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Hoist by its own petard

MagazineMay 2001 (Vol. 12 Issue 2)Hoist by its own petard

If I were a cow, I would have been shot last week

If I were a cow, I would have been shot last week.

For two weeks, I was really laid low with something more than a flu, something more akin to chickenpox indeed, something not unlike foot and mouth disease. My productivity was down, I gave a lot less than normal to my loved ones, I required more care than normal. If someone's economic livelihood depended on me pulling my weight every second of every day, it might have made perfect sense to have me put down.

At least, that is the rationale being used with the current British outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD).

We are now witnessing a situation where Britain has been hoist by its own petard, both by its own trend setting policy with FMD and the economic reality of intensive farming. It was Britain, through the hubris of its pedigree breeders, which first pronounced FMD dangerous to the world and first instigated an instant slaughter policy. Now, unfortunately, the world believes us. Nobody in the world's meat market wants to buy meat from animals infected with FMD. So economics is dictating that we try to contain this disease by slaughtering every potential victim in sight.

But another sort of economics is also at work here. Foot and mouth makes dairy animals less productive for a time. The economics of intensive farming dictate that every animal has to pull its weight every moment of every day. It is cheaper to kill an animal than to wait for it

to get better.

What we are really seeing is the fall out of modern day agri business. Healthy animals don't fall prey to epidemics. When animals are squashed together and fed inferior food and there is evidence with the FMD epidemic that, yes, natural vegetarians were once again fed ground up bits of other animals and then expected to produce abnormal amounts of milk, not surprisingly, they aren't able to perform at their optimal best.

The British farming industry should have learned its lessons from the BSE crisis. All manner of outbreaks will continue to occur so long as we mistreat animals within our own food chain.

It is telling that there is only a single case of FMD in all of the organic farms in Britain, according to the Soil Association. In virtually all of them, it is business as usual.

This, of course, is not the case in the ordinary agri business farms. According to the Soil Association, the disease is simply too infectious, given British high density stock rearing areas, for a policy of control by slaughter. According to one of its press releases: "The authorities have mistakenly used the stated incubation period in the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) Animal Health Code of 14 days in their predictions of effectiveness of their policy. This figure of 14 days refers to the maximum incubation time. . .and is far longer than the interval between infection of one animal and its ability to infect another. . . Sheep with type O strain (as occurs in the current outbreak) are infective for other sheep and pigs in less than four days and as many as 25 per cent were infectious at two days. . . Every delay of two days or more enables a new generation of infective sheep (and/or transmission to other stock) to occur."

So now the only way to stop slaughtering Britain's entire herd of livestock is to institute emergency vaccination. This is, of course, the better alternative to slaughtering healthy animals but, given the chequered history of vaccination, it's anyone's guess if this measure will work. It's also a bit like what we do with children these days. We don't breastfeed them, we feed them rubbish and then we jab them full of antigens so they won't catch anything.

It might take having all of Britain's livestock lying in a rotting pile before we finally get the point.

!ALynne McTaggart


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