kane: Farmers can only be bluffed for a while. They have had enough of being bluffed.
The Chairperson: We have had a full discussion and look forward to receiving those figures. Thank you.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE MINUTES OF EVIDENCE HAVE NOT BEEN EXAMINED BY MEMBERS AND WITNESSES
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Friday 27 September 2002
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr T Hearty ) Newry and Mourne District Council
Mr N Patterson )
Ms J O'Hare )
Mr C Burns )
The Chairperson: The Committee welcomes the representatives from Newry and Mourne District Council.
Mr Patterson: I am Martin Patterson from the economic development section of Newry and Mourne District Council; my colleagues are from the rural area of Newry and Mourne. I apologise for Cllr Pascal McDonald and Séamus Crossey from the council offices, who could not attend.
The foot-and-mouth outbreak curtailed the tourism, agriculture and business sectors. Members will be aware that the Newry and Mourne area is very active in tourism; it has two areas of outstanding natural beauty that were greatly affected by the outbreak. Newry and Mourne straddles south Armagh and south Down, and the business sector of that area was greatly affected. Many recently opened business parks suffered, and major events had to be cancelled. Some of our representatives are directly invovled in agriculture and have their own views on the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
The Chairperson: What is required to curb the illegal importation of livestock and beef products? Australia and New Zealand have a very good system that has proved successful. Do we need a similar system?
Mr Patterson: We should have an all-Ireland animal and plant health policy. Cattle and fish do not see boundaries. They cross borders through rivers and fields, so an all-Ireland animal and plant health policy would be beneficial.
Mr Burns: There are farms in our district that straddle the border.
Mr Hearty: We had serious problems with that. Small farmers who had land on both sides of the border could not move or use machinery on one part of their land. Those who had only one tractor were particularly crippled. They were not allowed to take any machinery across the border - even their cars were thoroughly washed. It was a huge inconvenience to farmers.
Ms O'Hare: The policy of keeping animals out of the island must be tightened on an all-island basis. We could use the Australian system, but we could also develop a better one. As the area first hit by the disease, we want to see a comprehensive plan put in place that can be brought into operation right away, because everyone was caught flat-footed when the disease broke out.
Mr McHugh: The Veterinary Service, farmers and the Department must work more closely together on biosecurity. Several issues must be addressed, particularly the distrust that has grown along border areas.
Mr Hearty: Because of Newry and Mourne's situation, it is vital that the Departments of Agriculture, on both sides of the border, work together more than they have. It is vital for the survival of the agriculture industry.
Mr McHugh: Was there a failure to move quickly on the foot-and-mouth outbreak?
Mr Hearty: Definitely. There must be a more hands-on approach by the Departments on both sides of the border.
Mr Patterson: Meigh, which is in Newry and Mourne District Council, was the site of the original outbreak in Northern Ireland. Although Department officials were fantastic, and the council was briefed at the time, there was no contingency plan. It hit us suddenly, and although measures were carried out rapidly, we must consider developing a contingency plan.
Mr McHugh: Has it improved since?
Mr Patterson: Absolutely.
Ms O'Hare: PricewaterhouseCoopers said that it was good in theory; however, we wonder how well it will work in practice. We have been told that there will be co-operation and that it will be dealt with, in theory. However, there is nothing in place to develop it.
The Chairperson: That is how the Committee feels. We want something tangible; we want to know how quickly that will swing into action. I do not believe that there are contingency plans; there is talk, but there are no structures, and that is important.
Ms O'Hare: They probably exist on paper, but we need more than that.
Mr Doherty: To what extent did the council's lack of awareness of a contingency plan affect its reaction to the evolving situation and the daily changes?
Ms O'Hare: The council's first reaction was to close as much as it could. The public health sector came into its own with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and worked very hard; it worked flat out during that time. The Chief Executive got everything up and running as quickly as possible. It is important to know who to speak to; contact names are necessary so that if it happened again a council could have a contingency plan.
Newry and Mourne District Council could not have reacted any faster. It was the first council to be affected by foot-and-mouth disease and it reacted by closing everything as quickly as possible, reviewing everything as it went along. The council handled the situation well, but there is always a better way. With hindsight, there was probably a quicker way of handling it, mainly involving co-operation between all the organisations.
Mr Doherty: If, God forbid, it happened again tomorrow, would the council react differently?
Mr Hearty: The council would react better. The council was very quick to act and gave all the help that it could to the Department, and it looked to the Department for advice. However, the Department itself was caught out; it had no contingency plan. On several occasions, the Department had to consult another body before getting back to the council; that cost vital time at the beginning of the outbreak.
Mr Doherty: There could not be awareness of a plan if there was no plan to begin with.
Mr Hearty: No.
Mr Bradley: I must go easy on my colleagues from Newry and Mourne District Council in case they exact their revenge in the council chamber. I pay tribute to the council's officers and its agriculture committee for their well-prepared response document.
How did the outbreak affect tourism in Newry and Mourne?
Mr Patterson: Enquiries to the council's tourism offices halved during 2001 compared with 2000 and 2002. All major events were cancelled. The council's area covers two areas of outstanding natural beauty and it thrives on tourism. All sporting events were cancelled; all pitches, soccer and Gaelic, were closed, as were hockey pitches. Newry Agricultural Show, which is a major event in Newry and Mourne, was cancelled.
The number of bed spaces decreased. The St Patrick's Day parade is a major event for Newry City, but it was cancelled. A new business park at Flurry Bridge had just opened and had difficulty gaining occupancy because it was right on the border with Jonesborough.
Mr Burns: Slieve Gullion Courtyard was closed for four months as a result of the outbreak. The council depends on rural tourism, fishing and hill walking, all of which shut down completely. It was a great pity that smaller tourist businesses did not receive any compensation for the outbreak.
Ms O'Hare: Newry and Mourne District Council is not one of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's regional tourism organisations, which was the only mechanism that was used to obtain compensation for tourism providers.
Because Newry and Mourne District Council is not part of that, it was excluded from compensation packages. Newry and Mourne decided not to become one of the Tourist Board's regional tourism organisations, and therefore tourist businesses in its area were excluded from compensation. That was discrimination. Many providers received no compensation, whereas providers and groups in areas that were affiliated to the Tourist Board did. That affected some rural operators very badly, especially those who were trying to promote farms; a few open farms had started up in our area, but they had to close. They received no compensation.
The Chairperson: Excuse my ignorance, but why are you not in the group that was entitled to compensation?
Ms O'Hare: The council decided that being a regional tourism organisation was not the best way of marketing the area's diversity. The nearest group was Kingdoms of Down, but because half the district is in Armagh, the council felt that it would not be marketing the area properly. For a while, it tried to market the area as having two different identities; however, it decided that that was too expensive and that this was the best way.
The Chairperson: It seems very unfair that because the council decided on a different way of doing business it did not receive compensation when the disease spread.
Mr Doherty: At the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment's tourism inquiry on 26 September 2002, regional tourism organisations - how they operate and who was involved or excluded - was discussed as a matter of real concern.
Mr Patterson: Newry and Mourne District Council is not the only council that is not in a regional tourism organisation: our neighbours, Banbridge District Council and Armagh District Council also chose not to go down that route.
The Chairperson: That is an interesting matter that must be highlighted.
Mr Kane: The European Union is to review foot-and-mouth disease legislation with a view to updating it. Given the lessons that were learnt from the 2001 outbreak, the wide range of legislation, the cumbersome disposal of carcasses, animal health, welfare and compensation, what changes to the legislation do you recommend that the Department press for in Europe?
Mr Hearty: There must be an entirely new plan. For example, during the outbreak in Meigh dead animals lay in a field and carcasses were burnt less than a mile from a primary school. The review should come up with an effective plan.
During the first outbreak of the disease in the South of Ireland, all culled animals were burnt on farms. Afterwards, however, culled animals were taken to abattoirs to be disposed of there. We must develop a similar strategy rather than depend on what we have now.
Mr Burns: Had it not been for strong local opposition, animals would have been buried in Slieve Gullion Courtyard.
Mr Patterson: The report makes the point that the centralised recorded livestock identification system could be vastly improved. Much legislation comes from Europe, and therefore councils should consult regularly; Newry and Mourne District Council has an integrated rural and agricultural committee that meets every two months. Any consultation will come directly to the council for comment.
Mr Hearty: The council would then reply.
Mr Ford: We have focused on what the Department has not done and on what it should do. What could district councils have done that they were not asked to do during the outbreak?
I have noted your concerns about refuse collection, for example, on which the environmental health service had a different view from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Should district councils have a role in improving communications and in developing an emergency plan?
Ms O'Hare: The council must develop a plan - perhaps a central refuse collection if outside vehicles are being kept out of an area. Leaving refuse for a long time creates health problems. That was simply not foreseen at the time, and we did not know how to solve the problem. Such a plan would have to be put into action if there were a place to which people will be obliged to take their rubbish. Other proposals must be considered too.
Mr Patterson: Every council now has an emergency action plan, and it is our own fault if we fail to review it regularly. As a middle manager, I took part in a review some 12 months ago, yet I have not returned to it since. Councils should examine that in more depth and perhaps meet more regularly.
Mr Ford: What consultation was there between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and your environmental health department over carcass disposal?
Mr Patterson: It took place directly through our Clerk and Chief Executive; it started as soon as the outbreak began in May 2001 and continued throughout.
The Chairperson: Signals from Europe and Westminster seem to suggest that if there were another outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, it would be dealt with by vaccination rather than by slaughter and burning. What is your attitude to that?
Ms O'Hare: It depends on whether vaccinated meat would be acceptable to the consumer; after all, part of the germ is being introduced into the animal. Much depends on how the European Union would deal with the matter.
The Chairperson: There was a serious reaction to the burnings; people will ask: why burn all those animals when they could have been vaccinated and spared? There are difficulties.
Ms O'Hare: Vaccinating animals means that they cannot enter the food chain, which sort of defeats the purpose of producing them in the first place. It all depends on whether, after vaccination, the animals can go back into the food chain.
The Chairperson: They would have to go back into the food chain.
Ms O'Hare: Not if the European Union prevented them.
The Chairperson: But will people buy them?
Mr Hearty: May I briefly raise the issue of brucellosis. I know that it affected other areas, but farmers in Newry and Mourne were particularly badly hit. Farms tested in our area were saturated with brucellosis, which was a serious loss to the farming community. Prices were low at the time, and cattle were valued at only 75% of their normal price. Something must be done urgently, for there was 100% compensation for TB reactors.
Our area, which was saturated with brucellosis, took a severe blow. Cattle above 30 months were not allowed to move. Some farmers in the Newry and Mourne area will never recover, given present livestock prices. People in the beef sector who bought in cattle and slaughtered them at the same price got nothing for their work but the premium. The industry suffered a severe blow, and the Committee must give a major push to come up with a plan to help.
The Chairperson: The Committee is also inquiring into brucellosis. Thank you for your helpful evidence. The Committee Clerk will give you a copy of the questions that we did not have time to ask; please send your replies as soon as possible.
Mr Patterson: Before I leave, I apologise on behalf of Cllr William Burns who was unable to attend the meeting.
The Chairperson: When I see him, I will talk to him. Thank you.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Friday 27 September 2002
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr P Doherty
Mr J O'Kane )
Mr S Hugget )
Mr H Andrews ) Fermanagh District Council
Mr R Forde )
The Chairperson: I welcome Mr John O'Kane, Mr Stephen Hugget, Mr Harold Andrews and Mr Robert Forde from Fermanagh District Council.
We have a quorum today, but I cannot chain people.
Mr Forde: We are pleased to give the Committee our views on how the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001 was handled, and, more importantly, our opinions on how any future outbreak could be better dealt with or prevented.
We make our comments against a background in which we acknowledge that the Assembly and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development gave the best leadership of any region in the United Kingdom during the 2001 outbreak. We further congratulate the Assembly for carrying out a review specifically for Northern Ireland. Although Northern Ireland had a limited number of outbreaks - three in total - we must take the view that one outbreak is one too many. Hence, we must take on board measures that ensure that Northern Ireland has no more outbreaks in the future.
I shall summarise the points that we wish to make. The councillors with me today are representative of the three wards of Erne North, Erne East and Erne West in Fermanagh District Council; they will provide further details.
First, there is an urgent need for a unified national emergency plan that recognises the role and expertise of district councils. I am sure that there was a plan, but it would appear that it was largely unknown outside the Department's veterinary service. The plan, including the contingency arrangements, would need to be regularly tested. It would determine where animals are slaughtered and whether they were to be buried or burned. Communication is a key concept; there is a role there for the Food Standards Agency. The information provided must be timely, for farmers and the general public alike.
The district councils' role in giving advice on matters such as pollution control, statutory nuisance, private water supplies and contamination of land was not recognised in a UK context. The delays in the slaughter of sheep came in for a great deal of negative comment. If a proper plan had been in existence, the risks associated with the delay could have been avoided.
Our second concern involved the movement of animals and the control at ports and airports. The movement of animals from a foot-and-mouth disease identified area, namely the UK mainland, to Northern Ireland, was totally unacceptable. Any incidence of disease on the mainland should have resulted in the automatic closure of the ports to such imports, and an action plan to prevent the transmission of the disease should have been triggered at all ports and airports. The experience of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001 would prove that that is applicable to animals destined for slaughter as well as other animals.
The introduction of the single European market in the early 1990s has resulted in the scaling down of import controls and has increased the risk of spreading disease that can have an impact on animal health. The controls at ports and airports of the importation of live animals and meat and meat products should be examined. The incidence of illegal imports of products for consumption by ethnic minorities in mainland UK is well documented. Northern Ireland ports and airports must guard against becoming a back door entry for such goods, if the UK authorities step up their policing at ports and airports.
The effective practice of import controls in Australia and New Zealand, and examples of best practice everywhere, should be examined and adopted here.
During the outbreak, there was good co-operation between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland and the Department of Agriculture and Food in the Republic. However, people in border areas often commented that it would have been easy to provide disinfection mats at the entry into Northern Ireland as well as the entry into the Republic.
The adoption of agreed animal disease prevention controls for Northern Ireland and the Republic should be a future priority. Prior to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, some animals were illegally transported across the Republic of Ireland border. The Minister may need to be given emergency powers to authorise the destruction of stray livestock. There were some stray sheep on a mountain in Fermanagh, and it took a long time to capture them, but I know that one of the Committee members is well aware of such things.
Thirdly, food-and-mouth disease has had an effect on the agri-food and tourism sectors. The agri-food sector had to cope with many additional restrictions and regulations, and requirements were continually changing with regard to documentation. Notification of the requirements to industry, councils and environmental health departments was poor. The confusion caused major problems for many food exporters. However, better communication with district councils, environmental health departments and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development improved the situation. In one case, different forms were required for meat and milk products, and one factory produced both products, which caused confusion. It also caused confusion for Fermanagh District Council. The agri-food and tourism business has suffered considerably.
The EU was discussing vaccination recently. The pros and cons should be fully considered now, rather than having the debate when the disease is at its height. Scientific fact and public opinion must resolve the issue, but many people remain to be convinced. An article in 'The Times' on 9 September stated that Nestlé had serious reservations about accepting milk from vaccinated cows.
Mr Kane: The EU community will review foot-and-mouth disease legislation with a view to updating it. Given the lessons learned from the 2001 outbreak, and also given the wide range of legislation encompassing the disposal of carcasses, animal health, welfare and compensation, what changes do you recommend in the legislation at European level?
Mr O'Kane: The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development commissioned an independent review, which I am unclear about. There are extensive procedures, and some of them will require legislation. For example, is it against EU legislation for the UK to have port and airport control between mainland GB and Northern Ireland? Perhaps that was done on an ad hoc basis, but was there any legal authority to do that?
Mr Kane: You mentioned ports and airports. Do you want that whole process tightened up?
Mr O'Kane: It would have to be tightened up on an all-island basis, but the problem arises between mainland GB and Northern Ireland. The EU would need to agree the legality of controls and incorporate that into legislation, and that would give the Minister sound legislative backing.
In England, it was questionable whether the Government had any legal authority to impose many of the regulations and controls it did.
The public in Northern Ireland, especially in County Fermanagh, co-operated with the regulations and measures, because they saw that they were necessary and reasonable. We had a down-to-earth approach. However, regulations were imposed willy-nilly in parts of England, which caused confusion and confrontations between the farming community and the Government vets.
Many of the recommendations that resulted from the inquiry are worthwhile. The farming community might take exception to some of them, such as the tagging of sheep. The questions are: when will we adopt the recommendations, who will fund them and what role will district councils play? Issues on the movement of animals must be clarified, for example, because EU legislation impinges on airport and port controls on movement between mainland UK and Northern Ireland.
The Chairperson: The Committee must move on.
Mr Kane: Apart from more stringent controls on transport across the border, is there anything that you want to mention?
Mr O'Kane: No.
Mr Bradley: Will you outline the impact of the disease on other sectors in your council area? For example, you mentioned the impact on tourism. Will you give the Committee more details, such as the impact on farmhouse bed-and-breakfast establishments and equestrian centres and the losses that they sustained?
Mr Hugget: It is difficult to measure the level of loss. All we can say is that we had many problems, because Fermanagh is virtually enclosed by the border, and many farmers operate on both sides of it. Many cross-border rural regeneration activities were practically closed down for a year, because people did not meet. That aspect is probably not talked about much. We were disappointed that local people did not speak to, or meet, each other, yet there seemed to be no control over the movement of people who were coming into Fermanagh from potentially infected areas of Northern Ireland.
It is difficult to measure the loss that Fermanagh's tourism suffered, given all the other problems affecting the Province. I do not know how it would be calculated.
Mr Bradley: We talked about contingency plans in case of a future outbreak. Proper contingency plans might help to prevent a similar situation occurring.
Mr Andrews: As a dairy farmer, I know that every farmer adopted a fortress mentality. Movement, especially between farms, was restricted to prevent spreading the disease. Tourism did suffer due to the closure of sites such as parks. The outbreak had a detrimental effect, especially on Fermanagh, which is dependent on tourism income.
Mr D Ford: Your written submission detailed an emergency plan and the role of all stakeholders. Mr Forde outlined some areas of council experience, in particular that of environmental health. Are there other areas, not already highlighted, where the council could contribute to an emergency plan or get involved in dealing with an emergency, should it arise?
Mr R Forde: The more district councils get involved, the better. Elected Members can talk to people; the Chief Executive can publicise the issue, and the local press can run local stories. There are 23 councillors throughout the area who will disseminate the message too.
Mr P Doherty: Were you aware of the existence of a contingency plan, and what were your views on it? Looking to the future, do you feel that a stronger contingency plan should put in place, and should it have a cross-border dimension?
Mr Andrews: A contingency plan is essential. There was a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in GB in the 1960s, and the lesson from that outbreak was not learned. Many provisions that should have been put in place were not, and an ad hoc situation existed - the problem was dealt with on a day-to-day basis. Plans to deal with aspects of the outbreak, like the burning of affected animals, were not in place. The burning and burying of those animals was of concern to the general public. A contingency plan should be in place to address those issues, rather than wait until the arrival of a crisis.
Mr P Doherty: Is there a contingency plan in place now?
Mr Andrews: I do not think so.
Mr R Forde: I have no doubt that the Department of Rural Development and the Veterinary Service have a contingency plan, however it does not affect too many Departments and is not widely known.
The Chairperson: Is there any real proof of that? The Committee has probed the departmental officials, and they have hedged on that question; they will not come clean on it. Surely if a contingency plan exists, the Department should advise that they have a plan. The Department should then be asked what the structures of that plan are. That is where the obstacles arise.
Mr R Forde: I am making an assumption that there is a plan. I cannot believe that a plan has not been put into operation by the Veterinary Service.
The Chairperson: You have more faith than I have.
Mr Hugget: My contacts with the Department of Rural Development about the issue of farmers moving across the border to tend to their land and cattle proved to me that there was no contingency plan. The Gardaí allowed farmers to cross at some places and not at others; at times they allowed machinery to cross and at other times they did not. On some occasions, machinery had to be cleaned before it could cross, and at other times just a local wash was given. They were flying by the seat of their pants.
The Chairperson: Should a proper contingency plan be put in place now, as we may have to face the same situation again?
Mr O'Kane: The independent review recommends that a contingency plan be put in place, along with an operational framework, which will put the nuts and bolts on the plan. That would be welcome. In Fermanagh, we were fortunate that we did not experience an outbreak of the disease. Had it occurred there, the disposal of slaughtered animals would have posed a horrendous problem, given the water table and the associated difficulties.
I have read some of the review's recommendations regarding the contingency plan, and they seem eminently worthwhile. The review stated that there is no good in having a plan if no one knows about it. The recommendation of a stakeholders' forum is very worthwhile, not just for farmers' unions. Farmers are not very union-minded now, although they have had to be to some extent to get forms filled in, for example. A stakeholders' forum involving all groups - unions, farmers and councils - would be beneficial. If the North/South Ministerial Council were incorporated, an all-Ireland stakeholders' forum could also feed into that.
Many of the recommendations are worthwhile, but it would be costly to implement a plan if one were adopted. Who will resource those plans? If district councils take part in such a plan, what resourcing will they expect, or will they have to fund it from their own resources? Certainly I am in favour of a contingency plan - but with stakeholder awareness of how everything is to fall into place.
The Chairperson: I agree.
Mr McHugh: Welcome.
I take the point about pollution. Washing occurred along the borders for months on end. Where did the water and chemicals go? The amount of water and chemicals would have been tenfold had it been done on the scale necessary for an outbreak. Was there enough collaboration between vets and farmers to have the proper surveillance or to enhance surveillance so that various other exotic diseases could be monitored? Was it good enough? Has it changed or improved? Is there enough collaboration now? Is there a possibility of biosecurity overkill? There are now many regulations because of the remote possibility that an outbreak might happen every so many years.
Mr Hugget: There are two aspects to consider in contingency plans: risk assessment and management, and training. The resources required to implement a meaningful contingency plan must be balanced against the likelihood of an outbreak happening and any effects. It comes down to the question of the failure of the Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) and problems with tagging across the board, let alone in each jurisdiction. Those issues need serious consideration.
Mr O'Kane: Again, it is about reasonableness. People usually co-operate with speed limits when they see and understand the need for them. There was some overkill at the time of the outbreak. Even in churches and various places, mats were appearing and then removed on health and safety grounds. There was quite a catalogue of things like that happening.
Farm biosecurity is one thing; animal disease and welfare on farms is another. Farmers must currently comply with so many regulations that they are liable to be resistant to some of them. The Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) and new requirements that are being imposed on farms currently are two examples. There is some concern about those, and there may be an element of overkill.
Mr McHugh: Some people say that the APHIS is very good at tracking tags rather than animals at present.
The Chairperson: We will have to leave it there. Thank you very much for coming and for your contribution.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Friday 27 September 2002
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr J Meehan ) Derry City Council
The Chairperson: The Committee welcomes Mr John Meehan of Derry City Council. If we do not have time to ask you all the questions that we wish, we will ask you to respond in writing.
Mr Meehan: I am the chief environmental health officer of Derry City Council. The council is pleased to have been invited to the Committee to comment on the follow-up review of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis, and although our comments are probably uncontroversial we welcome the opportunity to have our opinions heard at this decision-making forum.
