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Why foot-and-mouth disease plagues Britain

BRITAIN has suffered the worst epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in its history. England's Financial Times describes it as "the worst disaster of any kind to have befallen the farming community in living memory."

"It's just like the war," commented one farmer recently on a TV program. "We don't know what is going to happen next."


Living in a State of Siege

Many hundreds of farmers and their families are living today in a state of siege, hoping to stop the spread of the dreaded disease to their animals. Others, because the disease has already been confirmed on their farms, live in complete isolation. All deliveries are left at the farm entrance. No one on these farms is allowed out, no outsider in. Their only contact with the outside world is by telephone.

Children stay away from school. Local functions are cancelled. Farm markets are empty. Village life in the areas affected has virtually come to a standstill. One farmer said to us, "It's almost a relief when it is confirmed on your own farm — there is no more uncertainty."


Personal Loss

Travelling through some of the areas affected, one is struck by the "quietness" in the air.

A red, stark, notice catches the eye: "Foot-and-Mouth Disease. You are now entering an infected area."

Across the road lay a "pad" of heavily disinfected straw. All cars, entering or leaving, cross this "front line" in the battle against the disease.

You pass a farm. Another red sign on the gate. This seemed to stand out more — here is a personal loss.

"Foot-and-Mouth Disease. No Admittance."

The only movements were from a few sparrows flying around. No lowing of cattle. No bleating of sheep. Not even the bark of a dog. Only a deathly hush prevailed. The whole farm seemed deserted, but the family was around somewhere.

Here were some acres which a few days previously had been full of life — now everything was different!

Barn and stall doors stood open; some slightly creaking in the wind, as if moaning the loss. The drying-out process begins — and the long wait before restocking — a wait of six months, or more, in some cases.

At another farm a lone horse raises his head and walks towards the road as one drives by — almost as though he too feels lonely and wants some companionship.

Two fields away from the horse (unaffected by the disease) was a great mound of earth about six feet high and 50 yards long. This was a telltale sign without looking for any notice! Another mass burial.

Stopping the car by the roadside you see three huge lorries full of solid fuel pass by. "There's someone who likes to save by buying in quantity," you think?

About a mile along the road they stop.

In front of the lorries a bulldozer was being unloaded. No questions had to be asked! A policeman stood by the gate. Men were dressing themselves with waterproof clothing. All was quiet, except for the movement of humans. Another man's herd had been slaughtered!

Soon' the blades of the bulldozer would rip into the earth — the ground over which the animals probably less than twelve hours earlier were walking. Next, the fuel tumbled into the huge gaping trench carved by the bulldozer. The dead beasts then burnt as the fuel was fired. The funeral pyre completed, the bulldozer would cover the remains with the soil previously removed. A sight for the farmer to look at for a long time to come!

Some of these herds have taken twelve, fifteen, or more years to build. A quarter of a life-time's work gone overnight. Animals, known by name, have almost been "one of the family."

But what is foot-and-mouth disease? And why does it strike "advanced" agricultural countries?


The Story behind Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Going out one morning a farmer finds a ten-month-old animal lying down with sweat oozing from its body. The beast is making a "ghastly sucking sound" with its tongue hanging out.

Another farmer sees a badly limping animal. Both have foot-and-mouth disease. Ironically this is not a killer disease! It is a crippling disease. Any animals recovering give a much decreased milk yield. They are very unlikely to produce healthy young again.

Foot-and-mouth disease is spread by seven major types of viruses. These viruses are so different that an animal with immunity against one would not necessarily be immune against another.

The one causing the present problems is type 0-1. It is particularly virulent.

This virus has had no set pattern. It has been known to jump to farms 50 miles from any known infected area. Other times it suddenly doubles back on non-affected farms in areas previously hit. It has been described like the fall-out from a nuclear bomb, or as snowflakes dropping around the countryside.

The first outbreak occurred in Llanyblodwell, Shropshire, on October 25th — in less than four weeks the slaughter toll passed any known previous yearly record.

This has been the MOST "EXPLOSIVE" OUTBREAK since the introduction of the stamping-out policy in 1892. The previous record was in 1960 when 42,100 animals were slaughtered in five weeks. In the first five weeks of this epidemic over FIVE TIMES AS MANY had been killed.

In the House of Commons on Monday, 4th December, the Minister of Agriculture said, "it has taken on the character of an explosion." Earlier he stated, "the epidemic is one of the gravest this century."


British Battle Tactics

A Control Centre has been set up in the new police station at Oswestry, Shropshire. A map on the wall tells the grim toll with black dots marking the outbreaks. Daily the dots grow thicker as each stricken farm is noted. Telephones seem to constantly jangle with fresh reports.

There is a strong smell of disinfectant in the air, particularly when the workers return from their jobs of killing, burning, burying, disinfecting. Three hundred veterinary surgeons have been drafted in from unaffected areas to help combat the disease. Much sick livestock, even with notifiable diseases, are going unattended due to the strain on the veterinary service.

As the disease has spread so have the restrictions on moving livestock. Judges have been severe on those found breaking any restrictions. Roads three or four hundred miles away from the outbreak have disinfectant "baths" through which every car must drive. Farm vehicles are sprayed daily, or whenever on the road. Milk churns are scrubbed and disinfected outside as well as inside.

Over 300,000 animals had to be slaughtered in eight weeks. Hardest hit have been certain breeds of expensive pedigree livestock, including the prized herds of some of the greatest agricultural colleges. One private pedigree herd that was slaughtered had taken 40 years to build!

It has also struck the heart of the dairy industry! And dairy cattle are harder to replace than stock cattle for slaughter.

Three quarters of the outbreaks have been on dairy farms. The Milk Marketing Board has started a major operation to make up lost gallonage. One reason Englishmen have not generally felt it on their doorstep is that there was a surplus of milk at the start of the outbreak.

But manufacturing industries are affected. Out of the 78 farms (in Southeast Cheshire) which were producing cheese before the epidemic, there are only 14 left.

The county of Flintshire has launched a £10,000 "stay away" plea. The county clerk said, "This is an emergency. We are all in it. This applies to people inside and outside it, farmers and towns-folk. It is the FOOD SUPPLY OF ALL OF US THAT IS IN DANGER."

Many slaughterhouses in the north of England are desperately short of meat because of the foot-and-mouth restrictions.

A general appeal has gone out for farmers to keep their workers. But, this is hard to do when your own income is cut off.

Some farmers will go out of business as they feel the government compensation paid for slaughtered stock is not enough to restock the farms.

The disease has cost the country, directly and indirectly, about £40 million a month.


Now Look at International Trade

The £124,600 contract for the export of British pedigree beef cattle to the USSR, signed by the Soviet government in October, has been cancelled because of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Ironically enough, the Soviets will now purchase from French breeders. Upwards of 20 countries have had their exports of meat to Britain banned. One of these, Argentina, as a reprisal, stopped the purchase of about £1 million worth of horse bloodstock at the Newmarket December sales.

It is illegal at the time of writing to visit Irish farms for 21 days after arrival in the country from Britain. A big campaign has been launched to discourage people from travelling to Ireland. The number allowed in has been severely restricted.

All visitors are disinfected on arrival. Parcels containing used clothing, etc., are immediately returned to the sender.

"THIS IS A NATIONAL EMERGENCY" say the advertisements — and it hasn't even reached there!!

The Isle of Man has banned the imports of fruit and vegetables, as well as meat to the island because of the disease. West Germany has banned imports from Britain as a disease precaution.