SECRETARY OF STATE'S OPENING STATEMENT TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT TEMPORARY
COMMITTEE ON FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE

THURSDAY 12 SEPTEMBER 2002


1. Thank you Mme Chair Redondo. Etc.

2. I am very grateful for the opportunity to join you today and to talk
about the issues arising from last year's Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak,
the lessons for the UK, and in particular for Europe as a whole. I would
particularly like to take the opportunity to express my genuine gratitude
for the help and support so readily offered throughout the outbreak by our
EU partners. It was much appreciated.

3. As you know, the UK Government felt it to be vital that this scrutiny and
consideration took place with all possible speed, especially as many British
farmers had been led to question the future path of UK agriculture.

4. We wanted to have a scrutiny that was visibly independent and thorough.
Given the range of issues involved we decided on a 3 strand process, each
with its own independent Chair or members and its own dedicated Secretariat.

5. We asked a Policy Commission, chaired by Sir Don Curry, to consider the
future path of UK agriculture.  They responded in January.

6. The Royal Society undertook an independent examination of how we might
prevent and combat future animal disease epidemics in the United Kingdom.
They also looked at other outbreaks such as that of classical swine fever.
That report was not confined to the FMD outbreak. They reported in July.
Dr. Ian Anderson studied the lessons he believes can be learned from last
year's outbreak and also reported in July.

7. The disease is a devastating and highly infectious animal disease, which
is feared and loathed across the world because of its impact and virulence.
In Britain alone, the experiences of the 1967 outbreak are a remembered
nightmare in many rural communities, but what hit us in February 2001 was,
as Dr. Anderson notes, due to a:

"rare set of circumstances.one of the worst epidemics of FMD the world has
ever seen. Numbers alone cannot capture the sense of what unfolded. The
great epidemic of 2001 left an indelible mark on communities, businesses and
people from all walks of life."

8. Dr. Anderson's report concentrates primarily on the early part of the
outbreak. It is a sombre and thoughtful document - measured in tone and
content, though unquestionably grave in its import. What is crucial to
future policy is that he makes a large number of strong recommendations,
most if not all, of which we will be able to accept. Indeed, many of them
suggest actions that the UK Government - while trying to avoid prejudging
his report-had already begun to address.

9. Dr. Anderson does identify what he regards as mistakes of strategy. I
think that it is right to say that many, if not all of those, the Government
already acknowledge. Where there may be room for disagreement is on how much
of that was evident either only, or at least primarily, with hindsight. For
example, on the issue of an immediate national ban on animal movements, Dr.
Anderson himself says in the report:
"Even today the SVS"-
the State Veterinary Service-
"believes it would not have had the justification or the support immediately
to introduce widespread restrictions".

10. Throughout the report the reader returns again and again to what was
known and to what was without precedent and consequently unanticipated. For
example, the report says:
"The disease could have been present at Burnside Farm for weeks, but it went
unreported, despite the requirement of farmers to report suspected cases of
notifiable diseases."

11. We now know in fact, and this has been reported to this Committee, that
there was virus present on at least 57 farms in 16 counties on the day that
the first case was confirmed, 20 February.  In giving evidence to the
Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in London, Dr Anderson
pointed out that no-one had thought of nor could have imagined that from the
very outset there would be at least 57 and perhaps more than the number we
can trace absolutely. He went on to say that that characteristic in itself
posed an enormous challenge.

12. As to the unknown origin of the first case, both inquiries stress the
importance of effective import controls to prevent exotic infectious disease
from entering the country. I know that this is an issue of considerable
interest to the Committee because import controls are fundamental to keeping
the disease out of Europe as a whole. In the UK, we have set in hand a
wide-ranging programme of action against the risks posed by illegal imports
of meat and animal products. A key element of this plan is a risk assessment
which will be used to inform decisions about the nature of risks from
imports, both personal and commercial, and where the critical points are for
taking action. But no matter what steps we take, both reports acknowledge
that it will never be possible to reduce the risk to zero. So necessary
measures must be in place to limit the risk that - should disease enter the
country - it will reach livestock and subsequently spread. Dr. Anderson
makes a number of recommendations on this issue. To take one of particular
relevance to the work of the Temporary Committee:

"The European Commission should lead a targeted risk based approach designed
to keep FMD out of EU Member States. The UK should work alongside other EU
Member States to highlight areas of greatest risk."

13. As I mentioned before, this is not just a UK issue. We will share the
results of our risk assessment with the rest of the EU and encourage
improved information gathering and sharing to tackle illicit trade. In
addition, we have been pressing since January 2001 for consideration of
personal imports at EU level being stopped. I am pleased to note that a
proposal for a new EU Commission Decision is now being discussed in Brussels
by the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health, with a view to
adoption in the autumn.