The council spelt out several issues in its letter to the Committee; some reflect the council's experience during the crisis, whereas others are more from an environmental health perspective. The council managed during the period by establishing a foot-and-mouth disease emergency team, which had daily meetings and was in regular daily contact with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The team involved all the main players in the council, and they examined the potential effect on local sporting and major crowd events and activities such as greyhound racing. There was close co-operation between the agencies, which ensured that the Department's rulings were quickly enforced.
There may have been occasional uncertainty about the messages coming from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It would be helpful to have just one information point giving guidance to statutory agencies in future. Some bodies were getting information from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure when they should have been getting it from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
We shared the use and maintenance of disinfectant mats at the most frequently used centres throughout the council area, and arrangements were in place to ensure that council transportation arrangements were covered by the proper disinfection procedures.
We would like the Committee to consider what policy changes might be needed to ensure a more sustainable agricultural practice in Northern Ireland. The movement of livestock between the market, the slaughterhouse and the place of consumption must be reconsidered. The more that livestock are moved, the greater the chance of infection. If we developed a more sustainable approach to agriculture, focusing in particular on livestock slaughtered and consumed locally, we could encourage consumers to buy locally. The huge mileage incurred when transporting livestock in the island of Ireland and in Great Britain increases the risk of spreading infection and is not the most sustainable way of running agriculture. I come from an environmental health background and am not aware of all the issues; however, some consideration should be given to those points purely from the point of view of sustainability.
We are concerned about illegal imports and the fragmented arrangements involving the Department and other agencies such as the Food Standards Agency and district councils. The Department should have a more consistent approach and consider controls at ports and airports. With the market burgeoning, there will be an increased opportunity for illegal imports. There are concerns in Great Britain and in the Republic about the more exotic imports; the growing ethic communities, which demand a certain type of animal that would not be produced in Northern Ireland, may be fuelling that. Such imports could involve risks to animal and human health. The Department should consider arrangements for tightening imports.
Liaison between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and our council was very good, and, after some teething problems, the system worked well. There were concerns in Great Britain about pyres where it was felt that there was insufficient communication and co-operation. That did not happen here and things worked well. Environmental health would be concerned at the risk from dioxins from pyres and the danger to the waterways.
The arrangements were good between Departments North and South, and arrangements at the border worked well. Perhaps the formula that worked here during the foot-and-mouth-disease crisis could provide a template for managing future bio-emergencies.
The Agriculture Committee or a committee for emergency management could consider the biological hazards. In general, the arrangements work very well.
The Chairperson: Thank you; that has been very helpful. What is required to curb the illegal importation of livestock and meat products? The system in Australia and New Zealand is elaborate but effective. Are you in favour of introducing such a system here?
Mr Meehan: Yes. In the past, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) carried out some activities and the Department of Health others; control has always been a problem. The Food Standards Agency's remit was a politically driven initiative after the major food scares in Great Britain. It is important that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Food Standards Agency hammer the matter out. We would welcome that.
Mr McHugh: Derry city has a totally different perspective on foot-and-mouth disease than does the rural area, which extends almost as far as Cookstown. Have changes been made to biosecurity or to contingency measures? If so, is the council happy with the changes controlling and preventing foot-and-mouth disease and exotic diseases?
Mr Meehan: The main change has been improved awareness. The farming community should use its high profile in the local media to send out clear messages on animal health and the economic side of the business. The foot-and-mouth crisis taught us the need for better communication. The agencies in Northern Ireland worked well together; liaison has been established between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the staff who deal with water pollution in the Environment and Heritage Service and Derry City Council. Each knows the others' roles and responsibilities, and it works well. My only concern is the necessity to move away from animal health to animal/human health. The Food Standards Agency and the Veterinary Service must clarify matters.
Mr McHugh: A cow is moved approximately 14 times in its life. During the foot-and-mouth crisis the markets were closed and farmers were in an uncompetitive situation with meat processors. Even with change, that would continue. Meat processors were already closed in Fermanagh, and the distance now travelled by animals is too great. How would resolving that help your area?
Mr Meehan: I look at it from three perspectives. The first concerns Local Agenda 21 and sustainable economies; that involves reducing as far as possible classification usage. Furthermore, councils listen clearly to the farming community.
That farmers are being squeezed by the major supermarket chains is topical. However, there could be better links between farmers and consumers to control livestock movement, which would stop supermarket chains distorting the market and would benefit animal health and consumers. I do not know how that could be done, as I do not have a background in it.
Mr Doherty: Forward planning is essential. Was the council aware of a plan and, more importantly, is there a contingency plan in place to deal with the problem if it were to reoccur? Given that Derry City Council serves a border area, does it discuss such issues with Donegal County Council?
Mr Meehan: I did not know whether a plan was in place. After the emergency arose, the council worked quickly and drafted a simple plan for use in its area, although I do not know how it fits in with the provincial plan. Derry City Council's plan is based on its experience at that time, and there would be merit in the Committee's bringing provincial plans together to create a template. The council has regular contact with the North-Western Health Board on food safety.
Mr Doherty: Is the plan at health board rather than county council level?
Mr Meehan: Yes; it is at health board level. I do not know whether that will affect the review of public administration, but control in the Republic of Ireland is with the health boards rather than local government.
Mr Ford: Mr Logue's letter states that local authorities relied heavily on advice from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which, as you said Mr Meehan, was initially uncertain. What environmental health advice could you have given the Department in the early stages? As an environmental health officer, do you think that there are other aspects in which the council could have been more involved?
Mr Meehan: There was major criticism in Great Britain about the lack of influence from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Fortunately, there are many environmental health officials in senior positions in the more influential organisations here. That should be formally recognised and arrangements should be put in place to accommodate comment by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. The Committee will receive a submission from its local director.
Mr Bradley: Mr Meehan said that Derry City Council met every day during the crisis; I serve on Newry and Mourne District Council, which did not. I congratulate Derry City Council. A contingency plan would facilitate the daily exchange of information. I appreciate that your background is in environmental health, but what effect did the foot-and-mouth crisis have on agri-business and rural tourism facilities such as equestrian centres in the Derry City Council area?
Mr Meehan: In the past few years, the main focus of tourism in the Derry City Council area has been on people visiting the city and then travelling to Donegal, Antrim or Fermanagh. Tourism was seriously affected during the foot-and-mouth outbreak. I could not quantify it because several factors have affected tourism in the past 18 months, and, as yet, it has not been determined which of them had the greatest effect.
The Chairperson: During the crisis, did the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development suggest how it would deal with the burning of carcasses in a widespread outbreak?
Mr Meehan: No; that was never raised. In future, contingency plans will be relevant. I mentioned what we did locally, and I have a brief summary of what we would do should there be a reoccurrence. The Committee could play a part in developing the effectiveness of contingency plans.
The Chairperson: If there were another outbreak, the Government may go for vaccination to prevent its spread rather than burn the carcasses of slaughtered animals. What would be the result of that? Having witnessed the massive slaughter and burning that the Government undertook, would people accept the need for vaccination? Would they be prepared to eat the meat of animals that had been vaccinated?
Mr Meehan: That is a matter of public confidence.
The Chairperson: You are supposed to be a jack and master of all trades. That is what councillors expect of you.
Mr Meehan: A major spin would be required to shift sentiment in order to persuade people that vaccination was the only way to avoid the distresssing scenes of the mass burning of livestock. The public would probably remain sceptical, so a major education exercise would be needed. There is confusion in the public mind about the effect of vaccination on an animal's health, the recovery period, the effect on the meat and the residual effect of a vaccine. A clear message would help. Once again, the Food Standards Agency has a major role to play in getting the public's mind clear about the effect. That is where we will make progress.
The Chairperson: We cannot be sure that all meat imported into Great Britain and Northern Ireland is unvaccinated.
Mr Meehan: I cannot comment on that; I have never seen an official departmental position on it.
The Chairperson: Do Departments not want to deal with it? My experience in Europe and in Westminster leads me to believe that the Government will, without doubt, opt for vaccination.
Mr Kane: The European Union is to review foot-and-mouth disease legislation with a view to updating it. Given the lessons learned from the 2001 outbreak and the wide range of legislation encompassing carcass disposal, animal health and welfare and compensation, what changes in legislation would you recommend the Department press for in Europe?
Mr Meehan: It is not for me to comment on veterinary matters; however, there should be some mandatory requirement for consultation on the effect on the environment. There are many less contentious processes than the disposal of infected animals that require some form of environmental impact assessment. There should be a template to deal with emergencies. I can send the Committee further detail in a written response.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your help. We are very concerned that there does not seem to have been a plan; rather, there seem to have been ad-hoc meetings to deal with difficulties as they arose. Most Committee members believe that an emergency contingency plan is needed now. A real plan with real structures and communications is needed before it is too late.
There have been arguments about whether the issue should be dealt with on an all-Ireland basis because of the threat to agriculture North and South. Farms that straddle both sides of the border also pose a difficulty. If structures in Donegal are largely health-based and structures here are largely agriculture-based, there will be problems even before the start. We look forward to hearing from you.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Friday 27 September 2002
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr N Fitzduff ) Rural Community Network
The Chairperson: I welcome you here today.
Mr Fitzduff: I am grateful to the Committee for inviting me here today. I will make it clear when I am answering on behalf of the Rural Community Network, and when I am answering from a personal point of view.
The Rural Community Network is a voluntary organisation with over 500 members, 350 of whom are from community groups in rural areas. It attempts to articulate the voice of rural communities on poverty and disadvantage. In 1991, community groups in rural areas set up the network to act on their behalf. It supports the further development of an infrastructure of 12 rural support networks, the last of which was recently formed in south Antrim and was launched at our annual general meeting last weekend.
We are concerned about the trauma that people experienced, and continue to experience, as a result of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The issue affects humans as well as animals and the agricultural industry. We are also concerned about the ramifications for communities, particularly for those in which the outbreaks occurred and in which the impact of the disease still reverberates.
I will focus on two issues. The first is the clear need to guide those involved in farming through the process of change. The difficulties that they experienced in dealing with that process were exacerbated by foot-and-mouth disease. However, our systems are not equipped to support people in reflecting and coming to terms with what has happened, and is happening, to their businesses, their economy and the broader agricultural framework. No facility exists to guide people through that process of change towards a new future. As a consequence, people think only of how they can get things back to the way they were before the outbreak occurred.
Regretfully, that is one of the areas in which I feel more could be done for people going through the whole process of change in agriculture, particularly relating to the effects of foot-and-mouth disease.
I have a limited knowledge of the second area. The Westminster legislation in relation to the emergency planning scene is being reviewed. I have touched base with some people working on that, who have complimented Northern Ireland on its achievements in relation to the review process - particularly those of Bill Clements and Judith Brown. It appears that they are fairly far ahead of the game in relation to bringing forward that legislation, which would not affect Northern Ireland directly but is likely to provide a framework for it.
That has been critiqued on the basis of increasing disasters, such as flooding and unforeseen circumstances regarding disease control. However, it is centred on the need for greater co-ordination across the system to meet local requirements when such difficulties occur. The thrust of what I have been saying supports the engagement of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in such emergency planning arrangements, whereby the plans would be clearly understood and could be rolled out in the case of any emergency, of which foot-and-mouth was clearly one.
The final point which I shall make is that the rural community groups which have grown over recent years can and have played a supportive role in taking people through their changing circumstances.
The Chairperson: Were you aware of a Government contingency plan when the outbreak occurred?
Mr Fitzduff: No.
The Chairperson: Are you aware of one now?
Mr Fitzduff: I am aware that elements are being reviewed in that respect. I have been reading the PricewaterhouseCoopers review, which touches most of the bases that I am concerned about. However, people would not say with their hands on their hearts that there is a plan which would operate in circumstances worse than we had, which are very likely. We were spared by some miracle; I do not understand how things did not get much worse than they did.
The Chairperson: Is your organisation in favour of our having a contingency plan known to all who would be expected to co-operate in carrying it out and of regular meetings being held with the organisations as is done in America? From time to time they even have a Continent-wide reaction exercise. They tell themselves that they have foot-and-mouth disease and ask what they are to do about it and who will be swinging into action.
Mr Fitzduff: I completely agree with that. It should be an extension of the kind of safety measures that buildings and organisations have for fire and emergency drills. Part of the problem is that you cannot predict what the next disaster will be. That is the great difficulty, but the fact that you have resources which must react differently in a situation of such tragedy means that it is very hard to deal with such situations without having scenario planning, something that I know goes on in other parts of the United Kingdom too.
Northern Ireland's emergency planning infrastructure is not very highly developed, and we should benefit from that. I distinguish between thinking about how to deal with the next outbreak of foot-and-mouth and how to deal with circumstances that we may not have foreseen, in which we need the co-ordination to react.
Mr Kane: Mr Fitzduff, you are welcome. You probably overheard my question when you were sitting in the gallery; nevertheless, I will repeat it. The EU is to review foot-and-mouth disease legislation with a view to updating it. Given the lessons learnt from the 2001 outbreak and the wide range of legislation encompassing the disposal of carcasses, animal health, welfare, compensation, et cetera, what changes in legislation would you recommend that the Department press for at European level?
Mr Fitzduff: That is a difficult question. Due to the nature of the consequences of this disease on the whole market, the main thing is that there is co-ordination and agreement about a way forward on a response. That should be an EU response. We should lobby to have whatever we decide as the best response incorporated within an EU framework. Beyond that, I am not really prepared to answer that question. I would need to take it away and consider it to determine the implications. I am not fully aware of the legislative framework that the EU demands or co-ordinates on the issue.
The key point is that we should not be doing something that does not fit in the wider market. Otherwise, it would be nonsense. It is like airborne pollution or the many other issues that you have heard about; it is not confined to this geographic territory. Immediately, co-ordination across the EU is fundamental.
Mr Bradley: You are welcome, Mr Fitzduff. My question relates to the agribusiness sector. Can you outline the disease's impact, as you saw it, on other sectors in the rural community, such as small businesses or tourism?
Mr Fitzduff: As the Chairperson has said, everyone was caught on the hop. We did not know what impact it was going to have. The measures that were taken were credible in the circumstances. However, the ramifications would have been even greater if it had been more intense. It had ramifications for small businesses, transport and for visitors from one area to another.
It affected everyone in the community, not just the farming community. The consequences of a breakdown of relationships - even within the farming community - because of feelings of blame and so on were mitigated because of people's solidarity in supporting one another as neighbours. That was significant. The situation may have been much worse if it had occurred in a town where people did not know one another. People were willing to co-operate.
On the other hand, there are deep feelings of suspicion and thoughts about who is dealing with what, breakdown of relations and so on. People were grappling with a dangerous situation. You can imagine many much nastier scenarios. The outbreak happened to be contained, and the better part of people was brought out. However, there were other aspects in the Ardboe area, which is right beside my house. I knew and was able to see the ramifications over those days. There were many people coming in, and there was much pressure to watch the fire, the shooting, et cetera.
That was serious in that it could have got out of hand. The controls that you must put in place in such a situation are different, because these are not normal circumstances. That kind of crowd control or policing of the situation could have been difficult if the situation was on a greater scale.
Given the isolation felt by those affected, the need for support was great, and neighbourly support was particularly welcomed. There is a need for a support unit to help those directly and indirectly affected to reach a new point in their thinking. If their livestock is gone, they must find a way to create a better life. There was no unit in place that could take people through that process of thinking seriously about how they could re-enter the labour market or re-engage with the agricultural business, which had been decimated. Other industries that have faced such crises have set up multidisciplinary units to engage with those who were directly affected. Those units help people through a process of resolving their needs - whether those are for counselling, or for reconsidering their business prospects. A multi-disciplinary body would be required.
Mr Ford: You have given the Committee a great deal to think about with regard to emergency planning. You mentioned your experience, as a neighbour of Ardboe, so to speak. How much would the organisations that the Rural Community Network (RCN) represents be able to do in such circumstances? Is good neighbourliness enough, or is a more professional input required? We spoke about the lack of involvement in emergency planning. Was there a role for Niall Fitzduff to attend the Minister's emergency meetings in Dundonald House, as a representative of rural community activists? How do we disseminate such information, and how capable are your staff of picking it up from there? Sorry, I asked about 12 questions.
Mr Fitzduff: That is fine, David. Not knowing who is doing the planning or what the plans are is always a problem. When the outbreak was confirmed, there was panic in the community. Neighbours got together and blocked roads with tractors. Within five minutes, a tremendous voluntary effort had been made. In the next phase, the police arrived, and the neighbours disappeared. The communication between the police and the neighbours is quite important. Following that, the Veterinary Service, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Forestry Service arrived, and the situation settled down. However, in the initial panic, communication is very difficult. The area's community groups and those who have roles as honest brokers should be clearly identifiable. Community groups could achieve that by liaising with the authorities and local people coming through, who do not know what the consequences of the situation will be.
With regard to emergency planning, it is important, as the Chairperson said, that people know what the arrangements are, and that those are scenario-planned. Special workshops for that are important and could engage our networks so that everyone is clear about their role. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, people who set out to help cause more of a problem because they do not know what the most appropriate action would be. If people do not know the detail of the plan, and if the plan contradicts what people think would be the best option, the arrangements may not work. The result may be to intensify conflict and rumour-mongering, or to cause a breakdown in relationships at unpredictable points. The more people are aware of how people in the system think, the better.
On the other hand, there is a difficulty with a one-stop shop central response, which supposedly knows everything. Unless it is linked to good feedback from people on the ground, it will lead to as much difficulty as it does good outcomes.
As to whether I should be on a group that would think such issues through, my organisation and I would be happy to play even a minor role. It would be helpful to know what is being planned and to have some input.
The Chairperson: You outlined what happened the last time. Once farmers adopted the attitude of fortress farming, it became difficult to communicate with them, because they did not want any intruders coming up their lanes. The most important people in the countryside were isolated.
Where do you go in such a situation? Had we had a proper contingency plan, we would have known the people, and we would have known their telephone numbers and how to reach them. Many farmers were shut off so completely that they had no contact with outsiders.
Mr Fitzduff: Neighbours had a huge dilemma about whether to contact farmers and vice versa, because contact seemed to be breaking a rule. Had the disease broken out, they might have felt that they had carried it and were at fault. That sort of uncertainty is intense and difficult to deal with. Hindsight is a great teacher.
Mr McHugh: I appreciate that it is a difficult subject for you, because you were caught up in the crisis. If we must deal with such a situation in the future, can something be done to alleviate the stress of families who must suffer the aftershock of foot-and-mouth disease?
Are the families who suffered through the outbreak getting help? Did the people who were isolated at the time develop psychological problems, and was anything done for them, or have they been forgotten about? Can something be done now? The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) undertakes outreach work on farm audits to help with the financial situation, but it is funded differently in rural areas, and perhaps DARD should examine that issue.
Women, in particular, may have had to soak up some of the stress that was suffered. Has anything been done to help them?
Mr Fitzduff: There is undoubtedly a deficit in support. Strategic plans were developed with the help of the Rural Development Council (RDC) and with local networks. One of the difficulties is that that was done in an emergency situation, and whether one should develop a strategy for the future of a community on the back of an emergency is questionable.
As regards personal and human tragedy, Mr McHugh rightly identified women and those who were not at the centre of the crisis. The psychological pressures on women and other family members were huge. There was also huge pressure on those people in the wider community who were not directly affected by the disease. It is worth noting that rural services require a premium. Equality of access to such services must be examined. There is an opportunity to reinforce services, and the Committee has often endorsed that view. However, rather than creating something new in reaction to each emergency, the responsiveness of the existing services should be examined.
I agree that the CAB and the Health Service should take particular note of what they need to do differently and try to bring that to the rural development table to make a case for the rural premium. That would be a better response than setting up new and particular arrangements for a crisis situation. The situation will change, and it will have to be addressed differently; it may never arise in the same way again. However, I agree entirely with the work that has been done on rural stress, et cetera.
During the aftermath, you can return to those communities and assess the situation. That should not be done intrusively, because one of the worst things that can happen is for a wave of counsellors to be sent in who must justify the fact that they are being paid to do that job. They then intrude on people whose family networks and community support are coping well, which is what those people actually need.
In the future, farmers may need to accept that they do not know what the consequences will be for their job or whether they will just return to their previous situation. Some people have now left farming; others have got back to where they were before the crisis. My superficial analysis would be that they have not had the opportunity to think through how they might now enter the agricultural arena differently. There was a deficit of information to enable farmers to know where to go. The place they last left was the safest place to return to. However, they invest a huge amount of money returning there, and they may be just creating a problem for the future.
Those who were affected directly should have the opportunity to discuss their business arrangements and the consequences for their families with some experts and obtain help. That kind of response is definitely required.
Mr McHugh: You mentioned the multi-disciplinary unit. Cookstown District Council funds the CAB's outreach work, but it is left to its own devices in other areas. That work is not being done on an equal footing across the board. Through my contacts with constituents, I know that farmers in all areas are in financial difficulty, particularly those who are full-time farmers. They are not going to seek advice.
There is a deficit because of the overall impact of foot-and-mouth disease. The outbreak was a mark in the sand, and the farming landscape has since changed completely. It was said that people received compensation, but they did not get to sell their animals so it was not free money. That was not taken into account, yet fingers were pointed at communities, and to an extent that has still not been resolved.
Mr Fitzduff: Someone must take a sharp look at the existing level of resources for advice and services. In preference to establishing something new or announcing a new pot of money, I would far rather that those schemes that are currently operating well but with limited resources be enhanced.
The Chairperson: Thank you for your help. We will give you some other questions, and we would be grateful for some sort of reply. The Committee would agree that you have given us some valuable points to consider.
Mr Fitzduff: I have brought an annual report from our organisation, which has just been published. There were 150 people at Greenmount College enjoying a weekend but also thinking deeply about these issues. Thank you for the invitation.
The Chairperson: Not at all; it was a pleasure.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Friday 27 September 2002
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr S Shields )
Mr B Wilson ) Omagh District Council
Mr G Hart )
The Chairperson: The Committee welcomes the representatives of Omagh District Council.
Mr B Wilson: I am Bert Wilson; my colleagues are Mr Gerry Hart and Mr Séamus Shields.
The Chairperson: If you make a brief statement, my Colleagues will ask questions. If we do not have time to ask all our questions, we should like you to send us written replies.
Mr B Wilson: I thank the Committee for giving us the opportunity to come here today.
Controls on meat brought into Great Britain should be tightened. We have seen photographs of exotic imported meats, some of it leaking in trunks. Although this practice has been banned, it must be policed properly: there is no point in imposing a ban if it is not properly policed.
We were told that an Asian virus was responsible for the outbreak of swine fever in Great Britain, and it is highly likely that foot-and-mouth disease was introduced in the same way. A lorry that frequently drove to Omagh had been in contact with a farm in Great Britain that had suffered an outbreak of the disease. We were very lucky.
There was good co-operation with the higher levels of the Veterinary Service and there was good communication with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, there was little communication with the local farming community. I am a farmer, and the first I knew of the outbreak was when I saw people putting down mats. There was not much co-operation at lower levels. In times of emergency, local councils should be responsible for what goes on in their council areas and councils and local vets should have been consulted more. Farmers who co-operated with the Department and acted properly should have been compensated for their work. They tried to keep animals away from the road and from neighbours' fields, which was sometimes not easy because the grazing pattern did not always work. The farmers who acted grudgingly should have been punished.
