Farming News March 22, 2001

"STOP this brutal slaughter now, and give us the vaccine.

This is the treacherous thought that more and more farmers must have been thinking, but not daring to articulate, over the past few days.

The farming press has been strangely and unanimously supportive of the cull so far, as the agricultural industry, like the dumb animals themselves, is led to the slaughter.

As an organic farmer, I am just as worried and just as susceptible to contact or airborne spread of foot and mouth as any other stock-keeper. I have never seen the disease and never wish to!

SMALL MINORITY

Now we are all vulnerable thanks to the worst practices of a small minority, the free world trade in pork, and inadequate regulators. The importation of diseased pig-meat, swill-fed and then rapidly spread by the absurd haulage journeys routinely inflicted on farm animals, have caused and then compounded our woes.

Unless MAFF is prepared to ban these practices, there is a real danger that this horrendous situation will reoccur. It is already likely that restrictions will have to remain in some areas for many months.

We are told by the chief vet that the two reasons for the cull are animal welfare and economics. This is a travesty, of the truth, and in fact, it is now wilfully wrong.

The futile, disgusting and potentially counter-productive slaughter policy is failing to control the outbreak and is causing immense suffering to farmers, their live stock and countless innocent civilians.

The funeral pyres are suspected by many to be spreading the disease, and logistical difficulties are overwhelming the organisational capacity of MAFF.

Infective carcasses are being left to rot for days in fields where their putrefying bodies attract foxes and birds which spread the disease further to rats and deer.

Moving these infected carcasses to the renderers will risk spreading the contagion even more.

The public is disgusted and further alienated from agriculture, while the Vegetarian Society deals with a record level of enquiries.

MAFF and the chief vet are blindly following a policy developed centuries ago without fully considering the changed circumstances. Long-distance movement of people, animals and foodstuffs has increased beyond calculation since the 1967 outbreak, and it is patently impossible to contain this virus in a single region, country or even continent.

Modern technology has developed a vaccine and 50 million doses are available, pending release by the European Commision, but it is presently illegal to use any prophylactic medication against foot and mouth. Although there are many variants of the virus, this particular 0 strain has been identified, the vaccine has been used in the past and is sufficiently effective to eliminate the disease again.

Dutch officials are preparing 1.25 million doses for despatch, and securing supplies of a further two million doses. The UK holds 50,000 doses and is eligible for a further five million doses that are held in the French city of Lyon. I want them now for my farm, and there are thousands like me!

The economics of slaughter have probably not been calculated for 20 years. The sums have surely changed. Farmers now rely on tourism and rural recreation for much of their income. The total value recently calculated at 12 billion a year dwarfs agricultural sums. The direct cost of the cull and lost sales has been estimated at 3bn.

The cull is indefensible and sickening, and to the benefit of very few traders and large multiple retailers. The cost of the vaccine is around l0p a dose, and two doses a year are likely to be necessary until the threat of the disease has dissipated. If it were possible to swiftly control the disease by slaughter, it is not remotely worth doing it any more like this.

Adult sheep show such slight symptoms that tens of thousands are presently harbouring the disease without showing noticeable ill effects. Cattle and pigs undoubtedly suffer to some extent, and anthropomorphic - descriptions usually compare the discomfort caused by the virus to a serious bout of the ‘flu. Should they be slaughtered for that? Even the worst scenarios only envisage five per cent mortality if the disease runs its course.

This disgusting medieval holocaust owes everything to prejudice and ignorance and is not worthy of 21st century society. The international trade it is supposed to protect is wholly to the disadvantage of UK agriculture anyway, as all the while the contaminated pig-meat we are supposedly not allowed to sell gets imported back here at less than our cost of production!

Localising food production and distribution systems will only have benefits for UK farmers, as we have one of the largest, most sophisticated, loyal and affluent consumer markets in the world right here!

Is it any wonder that farming is going down the pan and the countryside is in crisis when our leaders show so much greed and so little foresight?

TIME FOR A CHANGE

A new policy is desperately needed, and right now we also need a change of direction. Afterwards we need new personnel in the highest places who know something about making our agriculture a viable, and sustainable proposition, because the proposed Royal Commission will not make any progress if informed by the same sick establishment logic that shames us all now.

Some are saying that those of us who survive will enter a stronger market with better prices and chastened policymakers. Even if that is true, it is unlikely that any change will be radical enough to approach sustainability, but it should not take a tragedy like this to instil a modicum of common sense into the food industry.

More likely is that the vultures’ arm-lock grip on UK farmers will evolve into a neck lock, and progress towards better food and farm welfare could be set back a decade.

The sad truth is that the most progressive businesses will suffer the most, as they are the ones to have invested the most, and Nick Brown’s Royay Commission will not have viable industry to improve unless he calls up the vaccine and accepts that it’s the mea trade that is the problem."

Mark Houghton Brown is the sixth generation on the family run farm at Hindon, Salisbury, Wiltshire. The 1850-acre mixed farm carries 600 pedigree Lleyn and Wiltshire Horns, 80 sucklers and 200 sows, and has been fullyorganic for the past five years.