Saturday, 4 August 2007

Foot and Mouth Returns to the UK

An outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease has been discovered on a Surrey farm close to Wanborough. Sixty animals at the farm tested positive and they have been slaughtered. Gordon Brown, in an interview for Radio4, said that the mistakes of the previous outbreak in 2001, would not be repeated. In 2001, it took days after the first reported outbreak for there to be a ban placed on the movement of all cloven-hoofed animals in England and Wales. Scottish countryside is still, "open," but farmers are being asked to be vigilant.

Foot and Mouth disease is highly contagious and can be spread by direct contact with an infected animal, by contact with foodstuff or it can be airborne. For this reason,
a 3km protection zone has been put in place around the Surrey farm. There is also a 10km surveillance zone where nearby animals are monitored, as well as an 8km air exclusion zone around the site.

Foot and Mouth disease is rarely fatal for adult animals. It does have serious economic implications for farming and for tourism. In the 2001 outbreak, the worst hit area was Cumbria, where there were over 800 cases of the disease found. There were severe restrictions on access to the countryside, which had huge effects on the Lake District where tourism is a very important industry.

By the time the outbreak had been halted, over 7 million animals had been slaughtered and the cost to Britain was estimated at over £8bn.

Wikipedia 2001 UK Foot and Mouth Crisis

With vaccines, introduced in 1938, and sanitary controls, foot-and-mouth disease has been excluded or eliminated from North and Central America, Australia and New Zealand , Japan, and Ireland. One of the biggest problems with vaccination is that there are at least seven strains of the virus, and vaccination is specific to particular strains. Also, countries which are FMD free without vaccination have the greatest access to export markets and so, many countries like Canada, the USA and Britain attempt to maintain their FMD free without vaccination status.

Because FMD rarely infects humans but spreads rapidly among animals, it is a much greater threat to the agriculture industry than to human health. Farmers around the world can lose huge amounts of money during a foot-and-mouth epidemic, when large numbers of animals are destroyed and revenues from milk and meat production go down."

So, we've had the floods in Britain and now comes the pestilence! Not a good year for British tourism, really; first the rain and now possibly no-go areas in some of the most popular areas for visitors.

The scenes during the 2001 outbreak of FMD are still vivid in the memory. Rural Britain took on a totally uncharacteristic nature. The fields were empty. Driving through countryside where you would have expected to see cattle in the fields and sheep on the hillsides, there was not an animal in sight. Thick, acrid smoke drifting across the fields and roads was choking reminder of what had happened to all those animals. Sheep and cattle were killed, then heaped into enormous piles in the fields, doused with accelerant and incinerated. It was thought by many that the fumes from the pyres contained toxic gases.

I don't think my diet will be affected by the restrictions on the movement of cattle and other farm animals. The lack of animals going to market and then to the slaughterhouses will not make any difference to me, since I have been vegetarian for many years. I do feel sad about the possibility of the culling of thousands of animals, or even millions, as in the 2001 outbreak, the empty fields and the burning of the bodies. Just over 2,000 animals tested positive for FMD in 2001, yet over 7 million were slaughtered. It's about economics, of course, since there have been very few recorded cases world-wide, of humans being affected by FMD. Apparently the virus is killed off by stomach acid in humans.

Perhaps if there is no plan to change intensive farming methods, and let's face it, intensive farming is here to stay, the British government should be considering a vaccination programme. There are definite problems with a vaccination programme; identifying the strains of the virus, having less access to export markets, but surely the cost to animal life and to the livelihood of people who work in farming, tourism and associated industries, would render this a very good option.