The farmers who co-operated and who played their part should have been compensated, not punished; local vets should have been used more, especially as there were staff shortages. Sufficient staff and funds should be made available to the veterinary and agriculture sectors, and to councils if necessary, to deal with any possible future emergency. On one occasion we could not get the disinfectant, so we bought some, not knowing whether it would do the job or not.
Lorries collect animals from places where there are no disinfectant facilities. Lorry drivers come to the industrial estates where local people change their animals from one lorry to another and there are no disinfectant facilities available - it can even happen at the side of the road. These practices should be stopped.
The control of tuberculosis during the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak was completely stopped. Facilities should have been in place to ensure that the two worked in tandem, as tuberculosis is now getting out of control. Local vets should have been allowed to ensure cleanliness and been able to carry on with their business. People visiting farms do not disinfect or go through proper procedures, including Government officials on business on farms.
The Chairperson: When foot-and-mouth disease started, were you aware of any contingency plan, and was it put into operation?
Mr B Wilson: No.
The Chairperson: Has your council been approached by any Department about a contingency plan in anticipation of another outbreak?
Mr B Wilson: No.
The Chairperson: Have you, or the other council members, information of any plans?
Mr B Wilson: No, not as a councillor.
Mr McHugh: Mr Wilson made some important points about biosecurity, food, and animal security. Is there sufficient co-operation between vets and farmers and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's vets to prevent another outbreak or are we as open to another outbreak as we ever were, especially as some officials do not go through the proper hygiene procedures? That might always have been the case, but since foot-and-mouth disease that should have changed.
Mr B Wilson: I do not see much difference in the system since the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. We receive a great deal of correspondence, some of which deals with co-operation. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development may work well at the higher levels, but it does not deal with the farmer on his level.
All lorries were disinfected, but some of them were travelling an almighty distance; lorries that visited farms at Coagh travelled around Omagh. Their journeys ought to have been restricted to a smaller area.
Mr McHugh: Is the council satisfied that it could take different measures, for example, making more use of mats? There was a vast difference in the actions taken by councils in Fermanagh and those across the border. For example, mats were placed at every door of the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell County Cavan minutes after the outbreak was announced. Nothing like that happened at premises, including veterinary offices, in council areas in Fermanagh. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offices put out mats, but the measures were often hit and miss; farmers were still going to meal stores, for example.
Mr B Wilson: I noticed that many of the mats were dry; they might have been a bluff, simply put out for show.
The Chairperson: Absolutely.
Mr B Wilson: I had to cross the border to Éire several times. On one occasion, I was turned back at the border because I had some items in the boot of the car. However, when I came up from the South to the North there was no problem.
The Chairperson: We had a mat at the door of Stormont that officials removed when an important visitor came from Europe so that he would not have to walk over it.
Mr Ford: How could the role of local vets be enhanced? How good were the contacts between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the council? Did the council feel that it could have taken action but was not asked to do so by the Department? What expertise will the council have in the event of a future emergency?
Mr B Wilson: Vets could have advised farmers more. Some properties had proper mats soaked in disinfectant; others just put down a bit of carpet. Carpet stops being effective after several lorries have driven over it. The vets should have told people that. Although vets were sometimes consulted about moving animals from field to field, they did not have much say in the matter.
I did not know that the outbreak had been announced, and I was on my way into Omagh when I saw my neighbour putting out carpet. That was when I first realised. I went home and dug a pit into which I put disinfectant, which seemed more effective. However, nobody could say whether people were using the correct disinfectant or whether the procedure was of any benefit. The Department's vets should have known the proper procedures.
Mr Hart: There should be flexibility. When the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occurred, farmers in our area had difficulty with the tuberculosis testing arrangements.
Mr Shields: The council recognised that some unsatisfactory circumstances arose because of the emergency. The restrictive nature of the emergency meant that ordinary processes, such as tuberculosis testing, had to be suspended. That is understandable. Nonetheless, had the situation lasted longer, such arrangements might not have been acceptable. People will accept that short-term measures are needed in such circumstances.
Recently, I was involved in a situation where a farmer theoretically had five animals punched. At that time, the Department's officials could not go to the farms to punch the animals. The animals were punched on paper, and the farmer was paid in the normal way. However, farmers will be aware that there is a four-month stipulated period after punching after which the farmer may not sell the animal.
As this farmer's animals had only been punched in theory, he did not know when the period ended. Thus, he presented two of the five animals at the abattoir on Monday and the other three on Friday. However, the expiry period had terminated on Wednesday of that week. As a result, he was penalised by having all five of his animals disqualified for the subsidy. That was most unfair. The regulations make it clear that doing that in any circumstances disqualifies you from the funding. This was a result of the emergency, and although the man was an honest, decent farmer he was not good at record keeping.
The inflexibility of the system was to blame. I recognise that that situation has been rectified, as others had the same experience, and it probably will not happen again. Nonetheless, it was one of the problems.
That could possibly be resolved in future by the use of local vets. If departmental officials felt that they could not go to the farms in certain circumstances, local vets could have done so and carried out the work on the animals' ears. That would have ensured that the problem did not arise.
On general issues, we recognise that there was an emergency at the time; however, important lessons must be learnt. The local council, for example, could ensure better communication throughout the district by informing people of what was required, perhaps making emergency arrangements for collecting disinfectant or mats. Local councils could provide some services. For example, councils' personnel could cordon off a district or ensure that controls were in place in and out of certain localities so that an outbreak could be localised and confined. In future, local councils should have a vital role.
Mr Bradley: How did the outbreak affect tourism and small rural businesses?
Mr Shields: We recognise that everyone will be penalised in an emergency. It is important that all elements of the economy be considered so that any future planning to control an outbreak of this nature would have to take account of its possible long-term effects. It is important to remember that we were extremely fortunate in Northern Ireland in that foot-and-mouth disease was localised and confined. That may not be the case if it happened again, so all elements of the economy must be integrated into any emergency planning for the future.
Mr Kane: The European Union is to review foot-and-mouth legislation with a view to updating it. Given the lessons learnt from the 2001 outbreak and the wide range of legislation encompassing the disposal of carcasses, animal health, welfare and compensation, what changes to the legislation would you recommend the Department press for in Europe?
Mr Shields: Legislation is important, and the outbreaks exposed weaknesses in it.
One of the major difficulties with legislation is that farming is largely governed by European Regulations, and they, and the free movement of goods, mean that we cannot impose major restrictions at ports and airports for livestock travelling between Northern Ireland, Great Britain and Europe. I am in favour of free movement in the European Union, but we must consider how legislation could restrict imports during any future outbreak.
The importation of meat products from Africa and the Far East is a major problem - indeed, the root of the problem - and the legislation must be tightened to restrict that. It appears that pigs fed with meat products imported from the Far East caused the outbreak, and that risk still exists. Importing raw meat is worth around £1 billion to businesses in the United Kingdom.
The under 24-month scheme relates to BSE rather than to foot-and-mouth disease. However, the legislation for that scheme must be strongly enforced. Traceability of livestock is also important, and although we think that it is strong in Northern Ireland, there is ample evidence that animals are being dumped in council skips with their identity removed. Legislation on traceability must be enforced.
Mr Kane: Should controls be more stringent?
Mr B Wilson: Yes. Controls should be more stringent, and those who break the regulations should be penalised.
Legislation should be introduced, but it should not penalise the genuine farmer. We read that 8,000 sheep are smuggled south of the border. Farmers are burdened with legislation, and they need something sensible; they need legislation that will not penalise those who are trying to do their best.
The Chairperson: Some people felt that the Department went too far in moving cattle from one field to another; it is doubtful whether that was legal. Northern Ireland did not suffer the disease on the same scale as elsewhere. Giant European laws grip the farmers when the disease is widespread. It is easy to talk with hindsight, but we damaged some of our rural areas with regulations that did nothing to ease the situation. For instance, tourism and attendance at certain functions were restricted; yet permission was given for attendance at functions that could have presented a greater risk. I do not know how the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development decided its criteria.
Mr McHugh: Was the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's force majeure policy tested in relation to the farmer who lost five animals?
Mr Shields: Under the regulations, I understand that as soon as the application has been stamped a card is sent to the farmer informing him of the precise date.
Mr Hart: One of the main points in our response to the Committee was that the law on importation of meats to the United Kingdom should be tightened. The European Union passed legislation on 20 September banning people from importing meat from third countries. It will come into force on 1 January 2003 and is a marvellous step forward. That said, at a recent environmental health conference we were told that £1 billion had been made from the importation into Great Britain of bush meat and other exotic meats. Without tight enforcement, such problems will continue.
I will give you information and reports from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which has given information on illegal meat exports to the House of Commons Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We are glad that the legislation has been tightened, but unless enforcement is strict, difficulties will arise. In Omagh, we feel that we have been lucky. A few days after the outbreak I received a phone call from a businessman. He told me that he had seen a feature on television about the owner of an abattoir that had been hit by the crisis. He said that the owner did a great deal of business in the Omagh area and added that he hoped to God that the owner had not visited recently. We checked with the Veterinary Service in Northern Ireland and found out that he had apparently brought consignments of sheep to Northern Ireland and brought back a great many pigs. Luckily for us, he had not been in Northern Ireland in the four weeks before the outbreak. That story brings home to us how close many farmers in Northern Ireland were to the source of the disease.
Mr Kane: Item six in the correspondence from Omagh District Council states that methods of animal and transport recordings must be rigorously maintained, as that information was vital in controlling the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. That comment has been made many times. Why does the Department not accept its share of the responsibility?
The Chairperson: That is a vital point.
I shall give the witnesses from Omagh District Council a list of further questions and ask them to reply as soon as possible. We would be grateful if they would do that. Thank you for your helpful contribution.
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
7 May 2002
I refer to your letter of 1 May 2002 inviting the submission of evidence to the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on the Foot & Mouth Disease 2001.
In line with the "Guidelines for Submitting Evidence" (enclose 15 copies of the two reports completed by the Rural Development Council (RDC) on behalf of two of the areas affected by FMD.
The RDC, which is funded through DARD's Rural Development Programme, exists to address the needs of deprived rural areas in Northern Ireland. Its principle activity is the delivery of support services to organisations that are involving people locally in planning and regeneration projects that meet real needs in disadvantaged rural communities.
We believe that the reports could be summarised by the term "Closure & Vision", to reflect the dual nature of their conclusions. In one sense the areas need to "close" the experience of FMD before they can start to implement its "vision" for the future.
These Action Plans represent locally developed regeneration strategies for those areas dramatically affected by the FMD crisis. These action points represent a local consensus on how the communities can help rebuild themselves. The communities should be congratulated for their ability to respond so rapidly and comprehensively. It is now clearly the responsibility of the Government and Statutory Bodies to respond directly to these reports and to put in place appropriate resources, projects and programmes to help the affected areas.
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
12 June 2002
Thank you for inviting LMC comments relating to your enquiry into the Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001.
We would confirm to you that we have been interviewed by the PricewaterhouseCoopers team carrying out the investigation for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. We have provided verbal responses to all of their queries. The one area where we have provided hard factual data was in regard to market returns for cattle and sheep ex-farm. What we find to be generally not well understood is that given the very low number of cases of Foot & Mouth Disease within Northern Ireland, there was in fact very little impact on beef prices. Graph 1 attached shows the monthly average comparison between the year 2000 and 2001. Over the year as a whole, deadweight cattle prices in fact marginally exceeded the year 2000 prices (by 1p/kg).
Graph 2 shows the same data for sheep. Here you will note that 2001 lamb prices for April and May followed very closely year 2000 prices, but on the lifting of the FMD ban in June, lamb prices soared ahead of the prior year. For the year as a whole, the official price reported to Brussels showed a 43% increase on the prior year. You should note also that about three quarters of the lambs slaughtered were marketed by farmers after the lifting of the export ban on sheep on 8 June.
While we feel that the above represents the best factual contribution which we can make to the Committee's enquiry, we would be happy to respond to any further specific questions where you feel that we can assist.
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
25 June 2002
1. handling of the outbreak
1.1 As the District where the first Northern Ireland outbreak was discovered, the Council were able to witness at first hand what happened in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.
1.2 In terms of the actual public there was a lot of initial uncertainty about the disease and what they could and could not do. There was a need for more communicating, not only between DARD Officials and agricultural organisations, but to ensure that people and particularly farmers at 'ground level' knew what was happening.
1.3 In general DARD acted in a prompt and efficient manner and at the Council's request a senior Officer came and briefed the Council's Management Team on how the outbreak was being addressed and offered advice on how the Council should deliver its services.
1.4 However, there were concerns particularly in regard to the initial checkpoints that were put in place. Although border controls were quickly established, traffic was still allowed to pass through Meigh for a short time, which was particularly concerning given that the infected area was less than a mile from the Village centre.
1.5 The introduction of the livestock movement ban was crucial to stopping the spread of the disease, but it did cause severe hardship. The concept of 'fortress farming', which was promoted rigorously in the weeks following the outbreak undoubtedly helped to reduce the risk of disease spread.
1.6 The emergency measures for the slaughter and disposal of animals in Meigh Village area was the cause of much distress to the locals. The leaving of slaughtered animals in the fields and the burning of carcases near a primary school all caused deep distress never mind nuisance.
2. impact on agri-business and general business sector
2.1 During the initial weeks the media (particularly television) portrayed a very negative image of the area in terms of burning of carcases, etc. There was a focus on the illegal movements of animals, which had led to the outbreak and it is quite right that this should be investigated.
2.2 However for obvious reasons the outbreak had a devastating impact on the farmers in the district. Restrictions on movement were needed for obvious reasons, but other diseases such as TB and Brucellosis were once again allowed to thrive as restrictions could not be lifted from farms. This has now witnessed the huge number of restricted herds in the South Armagh area due to Brucellosis.
2.3 The tourism sector suffered greatly as events such as the Mournes International Walking Festival and St Patrick's Day Parade had to be cancelled. Border based tourism businesses such as 'Tain Holiday Village', Omeath, Co Louth and East Coast Adventure Centre, Warrenpoint, Co Down were also adversely effected. Newry and Mourne District Council, while acknowledging the need for caution, continually promoted a more positive message, eg 'Newry and Mourne is open for business'. This remained the central thread of the Newry and Mourne media message.
Newry and Mourne District Council is still continuing to lobby DARD to provide compensation to the tourism industry in the District, given that South Armagh was at the heart of the outbreak.
2.4 While the ring of steel around Newry and Mourne District Council area was important to prevent further outbreaks, it causes all business in the District to suffer, particularly those involved in local goods trading and those involved in exporting of products to and from the Republic of Ireland.
3. future structures
3.1 Contingency plans, particularly those affecting basic services such as refuse collection, were not in place. DARD had to be convinced that it was better to have the refuse collection continue albeit with severe controls. Leaving the refuse uncollected would have made a bad situation worse. There is therefore a need for better liaison with Council in order to organise and advise how services at a local level should be run in a time of crisis. These contingency plans should also be put in place at a more regional and national level.
3.2 As the Foot and Mouth outbreak proved, diseases don't recognise borders. As proved during the crisis co-operation needs to happen between the North and South to ensure the best chance of properly tackling any disease. There is therefore no doubt that now is the time for an 'All-Ireland Animal and Plant Health Policy'.
3.3 The Foot and Mouth outbreak showed the inadequacies in the current system for monitoring the control and movement of livestock. A foolproof centralised recorded livestock identification system is needed in order to reduce the opportunities for future fraudulent activity.
3.4 There is no way of telling if Foot and Mouth will strike at Northern Ireland again, but if this happens Newry and Mourne District Council would like to see the proper contingency plans in place to prepare for all eventualities.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
1. Council welcomes the fact that this opportunity is being taken to conduct an enquiry into the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 which has had a major impact on both the farming and Agri Food Industries. It is acknowledged that it is imperative that lessons are learned and that the necessary measures are put in place to ensure that Northern Ireland is protected from future outbreaks of epizootic disease.
2. Urgent consideration needs to be given to the formulation of a unified national emergency plan setting out the role of all stakeholders. No one Department can deal with all aspects of an outbreak. It would be highly desirable that Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland is treated as a single identity and so the issue of land frontier controls would not need to be separately addressed. It is important that this issue be dealt with now when Food and Mouth is fresh in the minds of all - farmers, farming unions, industry and Government.
3. The arrangements at ports and airports to prevent epizootic diseases entering the country are lax and should be looked at as a matter of priority. The incidence of illegally slaughtered meat, etc. gaining entry to the UK mainland is well documented. The practices of countries such as Australia and New Zealand should be examined and incidences of good practice should be adopted for Ireland and the United Kingdom.
4. Lessons must be learned from the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 in respect of movement of animals. No movement of animals for slaughter or otherwise should have been permitted into Northern Ireland from the UK mainland when Foot and Mouth was suspected. If live animals were to be allowed into Northern Ireland surely the imposition of a quarantine period would have been a sensible approach.
5. The introduction of the compulsory ear-tagging of sheep and details of sheep movements would appear to be a necessary matter for regulation.
6. There were unacceptable delays in the slaughter of animals (South Armagh area). Contingency plans for all areas of the country should address issues of where and how animals are slaughtered and disposed of. It is important that District Councils are part of the consultative process as they can in many cases advise on matters of pollution, Health & Safety, Statutory nuisance, private water supplies, contaminated land, etc.
7. Business, particularly Agri-food business has had to cope with many additional restrictions and regulations and this has been enough in some cases to put them into financial difficulties. What might appear small matters like change in documentation can have major impact on a firm exporting food products. It is important that plans are made and kept updated by DARD/FSA to ensure that there is no repeat of the confusion which was present during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
23 July 2002
I refer to your correspondence dated 1 May regarding the above indicating that the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is undertaking an enquiry into the above. Members of Derry City Council have since considered the enquiry's terms of reference and provide the following comments for the committee's consideration:
1. There is a need for a more sustainable approach to agriculture and food production to prevent market opportunities for meat wholesalers to travel the length and breadth of the country seeking livestock at the lowest possible price. A food chain is needed to ensure consumers know where their food has come from and where it was produced, and can be confident that it is safe and nutritious. A market where consumers understand the nutritional value of their food and feel their aspirations for the world they live in are reflected in purchasing decisions.
2. At present enforcement is split between DEFRA, DARD (NI), Port Health (local authorities) and Customs and Excise. Fragmented border controls and "suitcase smuggling" may have been a contributory factor. Stop and search powers should be available to Port Health Inspectors. All imported food matters should be reported to the F.S.A.
3. MAFF took no account of the basic recommendations of the Northumberland Report into the 1967 outbreak. Why did the concerns expressed by EHOs on nuisance from pyres and burial pits meet with denial and obstruction? Why was CIEH not invited to participate in MAFF's daily briefings until April despite its experience in pollution control and public health? The Phillips Report on BSE should be studied in detail and its recommendations implemented so that in the event of a future unpredictable bio-emergency, command and control structures are in place. Pyres are not accepted in other countries.
4. It is unfortunate that the recommendations of the Phillips Report into BSE had not been implemented into a crisis management plan. Emergency legislation, produced with little consultation with other regulators was rushed through sometimes with inadequate or incorrect guidance.
5. The agricultural industry in NI suffered extensively and trade was seriously disrupted, a situation exacerbated by the fact that agriculture is such a significant part of the Gross Domestic Product.
6. From a local authority point of view we relied heavily on advice and guidance from DANI (now DARD), which initially was slow to come through and this was confusing due to conflicting messages.
When the system got up and running it worked well.
7. North/South cooperation was extremely effective in dealing with the disease and members felt that the only way the agriculture industry could survive was on the basis of an all island industry. The fact that Foot & Mouth Disease did not cross the border is a measure of the success of this cooperation.
a. Need for effective communication with all key stakeholders.
b. More effective controls of the movement of all meat and meat products throughout the country and across borders.
c. Fragmentation of the responsibilities for import control needs to be resolved.
d. Stop and search powers should be available to Port Health Inspectors.
e. Implementation of the Phillips Report and the introduction of contingency plans in the event of a future bio-emergency are essential.
I hope you find these comments useful.
C S LOGUE
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
13 June 2002
1.1 The Rural Community Network (RCN) is the Regional Rural Voluntary Organisation for Northern Ireland. It was established in 1991 by community groups from rural areas to articulate the voice of rural communities on issues relating to poverty, disadvantage and equality. RCN welcome the opportunity to make a submission to the Committee Enquiry into the Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2001.
1.2 RCN's submission is composed of two elements:
2.0 Short-term Issues
2.1 It is important to acknowledge the trauma that many farm families and others in the rural community have experienced. It is important that community groups give ongoing support where that is possible.
2.2 Information provided has often been confusing. RCN should have a role in developing clear guidance to its members, providing information on where to get advice and further information. It is important that such information is practical.
2.3 There is a need to be aware of the impact the situation was having on women - dealing with the tensions within families and within the community as a result of Foot and Mouth.
2.4 It should be noted that many in rural communities may be unwilling to admit that they are in need of help and may not know where they can to get it. Advice and signposting are therefore essential.
2.5 People may be able to help by diffusing myths and rumours, which can lead to scape-goating.
2.6 RCN should have a role in lobbying for compensation for the wider rural community, which has suffered as a consequence of outbreak.
2.7 Counselling services should be available and targeted at individuals and areas most affected by the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak.
2.8 Local community support has an important potential role. A space to talk maybe provided by local community groups.
2.9 RCN could have a direct role in providing guidance to people who are trying to decide whether or not to go ahead with meetings, using the official guidelines and interpreting them within the local context.
2.10 RCN should reinforce the importance of taking precautions using disinfectant mats, sprays, signs, not just on farms. It was suggested that local councils might help out with disinfectant, as this was quite costly.
2.11 It was suggested that DARD might offer extra help to local CABs as they can offer an essential service at the present time particularly in relation to compensation, income tax and rates.
3.0 Long-term Issues
3.1 A number of people mentioned the importance of a radical review of farming and rural development and that this was an opportunity for RCN to play a role in such a debate.
3.2 Some felt that the crisis provided an opportunity to improve the relationships with the farming community and farming organisations.
4.0 General Points
4.1 It is important that the committee establish a 'Multi-disciplinary Change Unit' to allow those in the changing agricultural crisis to reassess their career opportunities and to make informed choices about / for their future.
4.2 Emerging legislation is being drafted at Westminster for the UK; DARD should link with the development of this Bill through the Northern Ireland Office and be prepared to learn from its experience.
5.1 RCN thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the Committee Enquiry into the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak and hopes that the above comments are helpful.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
5 July 2002
Thank you for giving the opportunity to Omagh District Council to contribute to your enquiry into the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001. The Council's Agricultural Sub-Committee would make the following comments:
1. There is a need to maintain and improve controls at entry points to the UK, particularly the airports. Regulations on the importation of meat and animals particularly exotic should be urgently reviewed.
2. Communication between DARD and both the farming community and general public was considered to be good.
3. The principle of "fortress farming" and voluntary controls worked well.
4. Consideration should be given to an enhanced role for local private vets as their local knowledge and expertise would be an asset for education and advice.
5. The effect of Foot & Mouth Disease controls on other aspects of disease control such as TB needs to be considered. No testing for TB was carried out when Foot & Mouth was active.
6. Present methods of animal and transport recording needs to be rigorously maintained, as this information was vital in controlling the spread of Foot & Mouth Disease.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond.
