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FMD Review (Scotland) 2007

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1. The Foot and Mouth Disease ( FMD) outbreaks in Surrey during August and September 2007 occurred at the worst time of year for the Scottish Agriculture Industry. The safeguards put in place to halt potential disease spread caused major disruption to the movement and sale of cattle and sheep and to the exports of light lamb, all of which normally occur during this period. The impact of FMD outbreaks around 500 kilometres from the Scottish border was perceived by many as being disproportionate to the problem, especially during the second phase of disease in September 2007.
  2. This study was commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment to review the Scottish response to the FMD outbreaks in 2007 and to identify lessons learned for the future, particularly in terms of reducing the risk to Scotland and the associated economic disruption.
  3. The review found that there was widespread agreement that the Scottish Government handled the outbreak well and that their actions were in the best interests of the Scottish industry to ensure the return to normal conditions as quickly as possible. The dedication of staff in the Scottish Government and all the delivery partners who worked hard to minimise the impact in Scotland must be recognised.
  4. Equally, the vital role played by all stakeholders in attending meetings often at short notice, contributing to the discussions with government officials, providing their expertise and communicating with their members cannot be underestimated. The Scottish agricultural community as a whole should be commended for their role during this difficult period in working with government to reduce the risk to Scotland of disease incursion and spread.
  5. This review deals with the overall Scottish response to the outbreak and identifies a number of areas where improvements can be made. Chapter 2 provides the backdrop and contains information on the present structure of the Scottish livestock and meat industry along with details on the movements of livestock into, within and out of Scotland. The factors which contribute to the economic impact of the outbreak are also identified.
  6. The review concludes that Scotland remains part of the single Great Britain ( GB) epidemiological unit, a view endorsed by the majority of Scottish stakeholders. The structure of the industry and trade patterns confirms that Scottish agriculture is closely integrated into the United Kingdom ( UK) economy and cannot be seen as a separate entity. This involves movements of animal products for processing and packaging elsewhere in GB with the return of the products to Scotland for retail. At present processors and multiple retailers operate integrated systems with centralised processing and packaging and in many cases dispatch their products throughout the UK from a single UK distribution centre. Any disruption to the supply chain can have a major impact on Scottish producers and supply to Scottish retailers.
  7. Avoiding an export ban and reducing the effects of the national movement ban are the most effective ways of reducing the impact of an FMD outbreak. To avoid the export ban Scotland would have had to be treated differently to the rest of GB. This is unrealistic at present due to capacity constraints on slaughter, processing and packaging in Scotland and the complexity and levels of integration of the supply chains. Unless there is a change in the trading patterns within GB it is difficult to envisage how many of the potential options for regionalisation of Scotland would be economically viable or practical to administer.
  8. Regionalisation was recognised as important from the outset of the outbreak and is discussed in detail in Chapter 3. There was general confusion over the concept with an absence of basic factual or economic information on the impact of regionalisation. Consequently it was difficult for the Scottish Government and stakeholders to evaluate the most effective options to provide the best outcomes for the Scottish industry. The European Commission (the Commission) reacted quickly in lifting restrictions on animals and animal products in August and again for animal products in October. This eliminated the demands from producers for a specific Scottish regional approach although there were renewed calls for this approach in September when it seemed that FMD was confined to Surrey.
  9. Regionalisation must be clearly defined and all the implications understood before agreeing on such a policy in consultation with industry. A number of regionalisation scenarios need to be developed which involve the whole of the supply chain from producer to retailer. Cost/benefit analysis, full economic impact and veterinary risk assessments for each of the scenarios would be essential in order to build the requisite evidence base. This would enable the Scottish Government and stakeholders to evaluate the options and to agree a clear policy on regionalisation in the event of a future FMD outbreak. Such an approach could be applied to other regions of the UK/ GB.
  10. The long term objective in any FMD outbreak is to return GB to FMD free status as quickly as possible. In the shorter term the objective is to use regionalisation as a mechanism to minimise domestic disruption and allow as large a geographical area of GB as possible to return safely to normal trading. Dividing GB into different risk areas for national disease control purposes is one way in which the movement restrictions can be relaxed in a risk based manner.
  11. The review is clear that the size and boundaries of initial and subsequent risk areas should be determined not only by the epidemiology of the disease but should also take into account economics of the industry, internal trade patterns, supply chain issues and welfare of the animals. Although a veterinary assessment could classify areas as low risk it may be necessary to retain them in a high risk category to minimise the disruption to trade etc. This was the case in 2007 when Scotland remained in a similar risk category to most of England in order to minimise the disruption to internal trade and supply chains.
