U.K. sticks with medieval methods against hoof-&-mouth and foxes

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2001:

LONDON–The hoof-and-mouth disease epidemic afflicting Britain and parts of Europe since February 2001 was on December 30 within two days of being declared officially over, as 89 days had elapsed since the last known outbreak was detected. Then two more infected sheep were found in Northumberland, leading to the slaughter of another 2,100 to keep the disease from spreading.

Already fox hunters had been allowed to ride without restriction for the first time in almost a year. As many as 200,000 estate holders and their friends reportedly hounded foxes at more than 250 sites on Boxing Day, met by an unexpectedly light turnout of just 300 hunt saboteurs, who focused on about a dozen prominent hunts. The Scots Parliament in September 2001 gave preliminary approval to a ban on fox hunting which could take effect in 2002.

Earlier, the Scots Executive banned shooting capercaillie, the fast-vanishing largest member of the grouse family, and
allocated £700,000 to try to save the last 1,000 capercaillie in the wild by removing deer fencing from shooting estates–a frequent hazard to the low-flying birds. The action came after grouse shooters’ dirty boots were suspected of spreading hoof-and-mouth to moorland farms between August 12 and August 27.

After mustering 12,000 hunt supporters for a December 15 march on Edinburgh, the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance is optimistic that the Scots Parliament might yet be persuaded to reverse itself on foxhunting, at least.Countryside Alliance leaders are reportedly also optimistic that British prime minister Tony Blair will not have the political courage to push ahead with a foxhunting ban repeatedly promised since 1996–even though a Mori poll recently commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports, Royal SPCA, and International Fund for Animal Welfare showed that 83% of the British public believes fox hunting should be outlawed.

Despite much discussion of introducing a foxhunting ban, and the introduction of some unsuccessful private members’ bills seeking to ban foxhunting with or without Blair’s endorsement, the Labour government has never pressed a foxhunting ban as a priority for the House of Commons. Although the Commons has repeatedly demonstrated willingness to ban foxhunting in free votes, the pro-hunting House of Lords could retaliate by obstructing other
aspects of the Labour legislative program.

Other manifestations of a post-epidemic return to normalcy in rural Britain included the first auction of Dartmoor wild ponies in nearly a year at the Tavistock Livestock Centre in Devon, and a resurgence of demand for border collies to
work as sheep dogs, reported on December 27 by the Border Collie Rescue Society.

The Dartmoor National Park Authority annually permits a fall roundup of approximately 3,000 wild ponies, to prevent overpopulation of the moor. In 2001, however, there was so little demand due to restrictions on livestock transport that other ponies were reportedly auctioned for as £1 each–a price so low, Mare and Foal Sanctuary administrator Brian Kind warned, as to encourage rendering the ponies for pet food. In October the Royal SPCA and Dartmoor Commoners’ Council reportedly killed as many as 500 unsold ponies who were expected to glut the limited market, over the objections of South West Equine Protection, which called the cull “morally wrong.”

The Border Collie Rescue Society reported early in the hoof-and-mouth epidemic that although many farms were surrendering dogs who were no longer needed, adoption demand was strong as well. By early December 2001, however, both Border Collie Rescue and spokespersons for the Animal Samaritans rescue center in Shropshire said they were close to overload, responding to farmers who warned that if dogs were not collected by such-and-such a
time, they would be shot. That situation apparently reversed itself within the next three weeks, as on December 27 the BBC reported that border collie adoptions were again brisk.

Did not vaccinate

Accepting all the lessons from the hoof-and-mouth epidemic may take the British livestock industry and government regulators much longer than the 10 months spent fighting it, using the same quarantine-and-kill method that has failed to fully rid Britain of so-called mad cow disease in 15 years of trying. Unlike the still mysterious mad cow disease, scientifically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), hoof-and-mouth has been well-understood since ancient times.  The symptoms are treated without killing cattle by the Masai people of Kenya, and by the ancient
herding cultures of India, but cows once afflicted never again produce as much milk. Neither will cattle who have had hoof-and-mouth gain weight readily for sale as beef. And although the nonlethal treatment can eventually eliminate an active outbreak of hoof-and-mouth from a herd, it does not eliminate the chance that the disease will recur.

Therefore, hoof-and-mouth was finally eradicated from Britain in 2001 for at least the third time in 80 years by means off killing all infected animals and all animals who might have been infected. This is the basic method used around the world to try to eliminate livestock diseases for more than a century. Often combined with vaccination to keep disease outbreaks from spreading, killing infected and potentially exposed animals has worked to keep many livestock diseases out of nations isolated from the points of origin by oceans–notably the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Britain.

There are signs, however, that in the era of global markets and high-speed mass transportation, the natural quarantine effect of oceans is becoming illusory. There are also signs that trying to eliminate any widespread or fast-moving disease without intensive vaccination is now almost futile–as the World Health Organization has advised about rabies and other animal-transmitted viral diseases deadly to humans for approximately 30 years.