VINCENT M BROGAN
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
10 June 2002
The Council's Agricultural Sub Committee has considered the consultation request from the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development in relation to the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in Northern Ireland in 2001, and would make the following comments:-
1 The Council considers that the response by DARD to the actual outbreak was well handled with good co-operation being given by other statutory and agricultural organisations.
2 The Council supports DARD in relation to the level of restrictions that were imposed at the time, even though some of the restrictions had detrimental implications for other sectors.
3 While the response by DARD was considered effective, the Council is of the opinion that there was, and still is, an inconsistency of approach by other UK Departments, and that 'port of entry' restrictions could have been more effective.
4 While recommending that 'port of entry' restrictions should remain, the Council would request that restrictions relating to Brucellosis testing be re-examined.
5 In relation to compensation, the Council considers that the scheme provided well for those farmers who lost stock, but took little or no account of hardships faced by those farmers who had to care for stock in restricted circumstances.
6 The Council recognises that a fair compensation system would be difficult to put in place, but would recommend that this issue should also be re-examined.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
9 July 2002
Further to your letter of 1 May 2002 re the enquiry into the Foot and Mouth outbreak on 2001. I apologise for not replying sooner.
Our comments are as follows:
1. The Zoo closed immediately the outbreak was announced in early March 2001, and only reopened in late May 2001 following discussions with representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
2. The loss in visitor numbers over this period due to the closure is estimated to be in the region of 58,000. However an aggressive marketing campaign in July and August saw an increase in visitor numbers in those two months which at the year end saw visitor numbers down on the estimated numbers by some 27,000.
3. In revenue terms the loss of income was an estimated £68,136.00 due to the loss in visitor numbers and a further £19,958 in loss of income in the Souvenir Shop. Total lost revenue to Belfast City Council is therefore estimated to be in the region of £88,094.00. (This does not include any losses suffered by the Zoo catering franchise holder or the increased cost of the marketing campaign).
4. When the Zoo did open, the Children's Farm and Elephant and Giraffe house were kept closed until September as these had been identified as areas of high risk of infection. There were some complaints regarding these closures when the remainder of the Zoo was open to the public.
5. Foot mats were in operation for visitors at the Zoo entrances, (there were some limited complaints regarding this) and the wheels of all vehicles entering the site were sprayed. It is impossible to estimate the cost of these measures but there was a considerable manpower element involved.
6. The movement in and out of the Zoo, of both exotic and domestic livestock was hindered. This caused some disruption to the breeding programmes of those species affected.
7. Movement of domestic stock is still restricted and the Zoo has not participated in as many of the local Agricultural Shows as it did pre Foot and Mouth.
8. Officials from the Department were helpful and informative.
9. Our main concern is the lack of monetary compensation. I believe that 'compensation' was given to a number of mainland organisations by the Rural Recovery Scheme.
I hope these comments are of value.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
18 June 2002
I refer to your letter dated 1 May 2002 regarding an enquiry into the Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak in 2001, copy of which was presented to a meeting of the Corporate Services Committee held on 22 May 2002. Councillors emphasised in the strongest terms that there should be strict and rigorous controls in place in respect of animals being exported to this country in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the foot and mouth outbreak.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
17 July 2002
Although the Food and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak was primarily an animal health issue the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was concerned about the possibility of toxic dioxins, from the pyres burning animal carcases, entering the food chain. This risk would only affect people consuming milk and milk products from animals near to the pyres. We advised that those consumers could avoid any potential additional risk by also consuming milk and milk products from other sources. The Agency put in place a monitoring programme, keeping consumers informed of its investigations and, once it had enough data to reach a conclusion, was able to advise that the pyres posed no additional risk to health through food.
Recognising that illegal imports could also potentially introduce food safety risks, the Agency is taking forward an action plan to address those concerns.
1. FSA-NI is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the enquiry being undertaken by the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development into the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001.
2. The Food Standards Agency was set up under the Food Standards Act 1999 and launched on 1 April 2000. Our main purpose as defined in the legislation is:
"to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food."
3. The FSA is a non-Ministerial Government department, operating at arm's length from Ministers and governed by a Board which is responsible for overall strategic direction. It is a UK-wide body, accountable to the Westminster Parliament and to the devolved administrations through the relevant Health Ministers and has offices in London, Aberdeen, Cardiff and Belfast.
4. The FSA's role in Northern Ireland is supported by advice from the NI Advisory Committee, set up under the 1999 Act and chaired by Michael Walker, a member of the Board. There are similar Advisory Committees in Scotland and Wales.
5. On learning of the first cases of the disease in pigs and cattle in Essex in February 2001, the Agency moved swiftly to reassure the public by issuing a press release advising that the disease was an animal health problem and posed no threat to food safety - a copy of the press release is attached at Annex A. FSA-NI also wrote to District Councils on that date and a copy of the letter is attached (Annex B).
6. However, although the FMD outbreak was primarily an animal health issue with responsibility falling to Agriculture Departments, there was some concern about possible risks of dietary contamination via FMD pyres, and the Department of Health (London) undertook a rapid qualitative assessment of possible risks to public health from FMD disposal options. They concluded that the exposure to dioxins via the diet from FMD pyres would be minor compared to background exposure through the rest of the diet (Department of Health, London (2001)): Moot and Mouth: effects on health of emissions from pyres used for disposal of animals, (www.doh.gsi.gov.uk). It was apparent that, although the pyre combustion, atmospheric dispersion and food chain modelling on which the assessment was based represented the best available science, there were large uncertainties in parts of the model.
7. The Food Standards Agency was keen to investigate further the degree of uncertainty inherent in the assessment and so convened a meeting of external experts from Government agencies and academia on 15 May 2001 in London.
8. The Agency commissioned a programme of monitoring dioxins in food produced in the vicinity of FMP pyres to validate the risk assessment and started collecting samples of milk, eggs, soil and grass from locations selected throughout the UK to represent a range of pyres types and conditions (Anglesey and Gwynedd, Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon, Dumfries and Galloway and County Down). FSA-NI arranged for DARD to collect the NI samples. It was however going to be a period of weeks before the first results from the programme would be available. At that time, cattle were just beginning to be put outside to graze any dioxins deposited to grazing land would need time to accumulate in their fat before being excreted into their milk. The complex nature of analysis for dioxins at such low levels meant that analysis could take a couple of weeks. The Agency, both in Great Britain and here, therefore issued precautionary advice on 25 May to farmers with animals on land within 2 km of a pyre (it was considered that most of the dioxins would fall on land within that distance of a pyre - a copy of the advice and the associated press release is attached at Annex C). The advice explained the risk assessment and the proposed monitoring programme and suggested that people who consumed whole milk and whole milk products only from animals within 2 km of pyres might wish to vary their diet to include milk and milk products from other sources. It stressed that the Agency continued to estimate that it was highly unlikely that there would be an increased human health risk. Reaction to this advice was generally very positive.
9. Results from the monitoring programme were published in reports issued on 5 July, 8 August and 20 September. By the time the third report was published, results were available for 120 samples of food and animal feed and 39 environmental samples. The Agency considered that these results showed that the pyres had posed no additional risk to health through the food supply and concluded that the precautionary advice issued on 25 May was no longer necessary.
10. The impact of FMD also led to some public concern about imported food, in particular about the possibility that illegal imports of food might have the potential to spread disease which could affect animal health. Whilst Foot and Mouth Disease is essentially an animal health issue, the Agency recognises that illegal imports carry the potential to introduce food safety risks and is taking forward an action plan, approved by its Board, to address food safety concerns about imported food. The plan includes recommendations to:
11. Inspection functions in respect of meat, liquid drinking milk and production holdings are carried out by DARD on behalf of the Agency and during the outbreak the Agency was assured that those functions were not adversely affected.
foot and mouth disease
The current outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in the UK does not pose a threat to food safety.
What does it mean for consumers?
The temporary controls imposed yesterday (21 February) by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) on the export of live animals, meat, and dairy products from the UK have come into force on grounds of animal health, not food safety, because meat and dairy products can be a vehicle for transmitting the virus to other animals.
In a Statement on behalf of the Government yesterday (21 February), MAFF Minister Lady Hayman reported the advice of the Food Standards Agency that "cases of foot and mouth disease have no implications for the human food chain". This statement was widely reported by the media.
Contrary to reports in some newspapers, all fresh meat currently on retail sale will be unaffected by FMD, and there are no implications for meats which have been cooked or processed. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products may continue to be safely consumed. There was one case where raw (unpasteurised) milk was allegedly involved in the transmission of FMD to a person, but this remains unsubstantiated.
Contacts for Further Information
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) - Tel: 0845-0504141.
Information is also on the MAFF website, www.maff.gov.uk.
Responsible for the management of FMD and relevant enforcement measures; animal movements; export controls; compensation for farmers, and the State Veterinary Service.
Department of Health - Tel: 020-7210-4850
Information about infectious diseases is on the DH website, www.doh.gov.uk.
Responsible for advice on the susceptibility of humans to infection by FMD.
Meat Hygiene Service - Tel: 01904 - 455164
Responsible for enforcing meat hygiene regulations in abattoirs and meat cutting plants, including ante-mortem and post-mortem veterinary inspection of animals and carcasses.
Scottish Executive: 0131-244-6178
National Assembly for Wales: Foot and Mouth Helpline, Tel: 0845 050 4141 (local rates) is open between 8 am and 5.30 pm Monday to Friday, and from 9 am to 1 pm on Saturday.
Telephone: 020 7072 2444
22 February 2001
measures to combat foot and mouth disease
You will be aware of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) which has occurred in Essex and of the protective measures put in place by the European Commission.
I would emphasise at the outset that there are no implications for the human food chain from FMD. It is not a food safety issue although the disease has potentially devastating consequences for the Farming Industry.
We have this morning, received a significant number of enquiries from District Councils with enforcement responsibilities for food manufacturers eg milk products, meat products, minced meat/meat preparations etc. While this is purely an animal health issue we have decided to update councils in order that they may be in a position to deal with enquiries.
The situation today as we understand it, is as follows:
We would ask again that you bear in mind the fact that this is an animal health issue only. All of the control measures are the responsibility of DARD. The Agency would encourage EHOs to cooperate as appropriate with DARD officials during this FMD outbreak. Any detailed queries you receive should be referred to the dedicated help line set up by DARD Veterinary Service - 028 9052 4272.
If you wish to discuss anything further please do not hesitate to contact either Maria Jennings or myself.
Food Standards Agency Summary Sheet
milk and milk products from farms within 2 km of foot and mouth (FMD) pyre sites
The Food Standards Agency has previously issued advice on its website (see address at top of sheet) about the food safety implications of dioxins produced by FMD pyres. We are now updating this advice.
This new information concerns farmers and consumers who exclusively consume whole milk and whole milk products from animals that have been grazing within 2 km (just over one mile) of pyre sites.
The Food Standards Agency has looked at the issue of dioxins getting into milk from pyres. We estimate it is highly unlikely that there will be an increased risk to the public.
There may, however, be a slightly higher, although very small, risk for people who exclusively consume whole milk and whole milk products from the affected farms. This information is precautionary until results of tests come through. It will take at least three to four weeks before the results begin to become available.
In the meantime, consumers who are concerned may wish to vary their diet with milk and milk products from other sources.
Continuing to consume whole milk and whole milk products over the short period until the test results are available would present, at most, a very small additional risk to health.
Further information is available from the Food Standards Agency's free helpline on: 0800 915 1601.
DIOXIN EMISSIONS FROM FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE (fmd) PYRES: INFORMATION FROM THE FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY
This information note is intended for farmers with animals producing milk for consumption that are grazing on land within two kilimeteres (just over one mile) of a pyre used to burn carcases in response to the FMD crisis. The advice is specifically directed at those producers who consumer milk from their own herd or who engage in direct off-farm sales. In NI, we do not believe that there will be many who fall into this category. We have attempted as far as possible to direct this information to farmers likely to be in this category and, if you are not, I hope you will accept our sincere apologies for troubling you.
1. The following information provides very precautionary advice for farmers, producers and any customers who might be exclusively consuming milk and milk products from cows, goats or sheep grazing on land within two kilometres (just over one mile) of a pyre. Further information or advice will be given once the analytical results from the Agency's monitoring programme around pyres become available. Sampling has been carried out around large pyres in GB, more is planned and FSA (NI) is arranging local sampling. As the analyses for dioxins are complex, it will be at least three to four weeks before the results begin to become available. In Northern Ireland the number and extent of pyres has been much smaller than in Britain and hence any risk is thought likely to be proportionally less.
Advice for Consumers
2. The Food Standards Agency has previously published advice on its website (see address at the top of this page) on the implications for food safety of emissions from pyres of chemicals known as dioxins. Based on the information we have so far, the Agency advice remains that there is unlikely to be any increased public health risk for the vast majority of people who consume milk and dairy products, even if some have been produced from animals grazing on land within two kilometres of a pyre. However, there may be a slightly higher, although still very small, risk for farmers and others who consume milk exclusively produced from animals grazing on such land. Outlined at paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 below is information for those who fall into this category. More general background information is also provided.
3. People who consume exclusively whole fat milk or milk products produced from animals grazing within a two-kilometre radius of a pyre could possibly face a slightly higher risk than others. This would apply to milk from cows, goats or sheep, but not if it is semi-skimmed or skimmed since dioxins occur in the milk fat and this is reduced through these processes.
4. Farmers in this position, and any regular customers of off-farm sales, will wish to decide whether or not to continue to consume whole fat milk exclusively from such sources. Whatever they decide, farmers should inform any customers of the situation. We wish to emphasise that the estimated increase in dioxin levels over the short period until the analytical results from testing around pyres becomes available would present, at most, a very small additional risk to the health of adults or children. We will given further information or advice as soon as we have the results.
5. In the meantime, consumers who are concerned may wish to vary their diet with milk and milk products from other sources.
Additional Background Information
6. You will be aware that burning on pyres has destroyed many animal carcasses arising as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak. The smoke from these pyres contained a range of substances, including chemicals called dioxins. Dioxins, which are produced as by-products of a number of industrial processes and which are widespread in the environment, have been shown to cause harmful effects in laboratory animals. Over the past ten years dioxin levels in food have steadily dropped and efforts are being made to lower them further in line with World Health Organisation guidelines. Most of the dioxin intake from the UK diet comes from food containing animal fats, such as milk or meat. Dioxins get into these foods through grazing animals consuming contaminated grass or soil.
Estimate of Risk
7. The Agency's calculations show that most of the dioxins coming from pyres will be deposited on land within two kilometres. We have estimated people's exposure to dioxins from the pyres. We consider that the risk to public health is unlikely to be increased for the vast majority of people as a result of consuming milk and other animal products from animals that graze near the pyre sites. In reaching this conclusion the Agency has taken the following factors into account:
8. Nevertheless, the Agency is taking samples of milk, eggs, soil and grass from around a range of pyre sites to double check our safety assessments. The analysis of these samples for dioxins is complex and it will take at least 3 to 4 weeks before the results begin to become available. Further advice or information will then be issued.
9. If you have any questions about the contents of this letter you may obtain further information by telephoning the FSA helpline on 0800 915 1601. Calls to the helpline are free.
Food Standards Agency NI
new advice on milk from animals grazing near to pyres
Today the Agency issued new information for certain groups of consumers and to dairy farmers [ii] to provide them with the latest advice on milk from animals grazing near to pyres.
The Food Standards Agency previously issued advice about the food safety implications of dioxins produced by pyres.
The information applies to the very small number of people who only consume whole milk and whole milk products from animals that have been grazing within 2 km (1.2 miles) of pyres. The vast majority of milk and milk products sold to consumers are bulked (mixed) and are not affected.
The Food Standards Agency has been continually reviewing the issue of dioxins getting into milk from pyres. The Agency estimates that it is highly unlikely that there will be any increased health risk to the vast majority of people.
But there may be a slightly higher, although very small, additional risk for people who only consume whole milk and whole milk products only from animals within 2 km of pyres. This advice is precautionary until results of tests on milk come through. The results will not begin to become available until the end of May and it will take until the end of June to form a complete picture of the situation.
Continuing to consume affected milk and milk products over the short period until test results are available would present, at most, a very small additional risk to health.
In the meantime, consumers of these products who are concerned may wish to vary their diet to include milk and milk products from other sources. Skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, or products made from these, are not affected.
Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said:
"This is highly precautionary advice for a very small number of consumers. It is for people who only consume whole milk and milk products that have come exclusively from animals near pyres.
It is unlikely there will be any health concerns but we need to double-check with the results from tests on milk. It is right that consumers who may be affected have the information to make their own decisions, where there is uncertainty. We will make public the results of the tests and issue any further information that may be required."
Sampling of milk, soil, eggs and grass stated at the beginning of May when cattle were being put out to pasture from their winter quarters. Testing was timed to ensure that the highest levels of dioxins would be measured. Dioxins take time to build up on grass and can be washed away. It also takes time for dioxins to build up in milk. so far, samples have been collected at Holsworthy - Devon, Sennybridge - South Wales, Anglesey - North Wales, Dumfries and Galloway - Scotland, and Cumbria. Locations have been selected to represent a range of pyre types and conditions and give valuable information for the future.
An advice line has been set up for daily farmers on 0800 915 1601 (7 days a week 9 am - 6 pm).
Contacts for further information:
National Media Neil Martinson 0207 276 8880, Pager: 07644 078233.
Regional Media Richard Billinge 0207 276 8821, Pager: 07669 177450.
Local Media Anthony Wright 0207 276 8813, Pager: 07669 177464.
Consumer Questions and Answers
Q: What milk does this apply to?
A: It only applies to whole (full fat) milk that comes from animals grazing within 2 kms of pyres and which has not been mixed with other milk. It does not apply to milk that is generally consumed by most of the population as this milk is mixed from a variety of sources. As dioxins only accumulate in fat, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk are not affected.
Q: Who does this information apply to?
A: It applies to people who only drink or eat full fat milk products from animals grazing within 2 kms of pyres.
Q: Should I avoid milk?
A: No. Milk is an important part of a balanced diet. If you only consume whole milk and whole milk products that come exclusively from animals grazing within 2 kms of pyres, then you may wish to vary your diet with milk and milk products from other sources. Or, you may wish to drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
Q: How can I tell if my milk is affected?
A: You should ask your supplier, shop or farm from which you buy it.
Q: Should I avoid hard cheeses?
A: No. It is unlikely that there will be a significant amount of cheese from these sources on the market before the test results are known.
Q: Should I avoid eggs?
A: No. Dioxin intake in the diet from eggs is very small. In addition, most birds are kept indoors and the majority of free-range birds are fed on bought in feed. The amount of dioxins from pyres in eggs is likely to be extremely small.
Q: Should I avoid ice-creams, creams, yoghurts and soft cheeses?
A: No. If you consume these products and they come exclusively from animals grazing within 2 km of pyres, then you may wish to vary your diet with products from other sources.
Q: What harm will these milks and milk products do to me?
A: It is unlikely that there will be any health risk from any milk or milk products. However, consumers who obtain all their whole milk or whole milk products from animals grazing within 2 km of a pyre may wish to make their own choices about continuing to consume these exclusively until the test results come through.
Q: What can dioxins do to people?
A: Research on some laboratory animals shows that long-term exposure to dioxins can cause cancer and might therefore cause cancer in humans. That is why every effort is made to reduce exposure to dioxins.
Q: Why didn't the FSA take samples earlier?
A: Testing was timed to ensure that the highest levels of dioxins would be measured. Dioxins take time to build up on grass and can be washed away. Also takes time for dioxins to build up in milk.
Facts on dioxins and pyres
Most of the dioxins from pyres will fall on land within 2 km of the pyres. The FSA considers that this is unlikely to increase the health risk because:
Telephone: 020 7276 8888
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
13 June 2002
1. The General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland is a statutory body set up in 1985 with the general duty to promote and protect the interests of consumers. The Council's remit and responsibilities cover food and we therefore appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the Foot and Mouth Disease Enquiry. We hope our comments are useful.
2. While the Council was not intimately involved with the handling of the crisis we welcome the Enquiry, which we consider to be worthwhile and timely, in light of the aftermath of Foot and Mouth Disease [FMD].
3. Our understanding is that, overall, the way in which the FMD crisis was handled in Northern Ireland mitigated against, potentially, the worst effects of the outbreak. Despite this, we believe that certain lessons can be learned.
4. For example, it is our understanding that there was no contingency plan in place for a FMD outbreak. It may be prudent therefore; as has been done post-BSE, to develop a contingency plan in preparation should future outbreaks of FMD occur. Such a contingency plan should be respectful of all stakeholders' concerns, including consumers. We also believe that an all-island approach to contingency planning is necessary given that animal and human diseases and infections are not mindful of land borders.
Learning lessons from the BSE Inquiry
5. The Phillips' Report made a number of recommendations relating to the handling of the BSE crisis. The Food Standards Agency [FSA] has subsequently published a 'Framework for Measuring Food Risk Management Against Phillips' Lessons' [post-BSE]. It concludes that after any review [such as the Phillips Enquiry] policy makers should consider what lessons have been learned that might affect the future management of food risks.
6. It is our view that the FSA framework is applicable, in principle, to the FMD crisis and should be regarded as an important risk management tool for the future.
7. Future risk management should include:
8. We also consider that it would be useful to adopt a retrospective 'What if.?' approach in reviewing the action taken post-FMD. For example, what if FMD had the propensity to affect public health? This would aid contingency planning and help to cover other eventualities.
9. The key lesson to be learned, post-FMD is that there must be effective controls against the introduction of disease in the future.
10. We therefore believe there is a need for a more consistent approach by all Member States towards more effective controls on the importation of animal and plant foodstuffs which could pose a threat to animal or public health. This would include more rigorous enforcement at airports and ports. Alongside strengthened domestic import controls we would therefore recommend a concurrent review of existing EU control procedures and standards.
11. We believe also that import controls could be strengthened generally, by better and more high-profile advice to the public about the dangers inherent in the illegal importation of potentially dangerous foodstuffs and ingredients. Any consumer advice, or request for co-operation, must be user-friendly and non-threatening.
12. More can and should be done to give the public and consumers regular and accurate information about the health and food safety status of Northern Ireland livestock generally. Information of this nature is usually given reactively and defensively in response to the latest crises. As a result it tends to get 'lost' in the attendant controversy.
13. We therefore recommend the need for better communication and information policies generally. This would serve to restore confidence among consumers at times of crisis and, as we said in our response to the DARD Vision Document, help the NI Agri-Food Industries to become better 'connected' with its customers.
14. We recommend that more effort and more resources should be devoted to improving bio-security in animal husbandry and at farm level generally.
15. As part of this, traceability systems should be expanded and developed. This is essential both to give effect to animal health and disease control measures and to reassure consumers as to the quality and safety of food. The introduction of an electronic identification system was previously considered by the DARD Vision group in its recent report. It recommended that the Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) be expanded to cope with additional data arising from identifying and recording movements of sheep and pigs. To this end, we support the introduction of the APHIS system of electronically tracing all livestock.
16. We recommend much stricter enforcement and penalties for those whose actions place the public at risk and damage the Agri-Food Industry at the same time. This should apply throughout the food chain covering such things as the illegal use of veterinary medicines, growth promoters etc as well as the illegal movement of livestock which contributed to the FMD crisis.
