Committee of Public Accounts


Press Notice No. 9 of Session 2005-06, dated 1 November 2005


NINTH REPORT: FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE: APPLYING THE LESSONS (HC 563)

Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"That there had been a prodigious waste of taxpayers' money involved in tackling Foot and Mouth in 2001 was amply confirmed when the European Commission quashed nearly two-thirds of the UK's claim of £960 million for reimbursement of the costs of the outbreak. What is entirely unacceptable is that, if another outbreak were to occur tomorrow, the taxpayer would end up shouldering the bill once again. DEFRA must not delay in taking forward proposals to transfer part or all of the cost of future disease outbreaks to the industry.

"This is not to say that DEFRA has not taken action on previous recommendations by this Committee. Most have been implemented and the Department is better prepared today than it was four years ago for an outbreak. But it is vital that it complete the good work already done on its contingency plans and improve the IT needed to support disease control operations.

"The 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth was a painful experience for this country and the importance of applying the lessons learnt without delay to other animal diseases is becoming all too clear in the light of the current threat of bird flu."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 9th Report of this Session, which examined the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' progress in controlling and sharing the costs of a further outbreak, preparedness for a future epidemic and disease control options such as vaccination and culling.

Implementation of previous recommendations

The net cost of the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic to the taxpayer was approximately £2.7 billion (gross cost £3 billion). The epidemic was one of the largest and most costly animal disease outbreaks ever recorded, with at least six million animals slaughtered. The European Commission disallowed £610 million of the UK's claim of £960 million for reimbursement of the costs of the outbreak. Our predecessors reported on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' ("the Department") handling of the 2001 outbreak in its Report published in March 2003.

The Department has made good progress in implementing most of our predecessor Committee's recommendations. In particular, the Department has:

• improved its animal health policies to reduce the risk of a further outbreak;

• strengthened its preparedness through enhanced contingency planning, by increasing the number of veterinarians and other resources needed to handle an outbreak, and by banning some animal feeds and limiting animal movements to prevent rapid spread of the disease;

• clarified its approach to the use of vaccinations in any future outbreak;

• tightened its procedures for valuing commercial animals.

Further action is required, however, in two key areas.

Controlling the cost of a future outbreak

Procedures for valuing pedigree and high value stock continue to rely solely on valuer judgement. The reasonableness of completed assessments should be validated by comparison to other relevant documentation such as original purchase price, and valuations should be benchmarked for consistency and fairness.

The Department has yet to complete discussions with the industry about a proposed animal disease levy through which parties would share the cost and responsibility for dealing with future outbreaks. A levy system which linked contributions to standards of biosecurity could benefit the sector as well as the taxpayer. Additionally, the Department has yet to resolve whether the cost of disinfection and cleaning should be funded by the taxpayer, by the industry or be shared.

Managing future outbreaks

The Department's and other parties' contingency plans, such as those of local authorities, need to be current and consistent to facilitate co-ordination and co-operation in a future outbreak. To reduce the risk of future outbreaks, farmers' compliance with animal health standards should be subject to enhanced scrutiny on a risk assessment basis. The Department should establish adequate Information Technology systems to assist in the management of future disease outbreaks.

On the basis of a further Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, our predecessors took evidence from the Department on its progress in controlling and sharing the costs of a further outbreak, preparedness for a future epidemic, and disease control options such as vaccination and culling.


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