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Hilary Benn responds to review into handling of foot and mouth disease

Hilary Benn responds to review into handling of foot and mouth disease

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (75/08) issued by The Government News Network on 11 March 2008

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn today welcomed a report into last summer's Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak.

Foot and Mouth Disease 2007: A Review and Lessons Learned was written by Dr Iain Anderson, who carried out a review into the handling of the 2001 FMD outbreak.

It commends the Government's overall handling of the 2007 outbreak, stating that "many of the lessons identified in the 2002 report had been acted upon and performance, taken as a whole, was much improved." It concludes that "on balance, the positive easily outweighs the negative", but it does identify deficiencies that need to be addressed.

Responding in a written ministerial statement, Mr Benn said that the Government would carefully consider the report's recommendations and work with partners to decide what further steps were needed to ensure that we are as prepared as possible to prevent and control animal disease outbreaks in the future.

Thanking Dr Anderson and his team for their work, Mr Benn said:

"Many of Dr Anderson's recommendations encourage us to build on the improvements that have already been made; for example in strengthening communications, assessing and managing risk and exercising and testing contingency plans. I agree that even when things have gone well, we can always do better in future.

"As well as finding much progress compared to 2001, Dr Anderson's review also points to things that didn't go right and where further action is recommended.

"In relation to Pirbright and the Institute for Animal Health, we have already taken action. The Government accepted all of the recommendations in Sir Bill Callaghan's independent review of the regulatory framework for the handling of animal pathogens published in December 2007, including that responsibility for the regulation of animal pathogens should transfer to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

"Defra is working closely with the HSE and other departments, to implement all three phases of the work recommended by Sir Bill Callaghan. The formal legal transfer of SAPO enforcement and inspection responsibilities is well underway and is nearing completion.

"In addition, following the review of biosecurity at Pirbright conducted by Professor Brian Spratt in August 2007, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) asked Sir John Beringer to undertake a review of the governance, funding and risk management of the Institute for Animal Health. Sir John is due to report to the BBSRC in April 2008.

"We now know that when the decision was taken to lift restrictions on 8 September 2007 the FMD outbreak was not over. As Dr Anderson's report states, the decision was based on a risk assessment that took into account all available epidemiological and veterinary knowledge, and the requirements set down by the FMD Directive had been met. The mandatory 30 days without any further outbreaks had occurred and based on previous experience, there was no reason to expect any further outbreaks of the disease. The decision was taken with the agreement and participation of the European Commission and other Member States.

"I therefore believe that the decision taken at the time was appropriate in the light of what we then knew. We will however look carefully at how we communicate disease freedom, where there is always some degree of uncertainty, in future.

"A further area of concern raised in Dr Anderson's report was the performance of the information and data management systems that are needed during a disease outbreak. We have not made the progress we would have liked in this area despite considerable efforts. However, as part of Animal Health's Business Reform Programme a new information and data management system is being implemented. This will deliver improvements between now and 2011."

Mr Benn stressed that the fact that the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) has now officially declared that the UK has regained freedom from FMD without vaccination, was the result of co-operation and partnership between Defra, Animal Health and local authorities, in addition to delivery partners and the farming and food chain industries.

Mr Benn said:

"I would like to pay tribute to all of those organisations who gave their time and experience and were an integral part of the response to the disease.

"Farmers, as well as Government, are well placed to take effective action to prevent the spread of disease, and that is why we are continuing to work closely with the farming sector and others on responsibility and cost sharing.

"The aim is to ensure that both Government and others have contingency plans in place to deal with disease outbreaks."

He added that even when confined to a small number of infected premises in a limited geographical area, as in 2007, the impact of an FMD outbreak can be far-reaching on the livestock sector, the food chain and the wider community.

Notes to editors:

1. Foot and Mouth Disease 2007: A Review and Lessons Learned can be accessed at http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/fmdreview

2. Dr Anderson and his team were asked to conduct a review of the Government's handling of the FMD 2007 outbreak.

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