17. We have previously drawn attention to the need to review modern animal husbandry and farming practices. Although not directly connected with FMD there is, to give one example, considerable concern over the extensive and routine use of antibiotics in animal feed and the implications this has for public health.
18. An essential part, therefore, of any post-FMD review should be a more general review of modern farming methods and practices to minimise the risk and avert future crises.
Disposal of carcasses
19. The disposal procedure used in the 2001 FMD outbreak gave rise to concern over potentially harmful dioxins being emitted from the funeral pyres of livestock carcasses. Before this would be repeated we recommend that, as part of contingency planning, further research into the effects of these emissions into the environment and the associated public health consequences should be undertaken.
20. We also believe that a different disposal mechanism [to burning] would be more publicly acceptable. We therefore recommend further research into alternative methods of disposal of carcasses should slaughter be necessary. On this last point there is a need also for more research into the development of alternative [other than slaughter] treatments of cattle or sheep in the event of a future FMD outbreak.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
14 June 2002
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your review of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Northern Ireland last year.
1. This is a joint submission by the North of Ireland Veterinary Association (NIVA) and the Association of Veterinary Surgeons in Practice in Northern Ireland (AVSPNI). The membership of the two Associations is made up of the majority of veterinary surgeons in Northern Ireland represent including those in private practice, government, research and teaching and industry. Many of our members were directly involved in the diagnosis and eradication of outbreaks as well as the follow up clinical inspections, serology and animal movement controls.
The Associations would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee
2. Available evidence indicates that the FMD virus entered Great Britain through waste food fed to pigs then spread to sheep through which it moved to France, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and of course Northern Ireland. The single European market has encouraged free movement of animals and goods with minimal hindrance. This has led to the removal of quarantine and severe reductions in checks of animals and goods at ports and at points of destination. There is now almost complete reliance on the checks done at the point of origin. The difficulty is that as with FMD in sheep there may be few clinical signs or the animals may be in the incubation period when inspected. The virtual absence of inspections at the Northern Ireland ports and minimal checks at the given destination much reduced the possibility of early detection of the disease.
As legislation in relation to trade is laid down in Brussels there is limited scope for influence at regional level. It therefore makes sense to apply industry-based codes of practice for importers to provide for additional controls to help protect and enhance Northern Ireland's animal health status. There is scope for this through an Animal Health body as suggested in the follow up to the Vision report.
3. The movements of animals are dictated by economic considerations. With reference to sheep movements prior to the FMD outbreaks it would appear that they moved to the Republic as there were VAT advantages, to Northern Ireland to make up numbers for subsidy purposes and to France to become French sheep which command a higher price in French slaughterhouses than imported sheep. We believe that such economic incentives need to be controlled largely to avoid the welfare problems that transport over such distances will inevitably cause but also to reduce the risk of spreading disease. A relatively small number of traders are involved in such trade and a few of those unwilling to follow the rules cannot be allowed to put Northern Ireland's animal health status and the economic well being of so many at risk. Effective action must be taken by the enforcement agencies to ensure that these rogue traders are prosecuted.
4. It appears that contingency planning did not foresee a FMD outbreak spread by sheep involving the huge economic impact that it did. DARD's Veterinary Service did well to cope with the four infected premises but any more would have stretched it beyond its present resource. Any future contingency plan should include the early deployment of veterinary surgeons from private practice in disease surveillance, clinical inspections and animal movement controls. Private veterinarians can be mobilised quickly under such circumstances, as much of their usual work will be postponed under the circumstances of an epizootic. There would need to be integrated training (state and private veterinarians) and exercises with all stakeholders to ensure, as far as possible, that the contingency plan would be effective and practical. It must be noted that veterinary surgeons in practice will only continue to be available while there is sufficient need and work within the industry and it is important that disease surveillance is carried out by those with the necessary expertise.
5. There was serious trade and economic consequences associated with the outbreaks with many parts of the food processing industry and other having to certify goods having no prior warning. Future contingency plans must include all parts of the industry and others on which there will be an impact. It is suggested that the contingency plan should be available through the DARD website and updated as required. This would allow other bodies to review and respond to DARD with suggestions for change in light of developments and advances in industry and science. The co-operation of those involved across the agricultural industry, food processing industry, government and others during the outbreaks was note worthy but as the farming base reduces in size and other industries increase in economic importance, as was seen in Great Britain, there may be less chance of such co-operation in future.
6. Contingency planning needs to take care of other aspects. DARD's APHIS computer provides information on bovine herds but not on pig herds or sheep flocks. Rectifying deficiencies in databases of information on flocks and pig herds and linking in geographic information systems to associate lands to animals and their owners would be necessary in preparedness to establish vaccination zones. It is probable that with the advances in vaccine technology vaccination is very likely to be used in control of future outbreaks. That is, the use of vaccines which can be differentiated from field infection by serological testing of blood samples. In this regard it is important that sufficient laboratory capacity and expertise is maintained to ensure that serological tests can be carried out in large numbers as was required during the outbreaks.
7. The use of the military was very effective and it was commendable that they were brought in early in the Northern Ireland epidemic despite the recognised difficulties they could face working in some areas. Their training and attitude projected a desire to get the job done which is very welcome in an emergency situation.
8. Communications are always a problem in emergency situations. It is felt that this should be centralised so that the same information is provided. Many people were directed to their Divisional Veterinary Office for information and this led to inconsistency of information provided. People close to the ground are busy with practical problems and work and unable to keep up with information from the centre when that is provided. There was also a failure to provide information to the profession, which had huge implications for the work they were doing in advance of giving it to the press for what seemed to be political reasons.
9. On the ground the slaughter of animals in the control zones was slow and some slaughter teams did not work effectively. It would have been more effective to have a number of slaughtermen working under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon rather than veterinarians doing this work thus freeing up scarce veterinary expertise. On the State Veterinary side veterinary resource was used in non-veterinary tasks when more effective use could have been made of that expertise. Despite this the infected farms and culls were dealt with effectively and much credit for this must go to the personnel, both veterinary and lay people, directly dealing with the work.
10. At farm level the concept of biosecurity still seems to be poorly understood despite the outbreaks and other ongoing disease problems. The application of simple biosecurity helps to protect against the spread of epizootic disease as well as endemic disease. This is an issue industry for the industry and must be led by them with help from the veterinary profession. Recently introduced herd/flock health plans for the Farm Quality Assured Scheme will help in this respect.
DAVID STEWART, BVMS, CertPM, MRCVS MICHAEL MAYBIN, MVB, MRCVS
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
1. NIMEA Comment
The Northern Ireland Meat Exporters' Association would offer the following comments to the Committee of Agriculture and Rural Development on the 2001 outbreak of this disease in Northern Ireland.
2. Overall Action
To begin with NIMEA would like to express its appreciation to the Minister and the Chief Veterinary Officer for the firm and effective manner in which the disease outbreak was dealt with in NI. While the decisions involved inconvenience to many people they were swift, decisive and effectual in containing the disease to a small number of cases. Had it not been for the nature of this action, Northern Ireland could have experienced a much higher incidence of the disease. Credit must be given for the manner in which policy was executed once the disease struck. NIMEA would congratulate the Minister and DARD on the actual and practical policies imposed.
While expressing appreciation of the actions taken after the disease struck NIMEA would also have to voice a degree of concern at the apparent very lax situation that pertained prior to the disease striking. It is appreciated that the "Single Market" philosophy permits free movement of livestock between Member States. However unscrupulous dealers who have since been identified in the trail of things were using the names of NI meat plants to import sheep from GB into and through NI for reasons other than declared. This information was common knowledge and was passed by meat plants to DARD officials but was apparently regarded as irrelevant due to the single market movement philosophy. Proper livestock import controls at the port of landing with correlation at the relevant meat plant would have confirmed the accuracy of the documentation and these livestock movements.
[a] NIMEA would be critical of the apparent "blind eye" that was turned in favour of these dealers and hauliers. It was as a result of these inaccurate declarations and movements that the disease arrived in NI.
[b] NIMEA would be of the opinion that if information from meat plants to DARD had been acted upon, then NI may well have been protected against, and escaped from any incidence of the disease in 2001.
[c] NIMEA would urge DARD that such livestock import controls be established to ensure no re-occurrence of previous habits. NIMEA members are prepared to co-operate in establishing a commercially acceptable system with DARD to ensure the necessary monitoring of sheep imported for direct slaughter.
[d] NIMEA would also advise that all livestock coming into NI should go direct for immediate slaughter or direct to the farm of destination. In the interest of disease control, under no circumstances should livestock imported from GB be permitted to enter directly into a livestock market to go for multi destination dispersal until after a specified domicilary period at the declared destination of importation.
[e] In the interests of an all-island individual sheep identification programme, DARD should implement individual electronic identification of sheep in NI as a further measure to fully secure the protection of the NI sheep flock in the possible event of a further disease outbreak.
[f] NIMEA is of the opinion that all meat for further processing and livestock coming into NI should be licensed to move ONLY between sender and destination point, as indeed currently is the case with meat.
[g] NIMEA would also propose that for the size of NI one port is sufficient to accommodate the movement of livestock between GB and NI and that these activities should be confined to Larne Port. This also makes sense from a staffing and cost perspective.
4. Marketing of Sheep and Lambs
For many years, lambs produced in NI and sold live through livestock markets found their way into the ROI and assumed a new "Irish" identity that apparently allowed a VAT system there to be abused. These movements were undertaken in such a manner that they also deprived the LMC of the much needed levy income due to them on the "unrecorded export" of these lambs. Since the introduction of identification of sheep by tagging, sheep entering meat plants in NI have been subjected to 100% observance of this ruling while in livestock marts it appeared that a more lax attitude was adopted.
[a] It is therefore again the opinion of NIMEA, that had the rules been administered with equal vigour in respect of all livestock movements, at all approved centres, much better controls would have been in place to safeguard NI in a disease situation. This is a factor that needs to be considered in future contingency plans.
[b] NIMEA is of the opinion that history has shown that the less scrupulous dealers have tended to use and abuse livestock market facilities and thus create the perception that this is one of the weaker control points in the NI animal movement system. This is not a direct criticism of Livestock Markets themselves.
5. Producer Attitudes
NIMEA would be disappointed at the attitude displayed by some farmers when delivering livestock to meat plants during the FMD restrictions. Vehicles were not always cleaned on the farm and meat plant facilities were used as the cleansing and disinfection centres for the countryside at large. Farmers displayed evidence of not changing clothes when leaving the farm and even brought the farm dog in the vehicle. There appeared to be a very varied approach among farmers, with some exercising exemplary attitudes but with others taking things a lot cooler. Farmers insisted in coming into the slaughterhall areas in meat plants, which in a disease situation, would be the highest risk area one could possibly visit. Consideration should be given to future controls in this area in a disease outbreak situation. The Cleansing and Disinfectant procedures implemented by meat plants were much superior to those introduced at major control points by DARD thus giving the impression that Meat Plants were over-reacting to the possible dangers. DARD's cosmetic spraying of vehicle wheels at high-profile PR points did nothing to give credibility to those who did make serious C&D efforts to safeguard the NI livestock industry.
[a] NIMEA would therefore be of the opinion that some farmers did not fully appreciate the potential seriousness of an FMD outbreak to NI. NIMEA would also be disappointed that in too many cases farm bio-security was not taken seriously enough as part of the prevention policies imposed to keep the disease out of NI.
[b] On at least one occasion suspicion of the disease found in a meat plant lead to its closure for a period and subjected the workforce, who come from a very wide area of the rural community, to the possibility of further disease spread. Perhaps more could have been done at farm level to examine livestock before movement.
6. Balanced Enforcement
It would be the perception of NIMEA that there are different standards of enforcement for different situations, regarding the identification and movement of animals. While it is accepted that new EU rules have placed a high burden of documentation on producers, there has been a relaxed attitude towards enforcing this. NIMEA accepts that DARD has in the past exercised a well-balanced "carrot & stick" approach and slowly encouraged producers to comply with the necessary rules. However this very acceptable and understandable approach in normal times has apparently been taken by a few as latitude not to always comply, thus adding to the problems when a serious disease situation like FMD arises. Future contingency plans must highlight the necessity of proper records to ensure any disease crisis has the minimum effect on everyone.
7. UK Food Trade
Meat Processing Companies in N.I have been visionary in their approach to changing standards in the production of food and have established processing facilities to meet the wider UK retailer supply requirements of the 21st century. The suspension of livestock and meat product movements between GB and NI was accepted reluctantly as a very necessary disease precaution for the benefit of the entire industry in Northern Ireland. However NIMEA believes that carcass or further processed meat products could have been allowed into NI for processing and returned to GB in their entirety without any increased risk to the NI livestock industry, had a controlled system been put in place. Many added value processing companies lost both income and business due to the imposition of "shut-down" as far as GB raw material was concerned.
[a] NIMEA would be of the opinion that controlled consignments of meat from "FMD free" regions of GB posed a significantly lower risk to bringing FMD into NI than did the daily human passenger traffic at both ports and airports. If NI processors are to develop high standard UK and Continental business supply bases in NI to the benefit of the economy here, then it is essential that they have access to the raw material required by their customers to further process.
8. Industry Trade Briefings
NIMEA would congratulate the Minister and DARD on the regular briefings held to keep the community informed about the disease and the restrictions being imposed. This gave representatives the opportunity of getting first-hand information right from the "top".
[a] However again NIMEA is disappointed that this very useful facility appeared to be misused by some organisations who sent many more than the invited number of representatives, in what appeared to be attempts to "hog the agenda their way".
[b] In spite of this, it remains the opinion of NIMEA that such briefings should be part of any future strategy when such disease emergencies occur.
NIMEA is of the opinion that much more needs to be done in the DARD colleges to engender an attitude of compliance of rules on-farm and that, hassle as it may be, it is a necessary farm business component to function properly in today's marketplace.
[a] With the emphasis in the Vision report on IT training for farmers, this should include the development of user-friendly software by which farm record keeping could be made simpler and more time efficient.
[b] In respect of all EU subsidy claims, consideration should be given to applying the principles of proof established in the system for claims for export refunds.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
12 June 2002
1A Large numbers of Northern Ireland farming families draw income from pedigree breeding enterprises. This small province is a centre of excellence for livestock breeding with a greater concentration of pedigree breeders than any other similar sized region of the British Isles.
1B The Northern Ireland Texel Sheepbreeders' Club, with over two hundred members, is the largest pedigree group in this province and the strongest of 17 clubs making up the British Texel Sheep Society. Itself the most important pedigree society in Europe.
1C Despite being only 4% of the total UK land area NI is home to 14% of pedigree sheep registered with the British Texel Sheep Society. One third of commercial lambs processed in NI are sired by pedigree Texel tups.
1D In common with virtually all other breeds of pedigree sheep and cattle produced here top NI Texels are sold to mainland farmers. Texel sales attract buyers from major sheep farming areas throughout these islands, especially lowland Scotland, north Wales and northern England. When currency levels are suitable bidders from the Republic are also very active.
1E NI pedigree Texel breeders are frequent buyers and sellers at major sales in Lanark and Carlisle. For genetic improvement to continue it is essential this two-way trade continues. Without access to the latest genetic advances NI commercial lamb producers will be at an increasing disadvantage.
1F The outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease curtailed this valuable trade last year and another outbreak would devastate the market for top class rams on the mainland.
2A Compared to MAFF the NI Texel Club and the British Texel Society found communications with DARD staff relatively easy. However;
2B If illegal imports from nations with endemic Foot and Mouth Disease had been prevented this disease would not have reached these islands.
2C Existing animal health legislation logically enforced would have almost certainly kept Foot and Mouth Disease out of NI.
2D Reaction to the outbreak by government was tardy with controls at NI entry points in place after considerable delay. For example, the IOM had tough port and airport controls almost two weeks earlier.
2E Communication between government and the rural community was poor and imprecise. As a result harmful rumours abounded.
2F On the ground there was perceived to be a lack of overall command with weak co-operation between government agencies. Indeed different parts of DARD gave different answers to the same question on the same day.
2G Leadership was lacking and sorely needed manpower was not made available. Yet in the Republic police, regular and FCA army resources were used to support the government veterinary service. Disposal of carcasses could have been greatly speeded up in Co Antrim by using army engineers, including local TA Sappers.
2H Texel Club members felt there was a general lack of organisation in areas such as mid and north Antrim with DARD staff unable to answer simple, practical questions regarding carcass disposal. This uncertainty and inability of DARD to 'walk and talk' put further stress on farming families.
2I There was also a general feeling that rules were not enforced in all parts of the country in the same manner.
2J Law breakers never went to court because DARD failed to have suitable legislation in place.
2K Contingency plans for dealing with major outbreaks failed and proved less effective than a generation ago.
2L Farmers were often treated as suspects at a time when their willing co-operation was vital to containing an outbreak caused mainly by government failures.
2M Some decisions defied logic. For several weeks lamb producers were asked to drive long distances through suspect areas to meat plants rather than allow local collection centres to operate.
2N The Minister did not communicate directly with farmers and their families until April.
3A Animal Health legislation must be firmly and fairly enforced throughout these islands and not used to make a political point or protect a home market. An outbreak in one part of these islands has the potential to damage the rural economy throughout the UK and ROI.
3B Imports of food from areas with major animal health problems need effective policing. Extra resources are required at ports and airports with closer links between governments vital. Port controls, our first line of defence, require modernisation and much closer co-operation with officials at the point of embarkation. Their problem can become our disaster!
3C Any new animal health legislation needs to take into account economic realities. The trade in pedigree livestock between this province and other parts of these islands must continue.
3D Neither devolution nor membership of the EU must be allowed to harm pedigree livestock trade nor animal health control measures.
3E Contingency plans should be exercised on a regular basis using staff from all agencies and include representatives of the rural community - farmers, private practice vets, processors and other local businesses - to avoid an 'and and them' scenario.
3F During the FMD crisis it took too long to set up useful meetings between DARD and pedigree sheep breeding clubs. This highlights the need to establish links between DARD and the umbrella organisation for pedigree breed groups, ie; the National Sheep Association NI breeds liaison group. Routine meetings held every six months could review topical issues and up date contingency plans in case of another major animal health problem.
3G Leadership was sadly lacking in coping with the 2001 crisis. An overall crisis manager, not necessarily a DARD official, nor even a civil servant, should be selected for each area. both technical expertise and people management skills are required to turn government statements into action - on time.
The 2001 crisis was totally avoidable. The farmers and consumers of these islands deserve better protection from imported diseases.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
13 September 2002
This is our copy of written submission into this inquiry, we have already held meetings with Price Water House Coopers into the inquiry which has been commissioned by DARD.
We would be happy to meet with the Committee to discuss our submission and answer any questions or queries you may have.
Our submission has been divided into four main headings.
1. Contingency Plans
3. Human Aspects
4. Economic Affects
1. CONTINGENCY PLANS
It is our considered opinion that if a contingency plan existed within DARD very many of the vets on the ground did either not know about its policy or how to implement it. The slow way in which DARD staff reacted to the outbreak in Meigh, particularly in cordoning off the area (which did not happen until the Thursday afternoon ) could have significantly increased the risk of spreading the disease. Further more the cross border traffic that used the road less than 100 yards from the seat of the outbreak was a very serious error of judgement and should not have been allowed to happen.
We would strongly urge that appropriate import controls be put in place for animal and plant imports and especially those from countries outside the EU. Questions need also to be asked about the controls and checks from GB to slaughter here. Simple controls failed and recourses seem to be blamed again for inappropriate checks.
We strongly urge that a contingency plan be put to consultation before being adopted by DARD and it should be made available on their web site. This should contain all possible plans from containment to slaughter and disposal. Ideally this plan should be identical in both parts of the island. It became apparent very early on that the Republic was far better prepared for this disease than we were.
One major criticism of DARD is the lack of communication not just with the public but with its own staff. Farmers on the ground did not know what was happening from day to day. There was an inability to get accurate information for such things as movement licenses etc. DARD local staff listened to radio and TV for news on what was happening. This lack of communication led to a situation of farmers feeling very frustrated with DARD staff, this was particularly the case for those who lost stock. For those who had animals burned on farm, it took many months to sort out how to re-instate land and also the cleansing and disinfecting of premises. This led to hostile relations between farmers and DARD staff and it took the intervention of the Support Worker to resolve these issues.
3. HUMAN ASPECTS
During our discussions with DARD we made it clear that we needed help in dealing with the very many problems faced by farmers and their families in the aftermath of the foot and mouth culls. DARD agreed to fund a Rural Support Worker to deal with these problems. This project was delivered locally by The Rural Health Partnership, we feel that this was crucial in the aftermath and was very much welcomed by the community. This worker was able to resolve very many difficult issues and worked closely with DARD staff both locally and at a senior level and was able to go directly to anyone inside or outside the department to have problems resolved. This project lasted from May to mid December.
We would strongly recommend that this type of support is written into any contingency plan as it has proved vital in helping farmers in the aftermath of FMD.
4. ECONOMIC EFFECTS
Farmers who lost stock had serious knock on effects, the inability for DARD to adequately deal with valuations that were substantially below market price, and the consequential loss suffered with many animals going OTMS on farms has not been resolved. The further effects upon the marts, the tourist trade and other agricultural sectors was very damaging.
After regionalisation market prices increased, had this not happened more significant losses would have occurred.
During the FMD crisis all animal movement was prohibited except under license, however BR and TB reactors were also forced to stay on farms. We believe this was a mistake. These reactors lay for up to 18 weeks compounding the disease problem on farms. A method of removal should have been found, we are now reaping the disease implications of this policy. These reactors could have been shot on farms or removed by license. The economic impact of these diseases will be very great in their own right, and a substantial amount can be put down to FMD controls.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
1 June 2002
I have been asked to respond to the inquiry into the foot and mouth disease outbreak.
Since the vast majority of members of the GAA come from rural areas it was very important that all members obeyed the instructions laid down by your department. The Association laid down strict guidelines for the playing of our games and members living within a certain area were actually forbidden to come to our grounds.
Hopefully there will be no recurrence of the outbreak, but if there is your department will have the full backing of our club and from the GAA in general.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
The following measures taken during the Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) crisis were widely accepted as necessary to combat a further spread of the disease.
The following issues arose during the crisis, which gave cause for concern:
Economic and Social Effects of FMD
Recommendations for Future Action
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
22 May 2002
Thank you for your letter of 1 May inviting a submission from the Ulster Farmers' Union to this Inquiry.
As you are aware, DARD has commissioned an independent review of the Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic in Northern Ireland. The UFU has already submitted evidence to this review but also welcomes the opportunity to provide the UFU's views to the NI Assembly's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. I have, therefore enclosed a copy of a written submission from the Union.
I trust that this is of use. The Ulster Farmers' Union would be happy to meet with the Committee to further elaborate on our submission.
This submission has been divided into three broad headings and outlines the issues within each which the Union considers to be the main salient points
SECTION 1 - PRE-FMD CRISIS
The UFU was not aware of the existence of a 'contingency plan' for dealing with an outbreak of FMD. As such, we are unable to comment on the content of any such plan or on the level of DARD's preparedness in relation to the FMD outbreak during 2001.
