July 29 02
Dear Mrs Beckett
Lessons to be Learned Inquiry final report
Although Dr Anderson has achieved a lot in a short time, and the report is far better and more critical of the Government's handling of the epidemic than expected, one central fact has been glossed over.
The scale of this epidemic was not unprecedented, it is the scale of the unnecessary slaughter that was unprecedented.
The Government's assumption that the epidemic was unprecedented and the culling of healthy animals was justified can not go unchallenged as it is the basis for justifying a change in legislation: namely the new Animal Health Bill.
It is perhaps surprising that Dr Anderson failed to establish that much of the slaughter was unnecessary; the explanation for this oversight lies in the data contained in the report. The data contained in the Lessons to be Learned Inquiry (LLI) report contains significant inaccuracies and it is incomplete: this data contradicts the data presented to the EFRA select committee and data I have received directly from JCC data analysis DEFRA and via Parliamentary questions. It is not mathematically possible for both sets of data to be correct. If the data in the LLI report is correct then I have been misled, the EFRA select committee have been misled and Parliament has been misled.( The precise inaccuracies are detailed in the attached report). Alternatively, Dr Anderson has been misled. If Dr Anderson has been misled then any of his conclusions regarding the scale of the epidemic and the culling policies adopted are not valid.
Scale of the epidemic ( Margaret Beckett 22/07/02)
"Even had everything been done perfectly by all those concerned to tackle the disease, the country would have had a major epidemic with massive consequences . . . many farmers, local people and government officials made heroic efforts to fight the disease and limit its effects. Through their efforts it was finally overcome and eradicated after 221 days, one day less than the epidemic of 1967-68."
Culling Policy - slaughter of millions of healthy animals ( Margaret Beckett 679 22/07/02)
' The hon. Gentleman will not have had time to go through the report. I understand and sympathise with the concern that leads him to talk about the unnecessary culling of so many healthy animals, but he will find when he looks at the report with more care that Dr. Anderson does not find that masses of unnecessary culling was carried out. As regards the contiguous cull-which he says was highly controversial-he identifies the reasons for that being carried out and considers whether the Government may need to have greater powers during another outbreak in different circumstances. ....... He discusses the possibility that on another occasion a pre-emptive cull could halt the disease in its tracks. I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes his point, but it is important that hon. Members do not get the impression that Dr. Anderson says that there was masses of unnecessary killing.' ( Margaret Beckett 679 22/07/02)
The fact is that from the published data that I have we can say that the scale of unnecessary slaughter in this epidemic was unprecedented:
10509 farms were slaughtered, but on less than 13% of these farms was laboratory evidence of foot and mouth disease found. Laboratory testing is accepted to be at least 90% accurate (IAH Pirbright).
in this epidemic of the truly infected farms visible signs of disease were found 4-7 days after exposure to the virus (Jim Scudamore EFRA select committee 21/03/01).
8226 premises thought to have been exposed to virus were culled as a precautionary measure, many of these farms were not laboratory tested, but delays in slaughter (due to lack of resources) were such that up to 95% of these farms were slaughtered 7 or more days after possible exposure to FMD virus.
We can therefore say with some certainty that by the time slaughter occurred on nearly 8000 farms if animals on these farms had been exposed to foot and mouth virus visible signs of disease would have been apparent. We can conclude that in this epidemic up to 5 million adult animals were slaughtered unnecessarily.
Dr Anderson did not address the scale of unnecessary slaughter mainly because the data he used was at best inaccurate and incomplete; at worst it had been manipulated so that Dr Anderson could only conclude that the scale of the epidemic was unprecedented and the pre-emptive cull was justified.
I will state again it is not mathematically possible for both sets of data to be correct: that is the data I have and the data used in LLI report. Further more the data your department has so far refused to publish or make available for research purposes ( namely the detailed data on individual infected premises held at Veterinary Laboratory Agency) almost certainly fills in most of the remaining uncertainties.
I sincerely hope you will reply to this letter. To answer this letter in full you need to:-
explain the discrepancy between the data in LLI report and the data from EFRA select committee, JCC data analysis department and the data from Holland.
provide accurate facts to justify the statements that this epidemic was unprecedented and the pre-emptive cull was justified.
Please do not patronise me with the usually standard responses such as : your points have been noted; a negative test result is not necessarily negative; this epidemic was unprecedented and/or we followed the advice of the scientists ( you did not follow the advice of the FMD experts).
The epidemic is over the Government should be able to justify its statements that the epidemic was unprecedented and the pre-emptive cull was justified using the actual epidemic data for this outbreak
If you can not find / will not provide the data to justify the latter statements we can conclude that: the scale of 2001 UK epidemic was not unprecedented; the pre-emptive culling policy resulted in the unnecessary slaughter of millions of healthy uninfected animals and the Government used its existing powers of slaughter very irresponsibly.
Under such circumstances it is inconceivable that any additional powers of slaughter are justified.
I sincerely hope you will respond to my letter with some urgency, in view of the fact that the Animal Health Bill will again be debated in the Lords after the recess. It is vital that those who oppose this draconian piece of legislation are given access to the truth.
Copies to: Peter Luff, Lord Willoughby de Broke, Mary Critchley.
David Curry, Colin Breed, David Lidington. EFRA select Committee members.