20 March 2001
Disease control – there must be a better way

FOOT-AND-MOUTH is now out of control, whatever MAFF may pretends.

Thousands of animals are being slaughtered and burned and hundreds of farmers face the destruction of their livelihoods as years of careful stock management and breeding end in a bonfire.

If outbreaks continue at the present rate, not only will farmers suffer, but thousands of small businesses across the West Country will be destroyed as visitors find there is nowhere to go: coastal paths, many beaches and tourist attractions have been forced to close.

The only winners are the supermarkets: while home-grown animals burn, they force down prices to farmers through their stranglehold on the abattoirs and import cheap meat from abroad.

Their profits will not suffer, but the rest of us will unless a better answer is found.

Foot-and-mouth has been endemic in this country for hundreds of years and there were at least five outbreaks during the last century, three of which resulted in country-wide mass slaughter.

We must ask, why has more research not been done? Why is there no cure yet available? Is intensive farming a contributory factor?

But apportioning blame is unhelpful: there must be a better way to handle this crisis than killing everything with four legs and hoping for the best.

Given that the virus travels on the wind, it is obvious that the prevailing south-westerlies will quickly spread it across the country and that disinfectant mats are therefore almost useless.

Spraying the entire country with a toxic antidote is clearly impractical and would pose other dangers. Vaccines exist, but MAFF is reluctant to use them for reasons they have failed to make clear.

Perhaps the answer is to do nothing: let the disease take its course and learn to live with the fact that we simply cannot totally eradicate it.

It surely cannot be beyond us to develop non-toxic treatments for animals that do succumb, considering that most will recover of their own accord in a few weeks without treatment.

Whichever course we follow, hard decisions must be taken quickly, before the entire local economy of the West Country is brought to its knees.
Philip Chandler, Director, Wholesome Food Association www.wfa.org.uk
totnes@onetel.net.uk