The FMD outbreak clearly demonstrated fundamental faults in the UK's epizootic disease controls. There is an obvious need to review and more importantly strengthen the controls on commercial and personal imports which exist. There is equally an urgent need for a review of EU controls for both animal and plant imports, particularly from Third Countries.
More locally, the introduction of the disease into Northern Ireland and the relevant controls or lack of them at the Northern Ireland ports of entry is a subject of great debate within the industry. While the UFU accepts that trade between GB and NI is within a single EU Member State and, therefore, EU intra-community trade rules did not apply, it is essential that a full explanation is obtained on the audit and correlation controls for 'direct for slaughter' sheep and also that corrective action is taken to avoid the introduction of further diseases by a similar manner in the future.
SECTION 2 - DURING FMD CRISIS
A. Ban on Animal and Animal Product Imports from GB
The single most important decision taken during the FMD crisis and ultimately the single most effective measure in averting a much more serious FMD outbreak in not only Northern Ireland but the island of Ireland as a whole, was that of the introduction of an almost immediate ban on the importation of animal and animal products from GB into NI following the identification of the first FMD case in Essex.
B. Livestock Movement Ban Introduced In Northern Ireland
The introduction of this ban, immediately after the confirmation of the first FMD case in GB, while creating extreme practical difficulties for the farming industry, was again crucial in preventing many more outbreaks of FMD in Northern Ireland. At that time, a number of Northern Ireland farms were implicated in the Essex case and, additionally, consignments of livestock had only recently been imported from GB into Northern Ireland.
This ban was, however, relaxed on a gradual basis when, based on veterinary advice, a reduction in controls was considered appropriate.
C. 'Fortress' Farming
Like the ban on livestock movements, this created many practical problems for the farming industry. However, the necessity of applying such an approach was widely accepted as being essential. The continuation of improved bio-security at farm level must be encouraged. Equally, until the threat of further FMD outbreaks ultimately receded, the ongoing additional controls introduced at ports of entry into Northern Ireland and, more importantly, the unwavering support and co-operation of the general public in complying with the restrictions imposed on them played an absolutely crucial role in overcoming the FMD crisis in the Province.
D. Tracing of Livestock Imported from GB
The swift action taken by DARD in this area was crucial and was responsible for the identification of Northern Ireland's first FMD case at Meigh, South Armagh.
However, the inadequacies of the sheep movement control system which existed at that time were particularly clearly demonstrated. In addition, the issue of fraud in relation to both the different Value Added Tax regimes which exist in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the EU's Sheep Animal Premium Scheme and the avoidance in the Republic of Ireland of the UK Specified Risk Materials regulations in the slaughter of sheep over one year old was uncovered.
E. Livestock Culling Policy
The action taken by DARD in almost immediately slaughtering all cattle within the 1 km zone of an FMD outbreak and all pigs and sheep within a 3 km zone once an FMD case had been confirmed was crucial given the nature of the FMD virus. This action was pivotal in preventing many further outbreaks occurring.
The livestock valuation, slaughter and disposal methods used were in general both efficient and effective.
The issue of a vaccination policy was discussed by the industry but was considered by the UFU to be the wrong course of action to follow given the small number of FMD cases and its associated trade implications.
F. Trade Regionalisation
The swiftness of the Republic of Ireland in obtaining 'regional FMD status' from the EU Commission after its first and only confirmed FMD case in comparison to the delay in obtaining similar status for Northern Ireland of approximately one month after the Province's initial FMD outbreak was an issue of concern. However, the action taken to achieve regionalisation in terms of the 'extended cull' of sheep in the cross-border zone in South Armagh and North Louth in the Republic of Ireland and the widespread serology programme in the sheep population which followed were both essential in ultimately obtaining regionalisation status for Northern Ireland.
Given the extreme fluidity of the FMD crisis as it evolved, there appeared to be very regular liaison and co-operation between the NI and RoI Departments of Agriculture. However, while decisions were taken and altered very rapidly at central DARD level, the major criticism which the Ulster Farmers' Union would make on DARD's handling of the FMD crisis is that of inadequate communication: within DARD itself; with the wider agriculture industry; and with the farming communities within the three FMD affected areas of South Armagh, Ardboe and Cushendall. While regular 'update' meetings were held between DARD and representatives of the agrifood industry and, ultimately, closer liaison was established between senior officials from DARD and Northern Ireland's two main farming organisations, these were insufficient in ensuring that the implementation of the decisions taken were widely and fully understood at 'ground level'.
H. Economic and Social Effects
With the exception of those farmers directly involved in the three FMD outbreak areas in Northern Ireland, the financial effect on the majority of farmers throughout the Province was 'neutral' in that any extra costs incurred were generally offset by higher market returns after 'regionalisation' had been obtained.
For those farmers directly involved in the FMD affected areas, the provision of compensation for livestock slaughtered based on 're-stocking' values and also compensation for consequential loss were not satisfactorily resolved.
Other sectors of the agriculture industry, particularly the livestock auction marts who were legally forced to close, and other industries, particularly the tourist trade, were more severely affected economically.
However, during the crisis and the enormous uncertainty which it entailed, this was an extremely stressful period for the farming community. While various much welcomed measures were introduced to address this particular issue, it is imperative that this is fully considered and incorporated into future contingency planning.
SECTION 3 - POST- FMD CRISIS
A. All-Island Animal and Plant Health Status
One of the key lessons to be learned from the FMD outbreak in Northern Ireland is the need for effective controls against the introduction of diseases in the future.
To this end there is firstly a necessity for a thorough review of current EU controls. Secondly, the UK must address the inadequacies of its existing control system, particularly in relation to both commercial and personal imports. Finally, it is imperative that the Northern Ireland authorities maximise their ability to strengthen controls on both animal and plant diseases within the permitted EU framework - the current pursuit of revised livestock import controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is fully supported in this respect as a means of commencing the process of ultimately delivering an all-Ireland animal and plant health policy.
B. Contingency Planning
The establishment and regular review of effective contingency plans involving all stakeholders is a pre-requisite to addressing any future major animal or plant disease outbreaks. The necessity of: ensuring sufficient resource availability; an effective logistical programme; proper communication; and simulation exercises are all essential. This is an area where improvements can be made.
C. Livestock Movement Controls.
The ability to effectively identify, trace and control the movements of livestock is a fundamental to effective disease control. The inadequacies demonstrated in the system which existed before the introduction of FMD and the scope for fraudulent activity at the expense of the general agriculture industry must be addressed. In particular, the development of a cost-effective electronically based, centrally recorded livestock identification and movement control system is essential.
The Food Standards Agency previously issued advice about the food safety implications of dioxins produced by pyres.
In the aftermath of the 2001/2002 UK Foot and Mouth outbreak there was a general call to find out what went wrong with the established procedures that are meant to prevent such a devastating animal disease from ever entering the UK in the first place. However it became evident that a multi-strand investigation was necessary given the widespread impact the disease had on the rural community in general and the farming community in particular. Not only was it necessary to find out what went wrong with biosecurity protocols but an assessment of the government's response to the disease and what needed to be done in order to be prepared for any future outbreak was also required. While the government initiated three national inquiries [iii] to address these issues a number of local councils also initiated inquiries. Although the findings of the national inquiry will undoubtedly be of relevance to the Committee's own inquiry it was thought that the inquiries carried out on a more local scale would be of more significance. The four counties examined encountered very serious outbreaks; Cumbria for example had almost half the number of cases in the UK. This is obviously on a different scale to NI where only 4 cases arose but the issues may give the Committee some insight into what could have occurred had the outbreak got out of control and allow for some comparison of how DARD handled the outbreak here.
This paper therefore will outline the major issues that arose through three county councils inquiries: Cumbria, Northumberland, Devon. The paper aims to provide the Committee with relevant background information that will assist it in accordance with ToR1.
One of the common points that arises is the perceived inadequacies of biosecurity measures within existing border controls. In particular there is a requirement to minimise the possibility of meat products being brought into the country in hand-held luggage or in non-declared meat consignments. To put this in perspective, in 2000 over an eight month period, a total of 14 incoming flights from Africa were searched by UK customs. These searches found 5.5 tonnes of meat and fish in personal luggage [iv] . The potential for infected meat to be smuggled into the country is therefore high and the risk exists that this may ultimately be eaten by livestock who could then contract the disease. This is supported by the DEFRA report 'Origin of the UK Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic in 2002' which states that 'The source of the virus for the 2001 epidemic was most probably infected or contaminated meat or meat products .'
At a more local level the Northumberland Inquiry concluded that the main responsibility for biosecurity lay with the farmer i.e. maintaining high cleanliness, hygiene and animal welfare standards. To some extent this is borne out by the findings of DARD's report which recommends that the farmer must implement biosecurity measures as a matter of course and, as recommended in the Vision report, any farm assurance scheme should have an animal health and welfare component.
(ii). Livestock trading
Transportation of animals and dealing in animals outside of established markets can contribute to the spread of disease i.e. buying, transport to another region of the UK and subsequent reselling of animals. This may require reconsideration of movement controls once animals have been purchased or returned unsold from a market i.e. that they cannot be moved from the purchaser's/owner's property for a statutory period. This would require changes in legislation.
There should be a reassessment of the use of vaccination to control FMD. Private vets who are utilised by the Department should be trained in the handling of disease epidemics.
(iv). Culling and disposal
In the UK, contiguous culling was carried out i.e. animals on farms adjacent to other farms where an outbreak had occurred were culled even though there was no evidence of disease. The culling of apparently healthy animals caused considerable distress to owners and their families who questioned the necessity to do this. The Devon Inquiry suggested that this approach should be reviewed and contiguous culling confined to 'dangerous contacts' only. The Committee may want to consider the Department's view on 'contiguous culling'.
(v). Animal Health and Welfare
As in NI the movement of animals was severely restricted. This developed into an animal health issue, for example in assisting lambing and the necessity to transfer animals on to other grazing. It is acknowledged that the Department in NI could not have been as successful in containing the disease if it hadn't had the co-operation of farmers in adhering to a range of restrictions including movement restrictions. However the Department ran the risk of losing this good will as the imposed restrictions in themselves began to cause potentially serious animal health and welfare issues. During the local GB Inquiries it was suggested that the local movement of animals e.g. across roads, or where there is minimal risk of contagion should be considered to alleviate animal health/welfare pressures. The Northumberland Inquiry suggested an infected area could be declared where the most stringent animal movements could be imposed but outside this area restrictions could be for a limited time but subject to renewal based upon a formal risk assessment.
In addition, in NI the emphasis on FMD containment resulted in the monitoring of other diseases, and appropriate action that should have been taken in light of this monitoring, being severely curtailed. The Committee may want to consider whether the Department needs to reassess how it can maintain an adequate approach to other potentially serious diseases (Brucellosis, TB) while addressing an exotic disease outbreak.
(vi). Public Access
In NI as well as GB public access to the countryside was severely restricted. This has consequent effects on other aspects of the rural community such as rural tourism. It is suggested that there might be scope for a pragmatic risk-based approach to closure of parks, recreational areas etc. that might help to minimise this impact on these non-agricultural aspects of the rural area while containing the spread of disease.
(vii). National Contingency Plan
There has been a call for the development of a National Contingency Plan that should be transparent and encompass the views of all relevant parties through an extensive consultation process. This recommendation is based on the evidence submitted to Committees that MAFF was not working to any coherent contingency plan. Rather there was only an 'internal' MAFF plan that was overtaken by the scale and rate of spread of the disease. This suggested approach would be similar to that being developed in NZ i.e. a 'whole-of-government' approach. The roles of different organisations involved in the response would be clear and it would also allow the plan to be developed and 'owned' by those most affected i.e. the rural community and the farming community in particular.
Such a plan should be updated as research and legislation changes, and practical exercises should be carried out to test the effectiveness of such a plan.
DARD'S own report acknowledges that a contingency plan did exist but was little known outside the Department.
(viii). Management team
There should be an overarching management team that ensures consistency of policy in all aspects of the response.
MAFF was criticised for its poor approach to communications which cultivated an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion. There appeared to be no actual communications strategy in place. Effective communication was seen as central to the success of any strategy with involvement from all media sources. DARD regularly updated the Committee which was usually recorded by local TV and radio. There were also numerous Press Releases etc. However, DARD's report states that communication was one of the least well-managed aspects of DARD'S response to the outbreak.
This paper aims to review the relationship between animal health scares of recent years that have led to a decline in consumer confidence in animal produce, and which has consequently affected farm income and the agriculture industry as a whole. Its ultimate objective is to place in context the potential impact across the entire food sector of animal diseases such as FMD, regardless of whether they have an impact on human health, and draw together food safety, animal health and welfare, and economic issues. BSE is used as a case study to emphasise the dramatic effect that an animal disease can have on consumer confidence and subsequently the entire agriculture industry. The paper broadens to discuss movement at a European level to incorporate animal health and welfare issues and food safety. This is reflected in the close working relationship between Commissioners Franz Fischler and David Byrne who have agreed that issues such as animal health and welfare and food safety, as well as quality produce must be addressed in parallel. It is also evidenced in the recent mid-term review which proposes that continuation of direct aid should be conditional on compliance with tougher environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards.
The paper aims to give the Committee a more holistic view of the necessity for improved biosecurity in order to protect the agriculture industry of Northern Ireland.
2. BSE - A Case Study
Concerns over animal health and the link to human health have led to a decline in consumer confidence in meat throughout Europe. At a conference in Brussels [v] Dr. Dietmar Weiss (Head of Livestock and Meat Department, ZMP Germany) indicated that household buying of fresh beef was down by over 45% in Germany largely due to a lack of public confidence in meat safety due to the BSE crisis. By the middle of 2000 the European meat industry was relatively stable reaching the level of consumption similar to that of pre-BSE. However, another BSE scare in October of that year greatly influenced the situation. This was largely due to increased numbers of BSE being detected throughout Europe due to systematic testing for the disease. In France for example beef consumption fell by 38% in December 2000 compared with December the previous year with other countries experiencing similar reductions [vi] . A recent survey indicated that 20% of Germans were either worried or very worried about the possibility of eating BSE tainted beef, a further 36% were 'not so worried' [vii] . This consequently had an effect on the price paid to the farmers with prices between August 2000 and August 2001 falling across Europe - from around 17% in Spain to 40% in the Netherlands.
The 1996 outbreak of BSE in the UK resulted in a 6% decline in consumption although this returned to pre-crisis levels after 4 years. During that time the global consumption of beef actually increased due to demand from developing countries therefore the global market was relatively unaffected by the crisis [viii] . However, in the 'second' crisis shipments of beef from the EU, the world's second largest beef exporter during the mid-nineties, accounted for 10% of world trade in 2000 down from 16% the previous year5. It is evident therefore that changes to consumption in the European market can have major effects on the global market. One important difference between the current situation compared to 1996 is that BSE is no longer just a UK problem. As mentioned above cases of BSE are rising throughout Europe, principally due to targeted surveillance programmes being conducted in Member States, and further a field i.e. Japan. In 2001 there were over 7.5 million healthy animals tested for BSE in Europe. Of these only 276 animals were found to have the disease but they were spread throughout European countries [ix] :
n France (83 positive from 2,382,225 healthy animals tested);
n Germany (36 from 2,565,341);
n Spain (35 from 328,517);
n Republic of Ireland (34 from 636, 895);
n Belgium (28 from 359,435);
n Italy (27 from 377,201);
n Portugal (17 from 28,384);
n Netherlands (11 from 454,649);
n Denmark (3 from 250,412);
n Austria (1 from 216,045); and
n Greece (1 from 15,360).
There is also concern that the disease may also be present in sheep.
The fact that recent food scares have been related to contaminated feedstuffs has led to the introduction of strict controls. The importance for such controls is highlighted by a recent report which suggests that it is virtually impossible for an infected cow to pass on BSE to her calf [x] . Essentially this removes maternal transmission as an explanation for BSE in those animals born after 1996 when the ban on meat and bone material in feed was introduced. Cattle however in the UK and across Europe are still getting the disease. Thirteen cattle that were born in the UK post-1996, when the feed ban was introduced, developed BSE. Three of these have been born in NI including an animal born in 1999. The DARD Minister stated, in relation to this latest case, that "the most likely route is via maternal transmission" [xi] . However, in an interview on Radio 4's Farming Today programme Professor John Wilesmith who carried out the study stated that "My working hypothesis is that we are still dealing with cross contamination but not from a British source but from ships importing [feed] into Britain". This is supported by a report to the EU Commission [xii] that indicates that despite ban on feeding mammalian meat-and-bone to ruminants, new cases of BSE were still occurring, showing that ruminant feed had been contaminated. It is important to note however in the recent NI case that the animal was destroyed and no meat entered the human food chain and therefore there was no risk posed to human health. Despite the market implications, Europe-wide production is exceeding consumption and this is expected to continue. The Commission forecasts 740 000t of intervention stocks by 2003 and 240 000t by 20083.
Consumers are more aware than ever of the potential adverse affects of eating unsafe food. Consumer confidence in the safety of meat plummeted after BSE was discovered in cattle in the UK in 1986. This concern was based on the link between BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) described as the human form of the disease. The government in response to BSE and concerns over the safety of meat implemented a number of controls. These include [xiii] :
n The slaughter of all cattle suspected of having BSE since 1988
n The checking of all animals sent for slaughter are checked by a veterinary surgeon to ensure that no suspected cases are slaughtered for human consumption
n The removal from the food chain of tissues that are known to harbour infectivity [xiv]
n In 1996 the sale of beef from animals over thirty months was prohibited
n In 1988 feed that contained mammalian meat and bone material was prohibited from being fed to sheep and cattle
Also at the Future of the Meat Industry Conference Aude L'hirondel, a Food Officer from Euro Coop [xv] , indicated that the decline in consumer confidence in meat was due to a range of issues including:
n Concern over the intensive farming
n Lack of clarity and consistency in EU food legislation
n Not enough consultation and partnership with operators of the food chain
n Failure to strictly enforce EU and national food legislation
Euro Coop support the concept of "farm to table" in relation to food safety i.e. that food safety must be considered across the entire food chain.
3. Effect on Response Retailers
The loss of confidence of the consumer in food safety is acknowledged by the retail sector. At the conference in Brussels, Steve Murrells Category Director - Fresh Meat, Poultry and Fish for Tesco Stores Ltd stated that:
"Field to fork assurance, working to ever-increasing standards of hygiene and welfare, is needed to provide customers with a guarantee of the traceability and integrity of the entire livestock production chain. This must cover the standards applied to the rearing of livestock, including feedstuffs, right through to handling during transport, slaughter, processing and onward distribution" [xvi] .
The effect of a loss in consumer confidence in a product, company or industry can be dramatic. Snow Brand Food, a major Japanese meat packing company, is to close operations after admitting it had repackaged Australian beef as Japanese to qualify for government subsidies aimed at helping domestic meat producers affected by the mad-cow scare [xvii] . A spokesperson stated:
"Trust in our company has been upset severely, clients continue to cancel business with us, and there was no foreseeable recovery in sales".
Consumption of beef in Japan has fallen by a reported 50% since the first case of BSE was reported in August of last year [xviii] . This has had a knock on effect on the Australia beef market since 25% of all beef produced in Australia is exported to Japan. It is evident therefore that consumers will avoid beef in general, even that which is BSE free, indicating the powerful global impact such scares can have on an entire industry.
The Chairman and Chief Executive of Macdonalds, Jack Greenberg stated:
"The year 2001 was difficult for the company largely because of external forces, particularly weak economies and BSE" [xix] .
Net profits for the company actually fell by 40% between October and December of last year.
Unfortunately, BSE is just one of a range of food and animals disease scares that the agri-food industry has faced in recent years. Others include:
The EU has been involved in a dispute with the USA and Canada over the levels of hormonal residues in beef imported into the EU. The EU initiated a ban on animal growth promoters in 1988. This ban is not applied to those third countries exporting bovine meat and meat products into the EU that have either similar legislation or operate a hormone-free cattle programme. The EC Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health (SCVPH) established a working group to address risk assessment of the six hormones in question. It concluded that a risk to consumers did exist including possible carcinogenic, developmental, immunological, endocrine and neurobiological effects [xx] . In light of this the Commission proposed to the Council and the European Parliament a complete ban on the use of 17b eostradiol and some of its derivatives on farm animals. The maintenance of a prohibition on other growth promoters that have certain physiological effects was also recommended. This was adopted by the Parliament on 1st February 2001 although the Commission is still awaiting the Council's position.
(ii). Other residues and banned veterinary substances
Recently the EU placed a ban on a range of products form China intended for human consumption or for use in animal feed including honey, rabbits, poultry, molluscs, crustaceans, shrimps, prawns and pet food [xxi] . This was as a result of a visit from the EU's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) which detected deficiencies in controls relating to residues and the use of banned substances in the veterinary field.
(iii). Contaminated Feed
In 1999 feedstuffs contaminated with dioxin caused the biggest food scare across Europe since BSE. A manufacturer of feedstuffs inadvertently mixed mineral oil, possibly intended for car engines, with vegetable oil when preparing the feed [xxii] . This led to bans being imposed across Europe and further a field on Belgian produce. The pig and poultry sectors were also affected. The Belgian government agreed to destroy 115 000 tonnes of poultry, pork and beef [xxiii] .
More recently a Belgian company, Bioland, apparently supplied glucose syrup contaminated with the banned growth hormone MPA which can cause infertility in humans, to animal feed manufacturers [xxiv] .
(iv). Avian Flu
The 1997 outbreak of avian flu in Hong Kong resulted in the slaughter of 1.5 million birds. The illness was also transmitted to humans resulting in several deaths [xxv] .
4. The Vision Report: animal health and welfare and food safety issues
The issues of food production in terms of safety and quality cannot be divorced from wider issues such as environmental and ethical considerations and the whole issue of sustainability. This at a local level is becoming more evident given some of the recommendations in the recently produced Vision Report and the integrated approach that it advocates to ensure the sustainability of the agriculture industry. The report recognises the importance of food safety: 'Perhaps the major challenge is to produce food which is safe and seen to be safe' and acknowledges that food scares 'have given greater focus to what was probably already a growing consumer concern with safety'. The report goes on to acknowledge societal concerns about animal welfare, which is alluded to above as being linked to animal health, and states that 'The outbreak and aftermath of foot and mouth disease in the UK has served to underscore these concerns and move them further up the political agenda' [xxvi] . Similarly, producers need to be aware that consumers may equate poor animal health and welfare standards with poor food safety standards and subsequently avoid certain produce.
Indeed, as if to validate this point, the report recommended (D4) that 'All farm quality assurances schemes covering livestock should have a significant animal health and welfare component drawn up in conjunction with the veterinary profession, including a herd/flock health plan and covering farm biosecurity'. However, it is evident that any proposals for clearly defined animal and plant health policy must be supported by appropriate legislation. Again the report calls for this approach: 'The animal health legislative framework within Northern Ireland must be comprehensively reviewed and reformed. The aims of this should be to ensure:
n adequate sanction for wrong-doing; and
n comprehensive coverage of the livestock chain, including hauliers'.
