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Read Oral Evidence in full

Angela Browning questions Sir Brian Bender

Q19 Mrs Browning: Sir Brian, this outbreak has cost 3 billion of which 1.4 billion has been the cost of the animals which were culled during the outbreak. For those of us who represent rural seats, such as mine in Devon, we all know that there is a somewhat more unquantifiable cost in terms of what this did to the farming community. Could I draw your attention to page 14, which is right at the beginning of the report. Could I ask you, first, do you think Defra could have been prevented this outbreak?

Sir Brian Bender: Prevented the outbreak in 2001, no. The risk of diseased meat getting into the country can never be reduced to zero. We believe that we have improved control since then. The risk of the diseased meat reaching animals, acceptable species, can never be reduced to zero but through things like the swill controls we believe we have reduced that risk significantly. The risk of the disease being in a herd and spreading depends on the biosecurity of farmers and also some of the controls we have introduced, such as six day standstill. We believe we have seriously reduced the risks but I do not think in 2001 we could have prevented it. I think it would be extremely brave for me to sit before this Committee and say, "We would prevent any outbreak in the future".

Q20 Mrs Browning: Could you just refamiliarise yourself with paragraph 2.3 which sets out the genesis of the lamb imported from Argentina coming in and its inclusion in pigswill. It says here "...the failure of a farmer to heat-treat the swill to inactivate the virus. The feeding of swill to pigs was rare in 2001 and since May 2001 has been banned. Farms are subject to a range of inspections both by the Department and local authorities." Sir Brian, are you aware that Bobby Waugh, whose farm was identified as the index case for foot and mouth in 2001, was contravening Article 21(2) of the Animal Byproducts Order 1999 at Burnside Farm?

Sir Brian Bender: I am conscious that there were issues around what was going on on his farm and, indeed, there were periodic visits and inspections of his farm. The most recent inspection, which was in January 2001, happened to be before we believe there was any virus present but I do not think that was your question. The question was whether presumably there was anything that should have been done at the time of that or previous visits.

Q21 Mrs Browning: Yes?

Sir Brian Bender: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I do not know whether the Chief Vet would like to comment on this?

Dr Reynolds: Only to say that hindsight is a wonderful thing and risk assessment by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency does show a great deal of uncertainty on the potential for both illegal imports of meat and particularly around those which might be infected. That is why the swill feeding route of exposure, particularly to pigs which could get the virus so seriously, was a very important step that was taken during 2001.

Q22 Mrs Browning: It was not just as it says here, and as I have seen reported elsewhere, the feeding of this unprocessed swill to pigs, it was the very fact that under your Ministry's own Article 21(2) of the Animal Byproducts Order, it was not just a question of feeding, it was a matter of having unprocessed waste on the premises at all where pigs and other ruminants are kept.

Sir Brian Bender: There are plainly issues about how effectively, first of all, farmers who have a responsibility themselves obey the law and, secondly, how effectively our risk based inspection arrangements are. We believe they are better now as a result of various bits of data but undoubtedly in a perfect world this would not have happened because the issues would have been spotted.

Q23 Mrs Browning: Are you aware that the State Veterinary Officer, Jim Dring, made a signed submission to the Anderson's Lessons Learned Inquiry in which he admits that he was aware that Mr Bobbie Waugh was bringing unprocessed catering waste on to Burnside Farm prior to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001?

Sir Brian Bender: I am very aware of that. It was not a submission to the Anderson Inquiry but he did produce a personal statement. In fact, there has been some discussion with Dr Anderson because Dr Anderson did not see that at the time. Nonetheless, Jim Dring did make such a statement and again he was applying, if you like, personal hindsight to the situation. Obviously what happened is regrettable. In a perfect world perhaps this issue would have been spotted and a disease outbreak would not have happened. The question is how we can learn the lessons from that for our inspection arrangements which are shared between the State Veterinary Service and local authorities to try and stop that happening in future.

Q24 Mrs Browning: It would have been a requirement to inspect every six months to renew an Article 26 licence on Burnside Farm?

Sir Brian Bender: Yes.

Mr Hewitt: For feeders of swill it was a six month inspection.

Q25 Mrs Browning: Yes. What I would ask you then is do you accept now that Jim Dring failed to fulfil his regulatory duties under the Animal Byproducts Order 1999 by allowing Bobby Waugh not just to feed the unprocessed swill to his pigs but by bringing unprocessed catering waste on to Burnside Farm at all?

Sir Brian Bender: I am very happy to provide the Committee with a note on that. I have not come prepared with sufficient, to be fair either to Mrs Browning asking the question or, indeed, to Mr Dring in the way I respond to it. I am very happy to provide the Committee with a note afterwards. I apologise for not being able to answer it now.

Q26 Mrs Browning: If you are unable to answer it now and you write to us, would you take a look also at whether you think it was down to Mr Dring personally, who clearly made that written statement to the Anderson Inquiry? I am very focused on this Byproducts Order because it is not just, as people tend to talk about, feeding to pigs, it is the actual presence of catering waste on the farm at all which was in contravention of the Order. I would ask you whether you accept that there was negligence within the management structure of the State Veterinary Service which allowed Mr Dring's work to go unmonitored?

Sir Brian Bender: I understand the question, I will cover this in the note.

Q27 Mrs Browning: Will you let us know whether you accept that the SVS accept responsibility for Mr Dring's actions?

Sir Brian Bender: I will cover that. The SVS then and now certainly would accept responsibility. That is the role of managers.

Q28 Mrs Browning: That will be clear in your written note?

Sir Brian Bender: I will cover this point and look carefully at the transcript.

Q29 Mrs Browning: The reason I am very focused on this - you will be aware that there have been many parliamentary questions, of which I myself have put down questions and correspondence with ministers on this - it comes back to the question I asked you originally whether you felt Defra could have prevented this. Yes, we are talking about lessons learned, and I come back to that paragraph 2.3 at the beginning of this where it states "... The feeding of swill to pigs was rare in 2001...". That may well be the case but it was not just the feeding of swill, it was the presence of that catering waste in contravention of a Defra regulation. What I am really asking you is if Defra had managed to uphold its own regulations could they have prevented the foot and mouth outbreak occurring?

Sir Brian Bender: Again, I will cover this in the note, my view is in a perfect world that may have been the case. The question looking forward is whether through a combination of the work we are doing on biosecurity, on targeted risk of enforcement and on farm health plans, we will minimise these risks in the future because one can never reduce them to zero, we do not live in that sort of perfect world.

Mrs Browning: It may not be a perfect world, Sir Brian, but personally I sat through a two year public inquiry and I have to tell you nobody ever prayed in aid "it is not a perfect world" when they investigated BSE. I hope you will take that on board when you make your written submission to the Chairman. Thank you.