» Thursday, September 13, 2007

Foot and Mouth outbreak

Asked if there would be an investigation into why the all clear was given, the PMS replied that as the Chief Vet had made clear, the decision on the all clear was taken on the basis of her scientific judgement. All surveillance and testing within the previous surveillance zone had been negative. The Chief Vet said last Friday that a large number of samples, over 8,000, had been taken from animals in the surveillance zone by a team over the last 2 weeks. On top of that, the tracing of animals that had left Surrey in the risk period, for other parts of the country, was also complete. All of the animals that had been examined were healthy. All of the samples had been tested and were negative for Foot & Mouth disease. Various independent experts had been discussing this this morning – Professor Brian Spratt of Imperial College said that he thought it was right to lift the restrictions, and Professor Hugh Pennington said that he did not think that the Government had any other choice. So this was a decision that was made on the basis of scientific evidence, it was a decision made by the Chief Vet, and if was a decision that was supported by the academic experts.

Put that people were asking why, when Professor Spratt has also said that the incubation period could last up to 50 hours, the PMS replied that Professor Spratt raised a number of possibilities in his report, but in his comments this morning he said that he thought it was right to lift the restrictions.

Asked to respond to David Cameron’s suggestion that political pressure was put on the Chief Vet, the PMS replied that Hilary Benn had made the Government’s position completely clear this morning, that there was absolutely no truth in that whatsoever.

Asked for further information on the strain of the disease, the PMS replied that there was no further information on the strain. As the Prime Minister had said yesterday, intensive testing was underway, and in advance of that it would certainly be unwise for him to speculate on hypotheses.

After if the Prime Minister had spoken to any of his European counterparts on this, and whether any had expressed concern, the PMS replied that there had been contact between the Government and the European Commission on this matter, but the Government has no difficulty with any action taken by the European Commission.

Asked who was present at COBRA and whether there would be any test results out later today, the PMS replied that it was possible that there would be further test results during the course of the day, as the Chief Vet had said yesterday. This morning’s meeting was a Ministerial meeting of COBRA, chaired by the Prime Minister, and included Hilary Benn, the Chief Veterinary Officer, and other key experts.

Asked if there had been any contact between the Prime Minister and the first Minister on this, the PMS replied that at yesterday’s COBRA the Scottish and Welsh Executives were involved, down the line.

Asked if Foot & Mouth had been ruled out in the Norfolk case yet, the PMS replied that there were tests ongoing, and a temporary control zone has been imposed. At this point we were not able to rule anything out until those tests were in, but it was not unusual, as we saw last time, for reported cases to emerge, and for them subsequently to be proved to be negative. That was the nature of the precautionary approach we were taking. Given that the Chief Vet was encouraging farmers to come forward and report any suspicions, it was not surprising that these things were happening. We would await further test results on that, but it was a pattern we saw last time.

Asked if it would be prudent in light of this outbreak to wait longer in the future before lifting moving restrictions, the PMS replied that the key thing for the Prime Minister was that whatever action we take is taken on the best scientific advice, and the best expert advice, and that was the approach he would take.

Asked if we would be happy if experts recommended lifting the ban at the same sort of periods, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was not going to second guess expert and scientific opinion.

Asked if there had been any discussion over the longer term for perhaps relocating the Pirbright laboratory, the PMS replied that clearly this was a very long term decision. It was best to check what the Spratt report, and the HSE report said about that.

Put that the time had come for the Government to apologise over Pirbright, the PMS replied that the Government had said in relation to the Pirbright outbreak, that just as we had learnt the lessons in 2001, so we would also learn any lessons from this most recent outbreak. Effluent releases from Pirbright were identified as the most likely source of the problem, but as Professor Spratt said in his report "I have to say this is not definitive – there is not absolute evidence that this is what occurred". But he did say this was the most likely source of the trouble at Pirbright, the leakage of the effluent system and surface contamination of the soil. So there was still an element of uncertainty, as is the nature of these things, and as was acknowledged in the HSE and Spratt report in relation to the initial outbreak.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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