These recommendations have the potential to assist in the marketing of NI food products. In both New Zealand and Australia for example, it is recognised that continued improvement in animal health and welfare and food safety standards could be used effectively as a marketing tool to gain access to new markets. This is especially relevant given the consumer emphasis on each of these issues and the growing recognition that food safety must extend from the farm to the fork and therefore encompass animal health. Additionally, the potential liberalisation of trade and global sourcing of products mean that there will be a greater threat to the biosecurity of NI. The report states in recommendation J8: 'Northern Ireland's current disease control arrangements may need to become stricter to minimise the risks from global sourcing'. In recognition that even in the best of circumstances the threat can never be completely eliminated this recommendation continues: 'In addition, Northern Ireland needs to be adequately prepared and resourced for crisis management, with comprehensive plans for cross-Departmental and inter-agency co-operation'. This is not simply a case of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. It is essential to prepare for the worst regardless of one's animal health status and even those countries, (Australia and New Zealand), that have arguably the strictest biosecurity measures in the world, have developed crisis-management plans that aim to implement a 'whole-of-government' approach to a crisis that a single department may be unable to deal with on its own. In NI for instance there were only 4 cases of FMD but the containment of this outbreak was due to the enormous resources that DARD applied and which, while successful, resulted in, according to the Minister, 'a legacy of slippage in the control of other diseases. In particular, it has left us with a continuing build-up of Tuberculosis and Brucellosis in the animal population' [xxvii] . Therefore, the successful containment of one animal disease has exacerbated the problems posed by others. Additionally it has curtailed many other aspects of DARD's operation with many of the targets in the PSA 2000/01 not being met due to a focussing of resources to prevent spread of the disease. In any review of the department's response to the FMD outbreak and what has been learned consideration must be given to how to minimise the negative impact on other disease controls.
5. Organisation with responsibility for food safety
(i). United Nations and World Health Organisation - Codex Almentarius
Consumer health protection was underpinned in 1985 by the United Nations Resolution 39/248 which produced guidelines that have been used in the development of consumer protection policies [xxviii] . The guidelines state:
"When formulating national policies and plans with regard to food, Governments should take into account the need of all consumers for food security and should support and, as far as possible, adopt standards from the Food and Agriculture Organization's ... and the World Health Organization's Codex Alimentarius ...".
The harmonisation of food safety standards is referred to in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) (agreed in the Uruguay Round of World Trade negotiations) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Codex standards have become the benchmark "against which national food measures and regulations are evaluated within the legal parameters of the Uruguay Round Agreements" [xxix] . The SPS have the most relevance to the Codex since it states (in Annex A of the agreement on SPS):
"Any measure applied ... to protect human or animal life or health within the territory of the Member from risks arising from additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in foods, beverages or feedstuffs. .... Sanitary or phytosanitary measures include all relevant laws, decrees, regulations, requirements and procedures including, inter alia, end product criteria; processes and production methods; testing, inspection, certification and approval procedures; quarantine treatments including relevant requirements associated with the transport of animals or plants, or with the materials necessary for their survival during transport; provisions on relevant statistical methods, sampling procedures and methods of risk assessment; and packaging and labelling requirements directly related to food safety."
The highest priority within the Codex Alimentarius is to protect the health of consumers. To this end guidelines (The Recommended International Code of Practice - General Principles of Food Hygiene) have been produced and apply to all foods. Importantly it applies right across the food chain - from primary production to consumption indicating the key hygiene controls required at each stage.
The European Commission has provided funding (114 million euro) to Member States to enhance their capacity to respond to Transmissable Spongioform Encephalopathies (TSEs) and 40.45 million euro for the eradication and monitoring of 13 major animal diseases in the Member States. This funding is reflective of the Commission's concern that it is important to improve the health status of Europe's livestock which it sees as important from a perspective of protecting animal health and consequently human health [xxx] .
(ii). The European Union - European Food Standards Agency (EFSA)
Ensuring that the EU has the highest standard of food safety is a key policy for the European Commission. To achieve this the EU produced a White Paper on Food Safety in January 2000 [xxxi] to ensure that the food safety issue is at the top of the agenda. Over 80 separate measures were identified in the White Paper for implementation over the next few years but one of the major conclusions was:
"Greater transparency at all levels of Food Safety policy is the thread running through the whole White Paper and will contribute fundamentally to enhancing consumer confidence in EU Food Safety policy".
David Byrne, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, considers food safety the number one priority of his Directorate. Both he and Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries initiated a EU-wide debate on food quality, safety and production in March 2001 [xxxii] . Byrne and Fischler hosted meetings in member states in order to consult representatives of farmers, industry, retailers, scientists, academics and, especially, consumers. This followed the European Commission proposal for laying down the general principles of food law and establishing a European Food Authority [xxxiii] . The eventual outcome of this series of Round Tables, with meetings already haven taken place in Stockholm, Berlin, Dublin, Vienna, Paris, Brussels, Athens, London, Madrid and Copenhagen, was to seek views on what aspects of food safety needed to be included in agreement on the establishment of a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The Council of Agriculture Ministers and the European Parliament adopted the Regulation establishing the EFSA and a new framework for EU food law [xxxiv] .
The EFSA will primarily focus on risk assessment with the risk management function still remaining with decision-making institutions i.e. European Commission, the Council of EU Ministers, and the EU Parliament [xxxv] . Its role therefore will be to:
n Scientifically evaluate risks
n Collect and analyse scientific data
n Evaluate evidence from industry on proposed substances or processes requiring Community level approval
n Identify emerging risks
n Provide scientific support to the Commission particularly in the event of a food safety crisis
n Direct communication to the public on issues within its remit
One of the objectives of this legislation is to give assurances to citizens of Europe that issues to do with feed and food safety are being addressed at the very highest level. Among the powers that the Commission now has is the right to take emergency action in the event that a Member State cannot contain an emerging food risk. This action will ultimately depend on the seriousness of the situation but could include, for example, suspension of the marketing or use of the feed or food in question. The Commission will also manage a new rapid alert system which is foreseen as including obligatory notification "of any direct or indirect risk to human health, animal health or the environment within a network of national competent authorities, the EFSA and the European Commission" [xxxvi] . From an organisational viewpoint a number of regulatory committees have been reorganised within a new single body - the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The committees that it replaces are:
n The Standing Veterinary Committee
n The Standing Committee on Foodstuffs
n The Standing Committee on Animal Nutrition
n The Standing Committee on Plant Health
The Committee will assist the Commission in the development of new food safety measures although its mandate will also cover the entire food supply chain i.e. from animal health issues on the farm to the food on the consumer's table. Commissioners Byrne and Fischler held the final Round Table in Brussels on May 13th. Issues such as stakeholder involvement to assist farmers to attain quality production were discussed. But while it was agreed that it was up to the market to decide on a range of issues the Commissioners emphasised that "food safety was the bedrock of quality" [xxxvii] . Commissioner Fischler also stated in a speech at the European Food Summit 2002 [xxxviii] that: 'There can be no further discussion about the quality of a product if it is not safe to be consumed. In addition to this, there must be basic standards relating to the protection of animal welfare'...
The relationship between animal welfare issues and food safety cannot be overstated particularly given the link between the consumer's perception of good animal welfare standards and food safety. For example, a recent study indicated that: "Consumers are concerned about animal welfare, though often not as a priority in its own right: welfare is seen as an indicator of good food standards, so that high welfare production is associated with food quality, safety and healthiness" [xxxix] . In this regard the labelling of foods is necessary to give consumers confidence that the food they are purchasing meets exacting standards in animal welfare, food safety and environmental conditions. The red tractor symbol is a case in point although this has been criticised recently due to questions over the animal welfare standards applied [xl] .
Fischler went on to say 'crises such as BSE and Foot and Mouth Disease have shaken consumers' confidence. It is our duty to do everything we can to win back this confidence. Everybody must contribute to this task: farmers as well as the food-industry, traders as well as politicians, Member States as well as the European Union'.
Biosecurity and legislation - transportation: a case study
It is evident therefore that Commissioner Fischler perceives the way forward as not simply a biosecurity issue, or animal health and welfare or a quality issue. Rather he sees an integrated approach operationally as well as politically across a range of issues. For example modern transportation arrangements, which may have previously been considered a side issue in relation to animal disease, were implicated as one of the central reasons for the rapid spread of FMD in the recent UK outbreak. In a report by the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Welfare [xli] it states that poor welfare during transport may have prolonged effects on the welfare of the transported animals and that the stressful effects may put the animals at greater risk of disease. As the report states, if animals with FMD are transported through a market or staging point there is a major risk of spreading the disease. Therefore any review of FMD must consider how to improve transport conditions in order to minimise putting animals at greater risk of disease or, if disease is already present, spreading the disease. Andrea Gavinelli, DG Health and Consumer Protection, Animal Health and Welfare, EC in a presentation to the Future of the Meat Industry Conference 2001 stated, for example, that animal transport is a major concern because:
n Spread of infectious diseases;
n Source of stress and sufferance for the animals; and
n Quality of meat suffers.
The issue of welfare therefore also becomes one of disease prevention and also quality which are both related to production and ultimately, therefore, of financial importance to the farmer. The legislation governing the transportation of animals is Directive 91/628/EEC as amended (1995) which:
n Limits continuous travelling time to 8 hours;
n Regulates registration of transporters;
n Regulates the means of transport; and
n Necessitates a journey plan.
However a report on the application of this directive on December 2000 found:
n Lack of engagement in welfare of operators involved;
n Negligence and poor handling of animals;
n Road vehicles in poor conditions; and
n Administrative procedures not properly harmonised.
These findings have led to proposals for change in the legislation, principally:
n Aim to have a more user-friendly document;
n Facilitate clear distinction between planned and realized journey;
n Allow easy monitoring of the journey;
n Stricter definition of animals fit for transport;
n Veterinary certificates including welfare; and
n Ventilation and monitoring systems on road vehicles.
It can be seen therefore that issues such as prevention and control of FMD and other animal diseases, in the longer term, will require a broader approach with possible changes in legislation to ensure a level playing field throughout Europe. The Scientific Committee's proposals have already been criticised by the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) who state that proposed changes will effectively stop Ireland's live export of cattle. This relates to the possibility of having to reduce the number of cattle that are transported in a single shipment to make room for resting, feeding, and watering and to the prevention of animals being unloaded at staging points [xlii] . This viewpoint may be reflective of the reticence of Irish farmers to adopt changes that if implemented would mean additional costs for them. The same requirements would apply to farmers in NI so the farming community here may have to weigh up the benefits of legislation that seeks to enhance animal welfare and therefore protect animal health and reduce the risk and spread of animal disease, against the cost of implementing such legislation.
The close link between food safety, animal health and welfare, and consumer confidence ensures that concerns about one aspect can often have a negative impact on another. Although the call from Europe, and locally, expressed in the Vision Report, emphasises the development of an integrated food chain with a focus on safety, quality and competitive pricing there are still concerns that the responsibility for these issues is still being compartmentalised by different sectors of the agri-food business. In a survey [xliii] carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) of 1275 representative of 19 sectors within the agri-food business, and including farmers, processors, retailers, manufacturers and caterers, 63% stated that the government and regulatory authorities were responsible for resolving food safety issues with only 20% seeing it as joint responsibility. This is not only alarming but shows a considerable lack of understanding of the legal requirements placed upon them as central operators in the food chain. As Dr Patrick Wall, Chief Executive of the FSAI said:
"Whilst the relevant authorities are a resource to industry, the bottom-line is that the law firmly places responsibility for producing safe food with the industry stakeholders throughout the food chain."
Thirty-six percent of consumers were also concerned with food safety in relation to farm practices. The key issues were chemicals and fertilisers, BSE, E. coli, Salmonella, and poor hygiene. Foot and Mouth Disease also contributed to consumers concerns about farming practices.
While the FMD outbreak was yet another stressful episode for the rural community in general and the farming community in particular it offers the context against which to take a holistic view of the range of related issues that must be considered if animal disease is to be effectively and comprehensively addressed. Biosecurity is certainly at the top of the agenda in terms of preventing disease entering the country but this must surely be complemented by the highest possible animal health and welfare standards to ensure that the occurrence of endemic diseases are kept to a minimum. In addition, the relationship between food safety and animal health and welfare could be more fully explained to a public that may be largely ignorant of these issues. This might reduce the impact that an animal disease outbreak may have on sales of meat produce by helping to maintain consumer confidence. To assist this, a review of all relevant legislation to identify potential inadequacies or loopholes and subsequent implementation of more stringent legislation if required should perhaps be considered - the issue of transportation, noted above, is a case in point. The Vision Report refers to the development of an integrated food chain into which these diverse but related issues could be incorporated. If this is being seriously considered then it offers one avenue for all the above issues to be discussed and appropriate action taken by all the relevant players.
Biosecurity is a broad term that encompasses a range of issues but in farming terms it can be described simply as 'protecting the health of livestock by preventing the transmission of disease' [xliv] . The following paper describes the approach taken in non-EU countries, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S.A. It was thought that this approach would aid the Committee in its consideration of the management of Foot and Mouth disease, and exotic diseases in general, since the approach taken by European countries is essentially the same since, to a large extent, these countries must adhere to the same European legislation. It is also acknowledged that Australia and New Zealand in particular have particularly advanced measures in pace to prevent both the entry and spread of exotic diseases.
1. Biosecurity measures in New Zealand
MAF Biosecurity Authority was formed in 1999. It is comprised of over 100 specialist staff with experience in areas such as animal welfare, biosecurity risk management, animal and plant health and standards development [xlv] . The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry takes the lead in New Zealand biosecurity and animal welfare programmes. It has developed four key goal areas in order to deliver a vision of 'Biosecurity New Zealand' [xlvi] . These are:
There are several stages of defence to aid in the management of risks to animals, plant and forest health.
n Offshore protection: relates to the controls on importers before goods are allowed into the country
n At the border: checks on passengers entering the country
n Inside the border: monitoring of plants and animals for signs of pests and disease
n Response capability: ensuring there are the specialists, resources and equipment ready to respond to a disease outbreak
n Enforcement: specialist enforcement team has been established to prosecute those who breach biosecurity and welfare laws
n Education: awareness programmes provide understanding of how to protect New Zealand and to encourage compliance with laws
The Authority sees the development of animal welfare and ethics standards based on science as making a "significant contribution to success in international markets".
The aim is to provide assurance between governments that New Zealand food and fibre products meet the biosecurity requirements of other countries. MAF Biosecurity aims to help overcome access barriers to NZ products by challenging technical barriers to trade. It is involved in international forums and thus helps to influence policy direction. It also works closely with the NZ Food Safety Authority on certification for edible plant and animal products.
MAF Biosecurity has a central role in the coordination of the NZ government's biosecurity and animal welfare programme. Among other duties it:
n "coordinates biosecurity activities across government departments;
n develops and maintains links between government and external agencies with biosecurity interests;
n leading and coordinating the development of biosecurity projects, including the preparation of national pest management strategies;
n implementing a $2.8 million biosecurity awareness programme, and other targeted educational activities;
n advancing New Zealand's interests in international forums (including the World Trade Organisation committee on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and standard-setting bodies for animal health and plant health);
n participating in developing international standards for animal (including bees and fish), plant and forestry health;
n working closely with stakeholders in developing animal welfare standards and codes of ethical conduct;
n advising and supporting the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) and the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC);
n managing trade issues involving biosecurity and animal welfare issues;
n working closely with key officials in counterpart agencies in New Zealand and overseas".
There are two main pieces of legislation that support the work of MAF Biosecurity. These are:
n Biosecurity Act 1993 - this provides central government, regional councils and industry groups with the legal basis to manage pests and unwanted organisms in NZ.
n Animal Welfare Act 1999 - this Act reformed animal welfare in NZ. It is flexible to allow standards to be developed and modified to respond to rapidly changing expectations of society, industry or research.
Measures taken to prevent entry of disease into NZ [xlvii]
n All baggage entering NZ is either x-rayed or searched by hand. Mail is x-rayed and screened by detector dogs.
n 21 dog teams are stationed in airports and are trained to locate food and plant material on people, clothing and bags.
n Passengers from countries were FMD is established are singled out for special checking at all airports.
n Skilled teams of biosecurity staff from MAF are in airports.
n All passengers must fill out a very detailed declaration card.
n If the declaration card is filled out incorrectly there is an instant fine of $200. If the card is deliberately filled in with the intention of misleading the authorities there is a fine of $100,000 or be sent to prison for five years.
Interdepartmental cooperation [xlviii]
If one considers that there were four cases of FMD in NI during the recent crisis which, by Department accounts, stretched its resources to the limit it is necessary to consider what would be the response in the event that an outbreak was much larger than DARD itself could cope with. This important issue is being addressed in NZ i.e. what to do in the event that an outbreak of FMD would exceed the capability of MAF's existing resources. This is being addressed through MAF working with other government departments so that a whole-of-government response can be coordinated.
Disposal of carcases
Contingency plans for environmentally safe disposal of carcases are being discussed with Regional Councils to ensure environmental impacts from disease control operations are minimised.
MAF is evaluating policies and procedures to determine how vaccination can be used as an FMD control measure if the need arise.
New Zealand has decided that it needs to develop a broader biosecurity strategy in order to address changes in circumstance, for example increasing travel and trade, as well as to address possible deficiencies in the current approach as biosecurity risks increase. Importantly, while the traditional focus has been on the protection of primary production and trade this is being expanded to encompass protection of human health and indigenous environments [xlix] .
The aim of the biosecurity strategy is to:
n "set an overall direction for biosecurity
n identify areas of priority for biosecurity programmes
n apply to primary production (agriculture, horticulture, forestry), public health, and indigenous terrestrial, marine, and freshwater environments
n provide guidance to all involved in biosecurity
n raise public awareness and understanding of biosecurity" [l] .
This approach provides a much more holistic approach to biosecurity rather than confining it to individual sectors. The developmental process has input at Ministerial level and a Ministry of Biosecurity has been established which is advised by the Biosecurity Council. This Council has representatives from different ministries e.g. health, environment, agriculture and forestry etc.
The approach of NZ is one of complementing the current specific biosecurity measures that apply to production and trade by establishing a Ministry of Biosecurity that encompasses biosecurity issues for other areas. This is in keeping with its whole-of-government approach as indicated in section 4 above.
EpiMAN Computer System
"New Zealand has the most advanced information system in the world for handling FMD and other epidemic diseases. Known as EpiMAN, it was developed at the Massey University EpiCentre in conjunction with the New Zealand MAF and AgriQuality New Zealand.
Subsequently the European Commission funded a project to adapt the system for European use, and the British government purchased the rights to use the system. However it had not been fully installed and made operational in Britain before the FMD outbreak. The team, funded jointly by the UK government and the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, has now installed the system, which is now supporting the search for any remaining infected properties.
EpiMAN is a very advanced software system which manages staff and other resources to control the outbreak as rapidly as possible, and can predict exactly where the virus is likely to spread on the wind. It has a range of other advanced features as well, which in combination are designed to minimise the risk of very large outbreaks by identifying infected farms rapidly - allowing the stamping out of infection in affected areas" [li] .
This system has been expanded to include other exotic and endemic diseases. There have been reports that DEFRA had been in receipt of this management tool for up to two years prior to the outbreak by failed to install it. During the outbreak veterinarians were called in form several countries including NZ. The vets from NZ had the software up and running within four days. It has been suggested that if the programme had been operational prior to the outbreak it would have resulted in a much less extensive outbreak. The government responded to a question from Stephen O'Brien MP concerning the operation of EpiMAN indicating that it was operational from the date of confirmation of the first case [lii] . Professor Morris from the EpiCentre facility in Massey University NZ where the computer programme was developed also criticised reports that MAFF had not installed the system even though it had been in receipt of it prior to the outbreak. He indicated that the implementation procedure takes a long time due to the data collection from farms and trialing it etc. The four NZ vets managed to install it "warts and all" rather than the usual methodical installation process. This tool has also been used as a decision-support system in NZ for the management of tuberculosis in livestock [liii] .
Australia like NZ has an enviable record of maintaining, in international terms, a relatively disease-free agricultural production system. Recognising that this was a distinct trade advantage in a very competitive global market Governments of the Commonwealth of Australia and industry groups constituted the Australian Animal Health Council Ltd. (AAHC) in 1996 in order to consolidate and improve its animal health status. It operates under the business name of Animal Health Australia and is described as "a not-for profit public company established by governments and livestock industries" [liv] . Members, who comprise governments of states and territories as well as a wide-range of organisations representing various livestock producers, provide the funding for the company.
What does Animal Health Australia do?
The aim of AHA is the establishment of an integrated national animal health system. To this end the company created three subscription-funded programmes in 2000. These were [lv] :
n "Animal Health Services, which aims to improve the national capability, standards and performance of Australia's animal health system
n Animal Disease Surveillance, which provides a nationally integrated, innovative surveillance system to underpin trade, and
n Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness, which enhances management approaches to deal with animal disease emergencies"
A range of programmes has been initiated on behalf of a range of members and is funded by the beneficiaries. If further programmes are requested then joint contributions are negotiated between beneficiaries. Additionally, the Commonwealth Government of Australia has legislated so that levies can be collected from industry to support the company's activities at a national level.
Disease Response and Surveillance
Two important areas in relation to animal disease are:
n the response in the event of a disease outbreak; and
n the nature of the animal disease surveillance programme.
The Emergency Disease Response Agreement (Appendix 1) was formally agreed between the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Chairman of Animal Health Australia in March of this year. In effect this is an agreement outlining the cost-sharing approach to disease response. Sixty-three diseases have been classified into four categories with the cost shared between governments and industry depending on who is identified as benefiting from control as measured against impact on human health and socio-economic concerns, the environment and livestock production. The AUSTVETPLAN is the national plan for emergency disease response. It provides the framework for a co-ordinated national strategy and is comprised of integrated state and territorial sub-strategies. The main thrust of the Plan is to provide guidance in order to link policy, strategies, implementation and emergency management plans. Animal Health Australia manages the co-ordination and development of the various components of the AUSVETPLAN [lvi] .
Animal Health Australia applies a national perspective to the Animal Disease Surveillance Programme (ADSP) and identifies any improvements that can be made to it. Four priority outcomes have been identified:
1. Demonstrated commitment by Members to a nationally integrated, real time surveillance system;
2. Credible and justifiable surveillance information provided to enhance Australian trade;
3. Surveillance information applied to underpin market access and secure new trade opportunities; and
4. Innovative technology and information systems developed and adopted to provide a competitive advantage to Australian industry.
Central to the surveillance programme, and similar to NI's APHIS, is the National Animal Health Information System (NAHIS). This underpins the exports of animals and animal products justifying Australia's disease status for particular diseases. A full review of NAHIS is to be carried out for the first time to ensure it is meeting customers' expectations.
The AUSTVETPLAN is comprised of 52 manuals each relating to animal disease. The FMD chapter is 67 pages and is contained in full in Appendix 2. The following is a summary of the approach taken for the control and eradication of FMD. However, Australia's policy for eradication of FMD is one of stamping out supplemented only if absolutely necessary by vaccination.
Methods to prevent and eliminate pathogens
Intensive piggeries are viewed as high-risk enterprises since pigs act as amplifiers of the FMD virus. It has been estimated that over a 24hr period pigs produce about 3000 times as much virus as cattle (Donaldson 1983 [lvii] , 1987 [lviii] ) and are primarily infected while ingesting feedstuffs. It is believed that the latest UK outbreak was due to the feeding of infected swill to pigs. In recognition of this swill-feeding is illegal in Australia.
