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Nick Brown MP, Agriculture Minister
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

DAVID FROST:

Well as we just heard in the news more and more outbreaks of foot and mouth disease have been sweeping the country and it now seems that the optimism earlier in the week when some were predicting the worst was over, that optimism may have been misplaced. Here to give us the very latest this morning is the Agriculture Minister himself, Nick Brown, good morning Nick.

NICK BROWN:

Good morning David.

DAVID FROST:

What is the exact situation, how many cases are we up to and how much worse is it than it looked earlier in the week?

NICK BROWN:

Well there are 139 cases including the one in Northern Ireland, the, the better news for us is that all of the cases so far, apart from the very latest ones on which work is still being done, trace back to the original outbreak, in other words this is disease that had spread and is contained, we haven't had outbreaks since the movement constrictions were put in place from new episodes.

DAVID FROST:

And this, Junior Minister in Ireland who says we had one case and we don't have any more and you had one case and now you've got a lot more, is there something they did that we didn't?

NICK BROWN:

No, I mean I can understand them being upset and angry, the livestock sector is very important to Ireland and I spoke to Joe Walsh about what we're doing and about their situation on Friday, the problem we have is that the disease had spread before it emerged, before we caught it, as soon as we realised what we had to deal with we put these movement restrictions in place and you'll remember at the time I was criticised for over-reacting and for being too tough, in fact what we've done is absolutely right, the cases that are emerging, particularly in sheep are much more than anyone would have wanted or hoped for but we've got them contained.

DAVID FROST:

But he says we've mishandled things, have we mishandled things?

NICK BROWN:

No I don't think, I don't think that's fair at all, you know I can understand people in other countries worrying for, you know for their own livestock industry, it's a terrible thing foot and mouth disease, but it isn't a fair charge, the correct way to deal with this is to put the movement restrictions in place, throughout Great Britain as we have done, and then as the disease, which is incubating, had already spread, emerges quarantine, containment and I'm afraid the animals have to be killed.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of the situation now, would you say the situation is under control, out of control or half-way between the two?

NICK BROWN:

No I'm absolutely certain we have it under control, I know the, the sights of the dead animals being burned is, is horrific and you know worries people, it's the correct policy to pursue.

DAVID FROST:

It's not an epidemic technically is it?

NICK BROWN:

No, no it isn't, what we're dealing with is a viral infection which had already spread and is incubating and the difficulty, the reason there's so much of it is of course it got into, into markets and then dispersed through the trade route, dealers and sheep movements primarily.

DAVID FROST:

And what about, we heard in the news there, what about this whole question of rendering, the number of dead carcasses is overwhelming us and so we're having to ship them around the country as we heard in the news? NICK BROWN:

It is not true that the government is overwhelmed by the number of animals that have to be killed, because the number is higher than anybody would have wanted, we're looking at a range of routes for disposal, we already have a contract with this rendering plant in Widnes as part of our over 30 months scheme to combat BSE and we've renegotiated the contract and are taking dead animals, killed as a result of foot and mouth disease, in sealed containers, you know there's no chance of them being exposed to anything on the way, under escort to the rendering plant where they're incinerated.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of people's fears, just to come back to that basic thing, there is no danger to human beings from eating meat that had foot and mouth?

NICK BROWN:

There's absolutely no danger to peopleż

DAVID FROST:

At all?

NICK BROWN:

At all in foot and mouth disease.

DAVID FROST:

And what about this story here, Nick, this morning, now our tourist industry faces ruin all because of farming, do you think that's a scare tactic?

NICK BROWN:

I think that's slightly unfair, clearly there is going to be an impact on the tourist industry but having an outbreak of foot and mouth disease and letting it run its course wouldn't help the tourist industry either. It's in everybody's interest, those who run tourist-based businesses and those who run farm-based businesses, to get the disease under control and eliminated. We do have it under control, we are eliminating it.

DAVID FROST:

And your Chief Veterinary Officer, Jim Scuddimore, said he was surprised by the scale of the crisis, he said "I have to say we've all been taken by surprise by the extent of the outbreak, it's a very rapid spread through the whole country"?

NICK BROWN:

I rely on Jim's advice and he's a first-rate man, he has my full backing. Like him I'm disappointed that so much of the disease had spread through movements, primarily sheep movements through livestock markets. I mean there appears to have been some residual infectivity in the market at Longtown which spread through trade the disease quite widely.

DAVID FROST:

Have you any more thoughts, Nick, at the moment about the value of vaccines in the future?

NICK BROWN:

Well I rely on professional advice, clearly Jim Scuddimore's advice, but also the views of the livestock industry themselves, I've spoken to Don Curry the Chairman of the Meat Livestock Commission and to Ben Gill President of the NFU, and to those who represent retailers and caterers about this and everybody is saying to me please minister do not use a vaccine, vaccination strategy, by far and away the best thing to do is what you are doing which is to get the disease quarantined, eliminated and get us back to our disease free status and then please minister keep it that way.

DAVID FROST:

And what about the lessons to be learned from all this, are there lessons to be learned from all this?

NICK BROWN:

Look I'm absolutely certain that when we review what has happened, as we intend to do there are going to be lessons to be learned, I want to take a hard look at our control measures, a hard, a hard look at the way in which the industry works, including feed practices. And also to look at whether there is anything in the modern supply chain that makes us more vulnerable to these episodes.

DAVID FROST:

And 139 cases you were saying, what should we expect to happen this week in terms of further cases?

NICK BROWN:

This is a biological phenomenon, it's not going to obey political instructions or mathematical laws, we cannot tell what is incubating out there, what we do know is that our movement restrictions with the cooperation of the public are working and that our strategy of quarantine and sadly slaughter is the correct strategy to pursue.

DAVID FROST:

Nick, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

NICK BROWN:

David, you're very welcome.

DAVID FROST:

A splendidly clear update on the current crisis.

END

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