Daniel Kawczynski: The Chief Veterinary Officer has failed to hold the Government to account on biosecurity
The Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 devastated the livelihoods of many Shropshire farmers and caused untold damage to the economic prosperity of Shropshire.
When we heard of the latest Foot and Mouth outbreak, many of us in Shropshire held our breath in fear and anticipation as to what damage could potentially be wrought on our county again.
Although we all feel desperately sorry for the farmers affected, there has been a huge sense of relief that the latest outbreak has apparently been confined to Surrey and has not spread throughout the country. The media have been focusing very much on the Prime Minister's handling of the crisis, concentrating on how he has cut his holiday short to deal with the crisis personally. What they are guilty of, as are some of the leading national experts, is not properly assessing the serious biosecurity issues that have led to this latest outbreak.
One person who has been repeatedly interviewed by the BBC is the Chief Veterinary Officer, Mrs Debby Reynolds. We have watched her on countless occasions over the last days being interviewed on this new outbreak.
She has not once publicly challenged the Government over their lack of biosecurity arrangements at the facilities at Pirbright. Given the fact what they are dealing with is lethal, one would presume that the security measures put in place would be similar to those of a nuclear power station. I must challenge Mrs Reynolds as to why she has not been far more critical of the Government's lack of preparation and investment in ensuring that such a facility has maximum biosecurity. Why has she not publicly demanded a full public enquiry into the matter?
What concerns me as a democrat is Mrs Reynolds' apparent caution in criticising the Government - so typical of modern day political appointees who do not appear to want to rock the boat and challenge their political masters. In a healthy democracy people who are appointed to such important positions such as Mrs Reynolds should be free to challenge their political masters publicly and indeed should be encouraged to do so. As leading professionals they are in a good position to scrutinise and challenge political propaganda. In a democracy politicians need to be held to account and I very much hope Mrs Reynolds will be challenging the Government in a more robust way over this latest crisis.
DEFRA have confirmed that the virus is the same one that caused the 1967 outbreak and the only place in the world it is to be found is at Pirbright, therefore they should simply admit that this was indeed the source of the escape. Then it is a question of deciding the most appropriate course of action: should production at Pirbright be suspended while full investigations are carried out into the causes of the escape and the means of ensuring there is no repeat of the lapse? This is not immediately obvious, as we need to know what levels of vaccine are currently in stock to tackle this, or any future, outbreak of Foot and Mouth. I would hope that this country does hold good stocks of vaccine, in which case suspension of production at Pirbright is appropriate, while security at the establishment and on a national basis is thoroughly investigated. We also need to review the potential benefits of stopping production altogether in this country and importing the vaccines needed instead, if we cannot guarantee that further leakages will not occur. The last Foot and Mouth outbreak cost this country £8 billion: we cannot afford a repeat of this.
The Government's lack of biosecurity precautions have led to this outbreak. They have done their best to contain it this time, but are still entirely guilty in this matter.
The Chief Vet has not raised any of these points publicly and that is why I believe she has failed in her duties.