14. Dr Anderson was also able to dispel some of the myths which have arisen
about the fight against the disease, for instance, the welfare of animals
when they were culled for disease prevention purposes. Dr Anderson notes the
relatively low numbers of cases investigated by the Royal Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals show that "in the majority of cases an
unpleasant task was conducted effectively, often in very difficult
conditions". Indeed, all slaughtering was supervised by veterinary
inspectors and there is no substantiated evidence of welfare violations or
of inadequately trained staff involved in slaughtering. We worked closely
with the animal welfare groups throughout the crisis and fully investigated
any allegations of mistreatment. And of course when welfare concerns were
raised because animals without disease could not be moved or not properly
housed or fed where they were, there was a scheme of scheme of last resort.

15. We see a key need for strengthened Community involvement in research
into exotic diseases of farm animals.  Infectious diseases are self
evidently no respecters of national borders.  They can create risks for all
our rural communities, our livestock industries and the safety and security
of the food chain.  We must do more to invest in research and co-ordinate
those efforts.  The potential vehicle here could be   the EU's Framework
Programme.  This has proved successful in moving forward EU research - for
example on TSEs, since 1996. We are urging the Commission to get its
Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) fully engaged in devising
and developing EU research needs for infectious and especially exotic
diseases.  I hope that the Committee will consider supporting this.

16. Both reports also highlight the importance of contingency planning. Dr.
Anderson examines the pre-existing contingency plan, which was followed, but
demonstrates that, though it met the international standards then expected -
the European Commission judged the UK's readiness for disease outbreak among
the best in Europe - we can see, certainly with hindsight, its deficiencies.
As the Committee know, the European Commission takes the view that it cannot
be reasonably expected from any Member State to design a contingency plan
for the event of an epidemic causing more outbreaks than the 10 year's
estimate for the whole community.

17. While awaiting the reports of the inquiries, the Government had already
published a draft interim contingency plan and invited our stakeholders and
operational partners to comment. We are now reviewing it comprehensively in
the light of the inquiries' recommendations for regular updating, further
involvement of stakeholders and rehearsals. We are keen to involve the full
range of stakeholders not only in this planning but also the development of
the animal health and welfare strategy which we have in hand. By
stakeholders, we mean a full range of organisations and bodies, not only
partners such as the local authorities and the farming and food industry but
also consumers together with the wider rural community, to ensure that all
interests have a chance to contribute. We accept the Inquiries' view that we
need to fully explain our policies to all concerned. This might help us to
avoid controversy over such measures as the contiguous and 3 km cull which
as you will have become aware during your visits to Britain attracted much
criticism. Although perfectly legal, as was confirmed by our national
courts, and fully in line with EU legislation, we need to ensure that the
wider community understands the need for any such policies used to combat
disease.

18. Another key issue for this Committee and one that has drawn much comment
and debate is the contentious issue of vaccination.  Again, both the
Anderson and Follett Inquiries have made recommendations, and interestingly
their recommendations are very much in line with the conclusions from the
EU's own FMD Conference last December.  Both Inquiries recommend that - as
we did in 2001 - the option of vaccination forms part of any future strategy
for the control of FMD.  Also in common with the EU Conference conclusions,
the Inquiries favour emergency vaccination, rather than routine vaccination,
with a preference for "vaccination to live".  The Inquiries recognise that
this requires a consensus on vaccination options ahead of the next outbreak,
for example on acceptance of meat and products from vaccinated animals
entering the food chain.

19. There are also a range of regulatory and technical issues on vaccination
covered by the Royal Society report, which are best addressed at both EU and
international level.  The need in particular, for validation of tests which
can discriminate between infected and vaccinated animals is just one issue
which is of interest to every Member State.  And - bearing in mind the
recommendations in the Royal Society Report -  the EU will no doubt wish to
re-examine its vaccine banks to ensure that they hold antigens that are
suitable for "vaccination to live".  I hope that the revised EU Directive on
FMD to be tabled by the Commission will reflect this emerging consensus
about the future role of vaccination in dealing with future FMD outbreaks.

20. To summarise, Dr Anderson's inquiry report makes many criticisms and
addresses many concerns. It accepts, however, that all those involved did
their level best to deal with a crisis of unprecedented importance. It makes
criticisms that are accepted. Both it and the report of the Royal Society
make recommendations on which we will act. Above all, it fulfils its remit -
it gives us the basis on which to learn lessons, and learn lessons we fully
intend to do. And we intend to collaborate fully with our European partners
to apply the lessons learned more widely in the hope that never again will
any Member State within the Community suffer the appalling consequences of
such an epidemic.

21. Mme Chairman, I look forward to the report of your Committee and thank
you again for the opportunity to address it.