  12. As soon as FMD was confirmed in August and again in September the Scottish Government acted quickly and decisively to impose a national movement ban in line with their Contingency Plan. Stakeholders agreed unanimously that a national movement ban should be imposed throughout Scotland immediately FMD was confirmed anywhere in GB.
  13. Whilst all stakeholders supported the national movement ban, industry wanted swift relaxations based on risk assessment to enable licensed movements to recommence as soon as possible without jeopardising FMD safeguards. For those involved throughout the supply chain the uncertainty around possible relaxations was an issue. The lack of a timetable detailing the likely sequence and timing posed a problem for stakeholders attempting to plan ahead and take decisions to minimise disruption to their businesses. The longer the restrictions were in place the more the problems of husbandry, welfare, and economic pressures and constraints developed. The challenge was how to balance the prevention of FMD spread against resolving the problems caused on a daily basis by the movement restrictions.
  14. The relaxation of the national movement ban is dependent on many factors. These include the definition of risk areas within GB, the availability of a risk hierarchy for movements, up-to-date risk assessments for each type of movement and pre-prepared licences with appropriate conditions to minimise any risk of FMD spread. None of these were immediately available when FMD was confirmed in August 2007. The speed with which the ban was relaxed following the September outbreaks demonstrates the value of preparation as part of contingency planning to minimise the disruption caused by the national movement ban. A number of detailed proposals for improvements on disease strategy and movement controls are made in Chapter 4.
  15. The review recognises that the Scottish Government adopted a science based approach to the development of its policies for the control of FMD throughout the outbreaks in 2007. High quality and sound, objective veterinary and scientific advice was provided to the Scottish Government. This was instrumental in ensuring that clear evidence based decisions were made when dealing with the consequences of the outbreak. A number of important lessons were learned, especially the benefits of supporting a Scottish resource which was able to identify livestock movements and assess the risks of FMD entering and spreading within Scotland as a result of these movements.
  16. The availability of quality controlled and timely information on livestock movements remains critical for scientific analysis to support policy decisions on disease control strategies and for the re-commencement of livestock movements. Major improvements are required in the GB systems for recording livestock movements and ensuring the rapid release of that information for analysis. It is equally important to ensure that the Scottish Government retains access to the expertise necessary to undertake these types of analysis.
  17. The relationships between Scottish Government, UK Government Departments and the European Union ( EU) are described in Chapter 6. The relationships between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ( Defra) and the Scottish Government officials ran smoothly but there were a number of misunderstandings about the development of specific policies and over the timings for re-commencement of licensed movements.
  18. From a Scottish perspective devolution had a key role to play in this outbreak. Animal health and welfare policy is fully devolved to the Scottish Government. Provided there is compliance with the overarching EU legislation, alternative policies to those adopted in England and Wales can be developed and implemented in order to control FMD. Every effort was made on all sides to ensure that the FMD policies in England, Wales and Scotland were fully aligned but occasional differences led to friction between Scottish Government and Defra.
  19. There has been a perception in England that a number of the actions taken by the Scottish Government were purely for political reasons and not related to best scientific and veterinary advice. From the evidence available this does not appear to be the case. The Scottish Government took appropriate action based on the best veterinary and scientific advice available. This included the Scottish veterinary risk assessments relating to movements of livestock and the detailed risk assessment on movements to Scotland from the rest of GB. Indeed if the Scottish Government had failed to implement evidence based policies for the control of FMD quickly and effectively they would have lost credibility from their industry and electorate. As a consequence the Scottish Government was expected to play a dual role. This involved taking unilateral action to reduce the impact on Scottish agriculture as well as co-ordinating its response with the UK Government and other Devolved Administrations.
  20. A number of the misunderstandings arose as a result of the current arrangements for funding FMD control policies in Scotland as most of the budgets are held by Defra and spent on a GB-wide basis. With the devolution settlement it was agreed that Defra would pay for compensation and control measures associated with exotic disease outbreaks. However there was a lack of clarity in the Concordats on where responsibility for funding lay if the Scottish Government wished to pursue a policy of its own which was not agreed on a GB-wide basis. These arrangements were suitable in 1999 and worked well during the 2001 FMD outbreak. However, the continuing progress of devolution means that the present situation has been a potential cause of misunderstanding when developing and arranging funding for animal health and welfare policy.
