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Sun, 17 Oct 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Foot and Mouth

Nearly ten years after a small outbreak of an insignificant disease, the press are still telling lies about it. This story about some obscure disease of horses attempts to draw parallels with the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK in 2001: "The outbreak has disturbing echoes of the early stages of the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic, which claimed the lives of 10 million sheep and cattle and cost the country an estimated £8bn".

However, foot and mouth is rarely fatal. It's not foot and mouth that killed millions of animals in 2001, it was the human response to it. Not only were plenty of infected animals killed which would have otherwise survived, 80% of the animals culled were disease-free! While it is obviously a Good Thing to limit the spread of a painful disease, that spread could have been controlled by a programme of vaccination. This would have been far more humane, efficient, and cheaper in both the short- and the long-term than the indiscriminate slaughter that we instead witnessed. What the slaughter achieved was to publicise the infection and make it news-worthy, pander to the short-term interests of the highly-subsidised but economically insignificant agricultural export industry, and cause a great deal of harm to other rural businesses and to peoples' enjoyment of their beautiful countryside.

The argument against vaccination was that the presence of foot and mouth antibodies made meat unsaleable abroad. Fine, so sell the carcasses of vaccinated animals on the domestic market, without destroying rural businesses such as hotels - many of which lost huge numbers of customers because, after all, what's the point of visiting the countryside if all the footpaths are closed? It's not as if we're a nation of feeble vegetarians! Those carcasses would not have been harmful to human health. And when the disease spread to the Netherlands, it was dealt with by vaccination. In recognition of the abject failure of the old policy, the law was changed later to allow vaccination, just as everyone apart from the National Farmers' Union had been saying for ages.

Posted at 13:56 by David Cantrell
keywords: media | politics
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