Early in the hoof-and-mouth outbreak, British authorities rejected vaccination to contain it, because vaccinated animals give a false positive indicator when standard tests for hoof-and-mouth are used. Therefore, vaccinated animals as well as diseased animals are banned from European commerce. The decision to skip vaccination and just try to kill the disease by killing the hosts brought the early deaths of six million animals on 9,677 farms–13% of all hooved stock in
Britain–according to a December 30 report by Guardian environment writer Paul Brown. The toll included 4,860,000 sheep, 763,787 cattle, 428,000 pigs, 7,429 goats, 1,000 deer, and 300 llamas, buffalo, and others. The anti-BSE cull has by contrast involved 3.5 million cattle, a comparable number but spread over 15 years.

Edinburgh University epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse in mid-December charged that from a third to half of the killing could have been avoided if the government had only stopped livestock movements when the first outbreak was reported, several weeks after it allegedly began on or near Burnside Farm, a pig facility owned by Bobby Waugh, 56, of Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumbria.

Cruelty ignored

Between February 20 and February 23, Woolhouse found, a dozen livestock movements involving 16 sheep from affected regions in Cumbria and Devon spread hoof-and-mouth to between 70 and 80 farms, located all over Britain. The hoof-and-mouth epidemic might have been prevented entirely, wrote John F. Robins of the Scots activist group Animal Concern, if MAFF had responded effectively to humane concerns about Burnside Farm relayed to MAFF inspectors in mid-December 2000 by Martin Coutts of the Hillside Animal Sanctuary Investigations Unit and the RSPCA.

Also in mid-December, the London Observer reported, the RSPCA pursued the prosecution of Devon farmer Maurice Young for severe animal neglect. Young in April pleaded guilty to 34 counts of leaving tightly tied cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and rabbits to starve amid deep manure.

“Just as the RSPCA inspectors were loading surviving livestock into a wagon [for rescue], livestock dealer Willy Cleave showed up,” wrote Observer environment correspondent Anthony Browne. “He seized eight calves and four ponies, claiming ownership. The case linked the worst practices in farming to the livestock dealer who is thought to have spread hoof-and-mouth to southwest England, with ties to more than 80 outbreaks.”

Hoped Robins, “Maybe now farmers and politicians will finally realize that pigs, sheep, and cattle are sentient, living
creatures, and not inanimate products to be shipped around like crates of cabbages. Animal Concern has reiterated our call for a ban on live exports and long domestic journeys for farm animals. If people are going to eat meat, the
animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the farms where they were reared.”

Livestock transportation continued while the authorities tried to identify the source of the outbreak, chief British veterinary officer Jim Scudamore told London Times reporter Jonathan Leake, because “We feared that supermarkets would run out of meat,” possibly provoking riots.Meanwhile, as hoof-and-mouth broke out in ever more places, Scudamore admitted that, “We ran out of veterinarians.” From 1979 to 2001, the British State Veterinary Service lost 214 of 500 veterinary positions, and closed 47 of 70 field offices, along with 12 diagnostic laboratories.

A Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food contingency plan for dealing with a hoof-and-mouth outbreak anticipated, according to Leake of the London Times, that a worst-case scenario would involve only 30 infected animals, and called for borrowing equipment from another government office which was dissolved in 1996. Further, Leake wrote, “The ministry had no accurate list of farmers or farms, even though it was paying £1.3 billion per year in livestock subsidies.”

After livestock movements were frozen, sheep in particular suffered because instead of being rotated from field to field as they depleted the grass, they were confined to whatever field or paddock they were in when the order came, pending inspection and slaughter. Lack of personnel to do the inspecting and killing left the animals to trample bare fields into mire, ripe for spreading hoof-and-mouth. Obliged to buy fodder for animals they could not sell, many farmers starved the animals instead. Weakened, the animals became more vulnerable still to infectious illness.

More conscientious farmers took the risk of moving animals to better fields illegally, or sought help from the Royal SPCA. “We have helped more than 750 farmers so far with supplies of food and also with license applications to move or send their animals for slaughter,” RSPCA spokesperson Janet Kipling told BBC News at Halloween. The RSPCA in at least one instance provided fodder and bedding to 450 sheep found in muck so deep, after two months awaiting the cull, that dozens of newborn lambs reportedly drowned. Eventually the RSPCA hired personnel to kill the flock.

ANIMAL PEOPLE received similar accounts from many other locations. Even after the epidemic was officially over, the RSPCA and National Farmers Union agreed that thousands of livestock might remain at risk from starvation and disease because farmers ended the fall with animals still in pasture, who normally would have been sold to Europe, and without resources to feed them.