  21. A number of improvements can be made to ensure that misunderstandings and in turn a degree of friction between Defra and the Scottish Government are avoided. An early review is required into the financial arrangements with the intention of transferring the budgets to the Scottish Government to implement its policies on the control of exotic diseases. In addition the budgets for other animal health and welfare activities such as BSE testing and for work undertaken by the Animal Health agency in Scotland could also be transferred from Defra to the Scottish Government. This would mean that in the event of an outbreak of FMD the Scottish Government would need to fund the implementation of policy from its own budget or if necessary approach the Treasury for additional funding from the contingency reserve.
  22. At the root of these issues are the outdated Concordats. These need to be reviewed and updated to take account of changed circumstances and then agreed between the Scottish Government and the relevant UK Government Departments.
  23. Two specific issues are discussed in Chapter 6 involving the Sheep Welfare Scheme and the derogation for drivers' hours, both of which caused friction between the Scottish Government and UK Government Departments. Each case arose as a consequence of the national movement ban and in future should be anticipated to ensure rapid resolution of the problems.
  24. The review endorses the views of stakeholders that communications during 2007 were handled effectively by the Scottish Government with major improvements since the outbreaks during 2001. The Stakeholder Group worked effectively with well structured meetings. Ministerial input was valued and the active role which the Cabinet Secretary adopted in dealing with stakeholders was well received. Lessons can still be learned with a need to continue the development of the Scottish Government's Exotic Diseases Communications Strategy and to consider methods of how best to reach all stakeholders, groups and interested individuals. The increased development and use of modern technology will go a long way to improve communications both within Scotland and with the rest of GB.
  25. The review recognises that all the delivery partners were effective, reliable and well co-ordinated. They all made important contributions to resolving any problems and enabling controls to be implemented quickly. Stakeholders considered that the delivery partners were well co-ordinated, although there were a number of areas for improvement.
  26. There were questions over resources and payment for services on one or two occasions. It is an anomaly that both the Animal Health agency and the Meat Hygiene Service are responsible for delivering the policies of the Scottish Government but in doing so are funded by Defra. As a result the customer/contractor relationship needs to be re-defined to ensure clarity over responsibility and funding. The current service level agreements between each of the agencies and the Scottish Government could be improved upon and renewed agreements are required. The budgets for the delivery of services should be transferred to the Scottish Government to ensure that they are fully responsible not only for the policy on exotic disease control but also for its delivery.
  27. The review endorses the view of officials and stakeholders that Scotland's FMD Contingency Plan (The Plan) was effective during the 2007 outbreak. However, the Plan only had a limited application and was not fully tested as the outbreak occurred outside of Scotland. The findings from a separate study commissioned as part of this review indicated that the Plan does not meet the fundamental principles required of a comprehensive national contingency plan for the strategic management of all aspects of a disease outbreak.
  28. The Plan must be revised to incorporate the specific lessons learned in 2007 in relation to pre-planning in order to minimise the impact of movement restrictions. In addition other lessons and the recommendations from the separate study commissioned by the Scottish Government on the Plan's efficacy should be incorporated into the Plan when it is revised. The Plan must become a comprehensive contingency plan for the control of FMD which is integrated with other contingency plans of the Scottish Government and its delivery partners.
  29. The review identifies a number of broad requirements which recognise that Scotland and the rest of GB are a single epidemiological unit with common interests in maintaining trade and integrated supply chains. Although the report is structured around chapters based on the terms of reference the overall conclusions and recommendations fall into the following five key areas:
  • Disease preparedness is critical and includes contingency planning, disease strategy and movement controls, and economic, scientific and veterinary advice;
  • Regionalisation although an important component of disease preparedness is treated as a separate topic in view of the importance to Scotland especially given the potential to minimise disruption in the event of an FMD outbreak;
  • Relationships between Scottish Government and the UK Government Departments must be based on up-to-date mutually agreed Concordats. These should clarify areas of responsibility and service delivery including funding arrangements;
  • Relationships with the EU and in particular the EU Commission are essential in order to promote Scotland's interests;
  • Communications with stakeholders are currently very good but improvements can be made especially in the use of technology and in ensuring full coverage to all interested individuals.

30. In order to reduce the risks to Scotland and minimise potential disruption a series recommendations are made. For ease of implementation these are numbered sequentially in the review and are placed into high, medium and low priority categories within the five key areas listed above.

31. In conclusion the FMD outbreak was handled well by the Scottish Government which reacted swiftly and in line with contingency planning arrangements. There are however a number of lessons which have been identified and improvements which can be made for the future in order to reduce the risk and minimise potential disruption to Scotland should FMD be confirmed anywhere in GB.