Quarantine and movement controls
These are seen as essential elements of a control and eradication policy. The can be applied to several designated areas:
n Infected premises (IP) - total movement control and all animals slaughtered
n Dangerous contact premises (DCP) - total movement control and all or some of the animals slaughtered
n Suspect premises (SP) - will be subject to quarantine and intense surveillance until status is resolved. If there is no evidence of infection the premises would revert to normal status.
n Restricted area (RA) - in accordance with the OIE Code a restricted area of at least 10km is drawn around all IPs and DCPs and to include as many SPs as possible. A high level of movement control and surveillance applies.
n Control area (CA) - will apply to the whole state or territory. The aim is to control movement of susceptible livestock for as long as necessary to complete trace-back and epidemiological studies.
Australia would also apply the accepted approach of zoning which essentially allow part of the country free of the disease to retain overseas market access.
Trace-back is applied for a minimum period of 14 days before the onset of clinical signs. Trace-forward is applied up to the time that quarantine is imposed.
Tracing should include:
n Animal products - meat, offal, milk, wool, skins, hides, semen, embryos;
n Vehicles - milk tankers, livestock transport vehicles, feed trucks, visitors cars;
n Materials - hay, straw, crops, grains;
n People - veterinarians, All service personnel, sales and feed representatives, tradespeople, technicians, visitors
Surveillance within the RA is primarily of livestock.
Surveillance within the CA involves abattoir surveillance, serological surveys and investigation of reports of suspect disease. These will also be taken in the rest of the country in order to prove absence of disease.
The preferred method is burial since this is less polluting and poses less risk of infective plumes spreading the disease.
Two possible vaccination options include:
n Strategic vaccination (ring vaccination) around outbreaks to help contain the disease while stamping-out operations are carried out; and
n General vaccination (blanket vaccination) over a wide area where veterinary resources could not cope or if compensation payments were too costly.
Vaccination would only occur if other options were not achieving eradication of the disease.
Animals (2 cattle and or 2-4 pigs) are placed on all former IPs and DCPs 30 days after disinfection of equipment, materials and buildings. These are referred to as sentinel animals and must have contact with all parts of the premises/objects that might have had contact with the virus. They are also ground-fed on the high-risk areas of the farm and checked by veterinarians every three days. After 60 days on the farm blood tests are carried out for FMD. Removal of quarantine restrictions and restocking of premises is then permitted on a negative result being returned.
Public Awareness Campaign
Coupled with all the above a public awareness campaign to emphasise the importance of the imposed restrictions and potential impact of the disease should be in place.
Animals should if possible be valued while still alive. If this is not possible e.g. because slaughter was not delayed then the carcase is examined. If the carcase has been destroyed then visual evidence if possible should be produced otherwise a detailed description of the animal is required.
Birth of live offspring between valuation and destruction is not taken into account for valuation since valuation is based on the relevant valuation date.
Property including animal products and fodder that is destroyed because it cannot be properly disinfected is also eligible for payments.
Valuation is applied as though a sale took place on the property. A dairy cow is valued on the basis of its milk output and probable future output.
The USA has recently undertaken a review of its own procedures on safeguarding animal health [lix] . The main recommendation from this report is:
Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture must provide funding and act to rebuild the state and national infrastructure for animal disease control, emergency disease preparedness, and response.
The organisation charge with the responsibility for biosecurity is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Veterinary Service (APHIS-VS). The report states that this service is grossly under-funded in relation to the value of U.S. animal industries. For example the livestock industries alone are worth around $100billion yet the entire Animal Health Monitoring and Surveillance (AHMS) budget was only $70million in 2001.
Four committees raised four major needs that must be addressed in order to meet the challenges of animal health issues in the USA. These are:
n Infrastructure inadequacies - essentially the requirement for staff and enhanced facilities
n Improved communication - particularly the establishment of an Emergency Operations Centre in order to acquire and share information on animal health
n The need to establish a coordinated and vigorous National Surveillance System and National Response Plan to monitor and respond to animal health issues.
n The need for improved and expanded research and diagnostic laboratories focussed on animal health issues.
The Americans recognise that there is a need to improve and develop its biosecurity measures. This recognition concurs with that of NZ i.e. given the pressures related to increased travel of citizens and more foreign visitors and increased agricultural trade due to liberalisation, the potential threat of animal disease outbreaks is greater. It is therefore necessary to address this greater threat firstly by reviewing existing biosecurity measures and then taking appropriate action to ensure enhanced measures are established and implemented.
The Canadians like Australia and NZ have a stamping-out policy including pre-emptive slaughter. There is also scope to apply emergency vaccination with slaughter in order to help in the control and spread of the virus.
What is contained in the stamping-out policy? [lx]
n Imposition of movement restrictions around the infected premises
n Slaughter, disposal (burial or burning) on the premises followed by cleaning and disinfection
n Tracing of all movements of animals, animal products, people and fomites [lxi] both on to and from the farm (trace back and trace forward in Australia) since the estimated introduction of the FMD virus on the farm (generally 14 days)
n Issuing of infected place declarations for exposed premises and for premises perceived as possible sources of infection
n Pre-emptive slaughter of high-risk animals
n Selective FMD vaccination in buffer zones as a temporary measure
n Identification of all animals vaccinated is absolutely essential so that they can be slaughtered in order to regain FMD country freedom without vaccination
n Blanket vaccination would only be considered as a last resort i.e. in the event that emergency vaccination, stamping out and pre-emptive slaughter were insufficient to control the outbreak.
Canada's National Animal Health Program
As part of its management of animal disease emergencies Canada applies a risk-based approach with several components:
n Prevention: the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires all travellers to declare all foods, plants, animals and their products when entering Canada
n Preparedness: emergency response plans are in place to deal swiftly with an outbreak.
n Response: the "Foot and Mouth Disease Strategy" has been developed which provides detail on the 'stamping out' strategy. The responses, once confirmation of the disease occurs as follows:
Decisions and actions are carried out using the following mechanisms:
Emergency Response Teams are mobilized at CFIA Headquarters and Area Networks. Trained CFIA veterinarians and technicians are assigned pre-determined responsibilities:
There are established links between the Federal government and the private sector that can be used in a response. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and CFIA also collaborated with provincial departments of agriculture and agri-food sectors to establish the Food and Agriculture Emergency Response System (FAERS) (Appendix 3). FAERS provides a policy and emergency-planning framework for managing emergencies. It is designed to link the federal, provincial and private sectors in an emergency response.
The following organizations could be mobilized to assist in an emergency in Canada: Emergency Preparedness Canada, Transport Canada, Canadian Armed Forces, provincial and municipal police departments, veterinary associations and private practitioners, livestock industry associations, and provincial authorities.
n Recovery: coordinated approach to ensure safe and effective repopulation of affected areas.
Additional Emergency Preparedness Activities
Simulation exercises: implementation of emergency response plan in a simulated FMD outbreak.
Traceback and Tracking: Canadian Cattle Identification Program allows individual animals to be traced from the herd to slaughter
Quadrilateral Emergency Management Working Group: The Animal Health Quadrilateral Group (Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada) have established an Emergency Management Working Group to consider common emergency response operational issues, facilitate technical exchange and training opportunities and other related matters.
International Workshop on Animal Disposal Alternatives: this was organised to address problems associated with destruction and disposal on a large-scale i.e. improvements and alternatives to existing methods (Appendix 4).
DID DARD'S REVIEW ADDRESS ALL THE RELEVANT AREAS AND WAS IT CONDUCTED IN A THOROUGH AND OPEN MANNER?
Transparency and Independence
The consultants that conducted the review employed several different methods to ensure that they maximised the opportunity for all relevant players to make a contribution to their report. These included:
n Desk-based research
n Five public meetings;
n Over 40 interviews with key stakeholders;
n Focus group discussion in the outbreak areas;
n Workshops with interest groups;
n A telephone survey of 200 farmers; and
n Receiving over 60 written submissions.
This approach should have ensured that there was transparency in how the data was collected and that anyone who wanted to express an opinion to the consultants had the opportunity to do so. This information would obviously form the basis of the review and it is evident that the document criticises the Department in a number of areas but also acknowledges where the Department carried out its duties effectively and efficiently. This in itself suggests that the review has been carried out independently from the Department and in an unbiased manner. It should be noted however as the consultants point out that they were carrying out a 'review' not an inquiry and as such their focus was on identifying areas for improvement and not to apportion blame to anyone or any organisation.
Addressing all relevant areas
The review team were asked to address 12 specific issues [lxii] in addition to the terms of reference. The report is structured in 7 sections with sections III to VII encompassing all of the 12 issues. It should be noted that recommendations are made with respect to all of these issues.
Legislation enacted during the Foot and Mouth outbreak [lxiii]
The following is a chronological record of the legislation enacted during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 in Northern Ireland:
1. The empowering legislation is:
(a) The Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 (S.I. 1981/1115 (N.I. 22), as amended; and
(b) Foot-and-Mouth Disease Order (Northern Ireland) 1962 (S.R. & O. (N.I.) 1962 No. 209), as amended by S.R. 2001 No. 82.
Articles 21 and 29 of the Foot and Mouth Disease Order (Northern Ireland) 1962 empowers the Department to make Orders declaring a specified area to be an 'Infected Area' or a 'Controlled Area'.
2. Leg: Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2001 (S.R No. 82)
Date coming into operation: 27 February 2001
The Order amends the 1962 Order so as to make provision for the isolation of animals placed or kept on commons or unenclosed lands within an infected area or controlled area in the event of an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.
3. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Infected Area) Order (NI) 2001 (SR No. 83)
Date coming into operation: 27 February 2001
The Order provides that where the Department has grounds for suspecting that foot and mouth disease exists in Northern Ireland or in such part of the RoI it may declare an area in NI to be an infected area. Where an area is declared to be an infected area then the provisions of the 1962 Order have effect in relation to that area. The restrictions are detailed in the Fifth Schedule at paragraph (5) which states "Hunting, horse racing and jumping competitions, polo, pigeon racing and the racing or coursing or the training for racing or coursing of any dogs or hounds and the pursuit of game and rabbits are hereby prohibited both in an Infected Area and in a Controlled Area".
4. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area) Order (NI) 2001 (SR No. 87)
Date coming into operation: 1 March 2001.
The Order imposes, with variations and exceptions, the restrictions in Part III, Articles 32 and 34, of the Foot and Mouth Disease Order (Northern Ireland) 1962. The control on the movement of animals and carcases and on the holding of markets and sales set out in Articles 32 and 34 are replaced by variations to the Fifth Schedule. Generally, no movement of animals or carcases is permitted unless in accordance with conditions of a licence issued by the Department. Vehicles used for transporting animals or carcases out of, into, or within a controlled area must be cleansed and disinfected after each occasion of use. Fairs, markets, shows etc are banned except under conditions of a licence issued by the Department.
5. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area) (No.2) Order (NI) 2001 (SR No. 93)
Date coming into operation: 5 March 2001.
The Order adds new provisions to the first Control Order (S.R.No. 87) by banning the stalking of deer in a controlled area and banning the movement of a horse or carcase except under the conditions of a licence issued by the Department.
6. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area) (No.3) Order (NI) 2001 (SR No. 212)
Date coming into operation: 18 May 2001.
The Order repeals and replaces the Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area)(No.2) Order (NI) 2001. The Order removed the prohibition on horse racing and jumping competitions and pigeon racing.
7. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area) (No.4) Order (NI) 2001 (SR No.303)
Date coming into operation: 20 August 2001.
The Order repeals and replaces the Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area)(No.3) Order (NI) 2001. The prohibition on deer stalking is revoked.
8. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area) (No.5) Order (NI) 2001 (SR No.336)
Date coming into operation: 01 October 2001.
The Order repeals and replaces the Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area)(No.4) Order (NI) 2001. The Order removed the prohibition on polo but continued to prohibit hunting with horses and/or dogs.
9. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area) (No.6) Order (NI) 2001 (SR No.424)
Date coming into operation: 08 December 2001.
The Order repeals and replaces the Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area)(No.5) Order (NI) 2001. The Order removed the prohibition on the hunting of animals with horses and /or dogs but continued to prohibit the hunting of deer with horses or dogs.
10. Leg: Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area) Order (NI) 2002 (SR No.44)
Date coming into operation: 15 February 2002.
The Order repeals and replaces the Foot and Mouth Disease (Controlled Area)(No.6) Order (NI) 2001. The Order removed the prohibition on the hunting with horses or dogs.
The FMD (Controlled Area)(No.5) Order (NI) 2001 removed the prohibition on polo but continued to prohibit hunting with horses and/or dogs. The FMD (Controlled Area)(No.6) Order (NI) 2001 removed the prohibition on the hunting of animals with horses and/or dogs but continued to prohibit the hunting of deer with horses or dogs. The FMD (Controlled Area) Order (NI) 2002 removes all prohibition on hunting with horses or dogs.
Therefore there are no current restrictions.
Chronology of movement controls [lxiv]
23 February 2001 - Movement of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs within Northern Ireland to be by DARD authorisation only.
Restriction included farm-to-farm and farm-to-slaughterhouse movements.
28 February - DARD introduces a complete ban on animal movements (except to slaughter) and the holding of livestock markets.
6 March - Movement licensing system is introduced for animals going to slaughter.
7 March - Licensed movement of animals from farm-to-farm are allowed in exceptional circumstances under strict protocols.
15 March - Animal movement licensing is extended to cover movement between premises for animal welfare reasons.
30 March - Further adjustments are made to animal movement licensing, including the introduction of general licenses for routine movements between premises within a farm business unit and extended welfare movements.
15 April - Movement licensing is suspended and licenses rescinded.
23 April - Minister Rogers announces relaxation in movement controls which, although still under license, include:
n Movement of animals direct to slaughter;
n Movement of animals form winter housing to pasture; and
n Movement on welfare grounds.
25 April - Licensed animal movements are further relaxed, movement of animals (with the exception of sheep) within farm business units are permitted on the basis of a license issued by a private veterinary practitioner and preformed under strict protocols.
9 May - Further relaxation on the movement of animals are introduced - including the movement of sheep within holdings (excluding movement of common grazing).
23 May - Further relaxation on the movement of animals is announced: general licensing arrangements are available for cattle, pigs and horses; specific licenses are retained for sheep, however movement is now permitted for commercial purposes.
5 June - Controls over common grazing are relaxed.
3 September - Resumption of commercial sheep sales under strict veterinary supervision and farm-to-farm livestock movement.
30 January 2002 - Further relaxation of animal movement controls: 30-day standstill in respect of cattle and pigs no longer applies to farm holdings but rather to specific animals moved onto the farm. The 20-day standstill for sheep holdings where animals have been purchased is set to continue.
21 August - Reinstatement of on-farm sheep sales announced. These are in accordance with the appropriate movement license.
Additional information on food products
In relation to animal products DARD released a Press Release on June 7th 2002 [lxv] PERSONAL IMPORTS OF ANIMAL PRODUCTS FROM GREAT BRITAIN, THE CHANNEL ISLANDS, OTHER MEMBER STATES AND THIRD COUNTRIES, INCLUDING ADVICE TO FOOTBALL FANS TRAVELLING TO THE WORLD CUP. Press Release 173/02. June 7th 2002.
. It has been reproduced, in part, below:
"As the threat from Foot & Mouth Disease has now diminished, it has been decided to re-instate the various licences with immediate effect which brings us back into line with controls in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The licences are:
n DARD GEN 02/05 for milk and milk products for personal consumption covering all EC Member States, Great Britain, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands;
n DARD GEN 02/06 for fresh meat and meat products (including poultrymeat and poultrymeat products) for personal consumption in consignments of less than 10kgs covering all EC Member States, Great Britain, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands; and
n DARD GEN 02/07 for fully cooked meat and meat products (poultrymeat and poultrymeat products) in cans or other hermetically sealed containers in travellers luggage or in a postal packet from countries outside the EU i.e. Third countries.
It is illegal to bring food or plants into the UK from a non-EU country other than in accordance with the following controls. Limited exceptions are permitted for small amounts intended for personal use only (i.e. by the individual or their family or friends - goods brought into Northern Ireland under these exceptions should not be sold or used commercially in any way).
Fresh meat may not be brought into Northern Ireland from a non-EU country for personal use under any circumstances.
Permitted personal imports are:
n 1.0kg of meat cooked in a hermetically sealed container
n 1.0kg of fish
n 1.0kg of milk powder (from listed countries only)
n 2.0 kg of raw fruit or vegetables (not potatoes)
n 1 bouquet of cut flowers
n 5 retail packets of seeds (not potatoes)
and from the Euro-Mediterranean area only
n 2.0 kg of bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes
n 5 other plants
Regular checks are made by DARD Portal staff at ports and airports to ensure that travellers are complying with these limits. Consignments identified during Customs checks will be checked to ensure that they comply with the limits. Travellers exceeding these limits should declare and surrender material in the Red Channel at Customs. Failure to do so may result in confiscation of the material and prosecution".
Summary of the assessment of the communications processes by DARD
There were criticisms of the communications processes in the review by PwC which states that:
'It would appear that during the crisis, DARD's ability to keep not only the public and stakeholders involved, but also its own staff, was limited by the failure of DARD to have adequately planned and provided for the channels of communication which would be necessary during such an outbreak' (5.52 of PwC report).
Specifically these included:
n Insufficiently detailed or accurate maps being provided to DARD field staff
n Up-to-date databases of farmers and details of their holdings were not available. The report points out this is seen as a prerequisite to commencing culling procedure.
n Staff at the Local Epizootic Disease Control Centre (LEDCC) were sometimes not informed of changes in policy or made aware of updates on developments until Press Releases were issued or were informed by farmers making enquiries.
n DARD portal staff were also sometime informed of developments by television or the press.
n Information updates on the website took up to four days when the aim was to do this within 1 to 2 hours of policy change.
n Ad hoc nature of press conferences meant that events were reported as they happened and not all media outlets could attend.
During the course of the outbreak the Department hosted 32 press conferences, officials gave 490 interviews, and 140 press releases were issued. The majority of the press releases (99) were issued between March and May 2002.
The Press Office is applauded in the review for maintaining a good working relationship with the media, and the Chief Veterinary Officer and the Minister have been acknowledged for their personal leadership and communication skills throughout the outbreak.
[i] The Committee will, for the purposes of this Inquiry, define agri-business as businesses concerned with agricultural produce and services, together with rural tourism accommodation and activity products
[ii] The advice has also been sent to sheep and goat farmers who produce milk. The postal dispute may delay the distribution of this information. Full copies are available from www.foodstandards.gov.uk.
[iii] Cumbria, Devon, Northumberland.
[iv] Pharo, HJ (2002).Foot and Mouth disease: an assessment of risks facing New Zealand. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 50(2), 46-55.
[v] The Future of the European Meat Industry, 27th-28th September 2001
[vi] European Commission. Directorate-General for Agriculture. Prospects for Agricultural Markets 2001-2008. July 2001.
Reuters (Health) German Mad cow scare leads to halt in burger sales
[viii] Morgan, Nancy (2001). Repercussions of BSE on International Meat Trade. Global Market Analysis. Commodities and Trade Division. Food and Agriculture Organisation.
[xii] The Olsson Report on BSE.
[xiv] Referred to as Specified Risk Material and includes (in cattle in the UK): the entire head excluding the tongue, including the brains, eyes, trigeminal ganglia and tonsils; the thymus; the spleen and spinal cord of animals aged over six months; and the vertebral column, including dorsal root ganglia, of animals aged over thirty months.
[xv] European Community of Consumer Co-operatives whose members are the national organisations of consumer co-operatives in 11 of the 15 Member States of the EU and in 4 Central and Eastern European countries. Membership of these organisations accounts for approximately 21 million consumers.
[xvi] Steve Murrells, Tesco Stores Ltd. Retailers catering to the consumer. Future of the European Meat Industry, Brussels 27th/28th September.
[xvii] FT.Com. Japan's Snow Brand to close operations. 22/02/02
[xx] Hormones in Bovine Meat http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/health_consumer/library/press/press57_en.pdf
[xxi] EU Press Release. EU Standing Veterinary Committee agrees on suspension of imports of products of animal origin from China, 28/01/2002.
[xxvi] DARD. Vision for the future of the agri-food industry.
[xxvii] Minister Brid Rogers. Foreword: DARD Business Strategy Document-2002.
[xxviii] Fostering Consumer Protection Worldwide. 1985 The United Nations General Assembly Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
[xxix] Preface to Understanding the Codex Alimentarius. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations/World Health Organisation
[xxx] European Commission Press Release IP/01/1424. Commission approves 155m euro to fight animal diseases. Brussels 16 October 2001.
[xxxi] Commission of the European Communities. White Paper on Food Safety. Brussels 12th January 2000.
[xxxii] Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General. Fishcler and Byrne launch broad debate on food quality, safety and production. Brussels, 5th March 2001.
[xxxiii] The Commission adopted an amended proposal on 7th August 2001.
[xxxiv] Official Journal of the European Communities L31/1 Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28th January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority an laying down procedures in matters of food safety.
[xxxv] The European Food Authority - Its tasks (http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/efa/index_en.html)
[xxxvi] "Food Safety First set of farm-to-table food safety measures take effect. European Commission Press Release, Brussels 21st February 2002.
[xxxvii] Fischler and Byrne Final Round Table on Agriculture and Food. European Commission Press Release IP/02/700 ON 13/05/02.
[xxxviii] Dr. Franz FISCHLER Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries. Quality matters: A new focus for agricultural policy CIAA - European Food Summit 2002 Brussels, 12 April 2002
[xxxix] Animal welfare: Commission supports research into better conditions for animal breeding and better food quality. Eurpoean Commission Press Release DN: IP/02/612 Date: 24/04/2002
[xli] European Commission: Health and Consumer Protection Directorate- General. The welfare of animals during transport (details of horses, pigs, sheep and cattle). Report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare. Adopted 11 March 2002.
AGRANET. Irish fears over
live cattle trade. Friday
June 14th 2002. See
[xliii] First Open Meeting of Food Safety Consultative Council. Consumers and Industry Attitudes to Food Safety Revealed. Press Release, July 1st 2002.
[xlviii] UK experience spur to better FMD preparedness. Biosecurity Issue 35, May 1st 2002.
[liii] McKenzie, J.S., Morris, R.S., Tutty, C.J., Pfeiffer, D.U. EpiMAN-TB, a Decision Support System using Spatial Information for the Management of Tuberculosis in Cattle and Deer in New Zealand
[lvii] Donaldson, A.I (1983). Quantitative data on airborne FMD virus: its production, carriage and deposition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London (Series B), 302:529-33.
[lviii] Donaldson, A.I (1987). Foot and Mouth Disease: the Principal Features. Irish Veterinary Journal, 41: 325-327.
[lix] The Animal Health Safeguarding Review. Results and Recommendations October 2001.
[lx] Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Food and Mouth Strategy: Chapter 2
[lxi] Essentially this is any inanimate object that can carry disease-causing organisms
[lxii] See 2.10 of the review report.
[lxiii] Obtained form DARD 2/09/02
[lxiv] Obtained from the PwC review
[lxv] Personal imports of animal products from Great Britain, the Channel Islands, other Member States and Third Countries, including advice to football fans travelling to the World Cup. Press Release 173/02 June 7 2002
|Home| Today's Business| Questions | Official Report| Legislation| Site Map| Links| Feedback| Search|