They reap as they have sown
The return of foot and mouth disease to Surrey has “baffled” ministers and provoked the usual reaction from the so-called National Farmers Union. (It’s not a union – but a producer cartel.) The new prime minister is clueless. The title of this blog announces why I must return to this subject.
Witless ministers today profess themselves incapable of understanding why the disease has come back just one day after they officially announced it was beaten!
“Baffled” says tonight’s Evening Standard. “Puzzled” admits the Environment Secretary responsible for animal health Hilary Benn, who graduated from Sussex in Russian and East European Studies and has the massive experience of having been in his job since June. The NFU’s president Peter Kendall sounds just like all previous NFU presidents and has demanded once again that the disease be “stamped out” (this being NFU/Defra code for slaughtering healthy animals, with full compensation paid by everyone else).*
Predictably, sticking to the script, slaughter “on suspicion” has already resumed. Why not slaughter pensioners with influenza? Oddly, this is the same government that offers flu vaccine, on the NHS. Like a broken record, our beloved Prime Minister Brown is promising to eliminate the disease. Just as he promised last time! The V word does not pass his lips.
Once again, those of us who have since the 2001 débâcle been demanding vaccination have been ignored. Once again, we have been proved right. Had Defra ring vaccinated immediately following the original outbreak this summer, the cows now infected in the shadow of Windsor Castle would not be infected. I told you so. By not vaccinating now they are making themselves look like idiots.
Nothing is very complicated here. The disease is back because ministers are scientifically illiterate and because Defra and the NFU, led by the glamorous film star turned hapless chief vet Debbie Reynolds, despite their proven track record of failure, remain firmly in control.
One needs hardly to be reminded that the latest outbreak like the one that proceeded it originated with the escape of the virus from a government laboratory with collapsing toxic drains that nobody could organise themselves to repair and lorry loads of contaminated spoil being trucked off the site in all directions.
God forbid this is the standard of biosecurity prevailing elsewhere on the government’s biochemical estate.
For anyone who still fails to understand the absurdity of this, I recommend Abigail Wood’s book, A Manufactured Plague.
Abigail’s book questions how foot and mouth came to be seen as one of the world’s worst animal plagues, although it poses little threat to human health (although in the UK without much doubt it seriously affects human mental health and has a negative human impact in many other ways). She asks why, in the epidemic of 2001, the government’s control strategy still relied on Victorian trade restrictions and mass slaughter. Her book is brilliant.
Abigail shows that for more than a century foot and mouth has brought fear, tragedy and sorrow – damaging businesses and affecting international relations. Yet these effects were neither inevitable nor caused by foot and mouth itself but were, rather, the product of the legislation used to control it, and so in this sense foot and mouth is a ‘manufactured’ plague rather than a natural one.
Abigail, like the rest of us, has been ignored. The NFU, which defends the exports of its members no matter how many billions it costs the rest of us, meanwhile retains statutory rights of consultation (in effect, so far, a veto) over government policy. Foot and Mouth has cost the country between £10 billion and £20 billion since 2001 in order to protect a trade worth a tiny fraction of this sum. Has our government, has the prime minister, the intelligence to do a simple cost-benefit calculation? This is madness.
The only good news is that the Queen’s pad at Windsor is in the middle of the control zone. She’s a countrywoman at heart. Maybe she could have a word with Mr Brown and tell him to stop his ministers and their officials acting like such stupid cows. Go for it ma’am – we peasants are depending on you.
Warmwell remains the indispensible source for hour-to-hour developments.
The estimable Matthew Weaver’s FMD blog is back in The Guardian.
Sheepdrove’s blog is also indispensible.
* This looks encouragingly like a potentially serious crisis for the NFU (known in my manor as “no fucking use”) whose traditional “line to take” is now out of step even amongst the growing disgruntled “members” of the NFU. There are numerous successful and humane British farmers (such as Sheepdrove) who are loudly pointing out that they also have rights, including the right to compete in the market if necessary with vaccinated meat. It must be asked – if we have to have a row with the EU, so what? In the meantime the NFU is dangerously exposed and revealed as the emperor with no clothes. Farmers are now really stuck and it is largely because the NFU has colluded in an antediluvian policy. Even the farmers who once towed the NFU line on vaccination have grown curiously silent.
Stop press: Friday morning, 14 September: It would be odd if we were about to win but the odds just increased a little bit, although they are still very long against us, Mary and I feel. We also think we are being read in Whitehall and the news offices and are starting to make a difference. I get the same feeling. I am still worried Defra might try to sabotage a vaccine trial.