Eventually the British military was mobilized to dispose of the accumulating carcasses by burial and burning. The killing
force was expanded by hiring “slaughtermen,” presumably trained in the meat industry–but if some were trained at all, they may have been available for hiring because of past ineptitude.

By late May the RSPCA had received more than 60 allegations that slaughtermen left living but crippled animals among the dead, chased and shot at wounded animals from vehicles, and shot cows and calves in front of each other.  However, said RSPCA spokesperson Lisa Dewhurst, prosecutions were unlikely because of the near impossibility of connecting specific slaughtermen to specific offenses against specific animals, as successfully bringing charges would require.

At least seven zoos and four sanctuaries for wildlife and hooved domestic stock reported having essentially the same problems as farmers, tryng to feed and look after large numbers of animals for months in some cases, with no money
coming in because their facilities were under indefinite quarantine.

Zookeepers and sanctuarians, keepers of photogenic hooved animals as pets, and farmers trying to save favorite animals often enlisted public sympathy through the tabloid press. Many of the animals they fought for–with names and
faces–were eventually spared, to help mute criticism of the killing policy and procedures. Every photograph of an animal who escaped the cull took attention away from the rising body count.

Heroes for animals

Fighting for the lives of all the animals, to much less notice, were a handful of previously obscure people with no prior
involvement in activism, whose only commonality seemed to be concern for animals. Junior attorney Alayne Addy, 35, worked her way through the Nottingham Trent University law school as a farm secretary, obtaining her law degree at age 30, and then spent five years as a legal adviser for the National Farmers Union.Laid off on February 1, she moved to the Exeter law firm of Stephens and Scown the same day. As the killing began, Addy discovered that two sections of British law used by MAFF to warrant slaughter of animals who had no confirmed exposure to hoof-and-mouth were superseded by European Union law, and were therefore invalid. This potentially overturned the basis for about 70% of the killing.

By mid-May 2001, Addy had saved more than 20,000 animals, estimated Daily Telegraph reporter Matt Born, as MAFF declined to defend against any of her first 106 cases. One case involved a newborn calf named Phoenix who escaped
a whole-herd slaughter. In another case, villagers barricaded a farm to keep the slaughtermen away from 1,000 healthy cattle who had been raised for beef by one Guy Thomas-Everard.

On June 24, Robert Mendick and Geoffrey Lean of The Independent revealed that Addy was taking a legal position consistent with the scientific recommendations of Paul Kitching, DVM, former hoof-and-mouth disease research
chief at the Pirbright Laboratory of the Institute of Animal Health. Having visited Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea to see how other nations eradicated similar outbreaks, Kitching on March 29 warned the government that culling
animals on farms contiguous with infected properties would be pointless and costly–and repeated the warning in April. Ignored, Kitching left Pirbright to head the Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Matthew Hughes, 11, the son of environmental science teacher Janet Hughes, signed over a £14,000 trust fund left to him by his grandparents to help his mother fight an unsuccessful test case against the cull policy in both the High Court and Court of Appeal. “Matthew said, ‘I would rather have sheep in our country than a car,'” Janet Hughes told reporters after forming the Save Our Animals appeal fund to raise the remainder of the £30,500 cost of the case and the appeal. “Did I have a choice?” Janet Hughes continued. “It was weighing on my mind, but if you don’t fight now, the children will have no chance in the future. I will find a way of returning it, but for now it had to be utilized.”

The hoof-and-mouth epidemic hit The Netherlands about a month after reaching Britain. Peter Poll, DVM, 68, was recalled from retirement to help direct a vaccination-and-slaughter campaign that eradicated the Dutch outbreak within just two weeks, at cost of “only” 265,000 animals killed. Despite the nominal success of the effort, Poll was appalled by the cost in lives, amounting to 10,000 animals killed for every case of hoof-and-mouth disease actually detected. Poll
and 10 other veterinarians in October asked the Royal Dutch Veterinary Association to endorse a warning to the Dutch government that they would go on strike rather than ever again kill animals who had already been vaccinated. They asked for repeal of the European Union requirement that animals vaccinated against hoof-and-mouth be killed before livestock from that nation can be exported.

Pyres & politics

“With an election looming, Tony Blair was anxious to get the pictures of burning pyres off the television screens. Vaccination seemed to offer a way out,” Leake continued, “but again there was a government blunder.” Trying to minimize opposition to vaccination, Blair excluded National Farmers Union president Ben Gill from a meeting of
scientific advisors and supermarket executives called to discuss it.

“When Gill heard of the meeting, he furiously demanded to see Blair,” Leake said. “On April 18, Gill told Blair that farmers would not tolerate vaccination, not because it would not work, but because it would prevent them from
selling animals to Europe. Slaughter and compensation was a much more appealing option for the farmers. Vaccination –for which Britain had no plan prepared– was effectively dead before it was attempted.”

European markets for British animals had just begun to reopen after five years of closure due to BSE. Loss of European customers, together with the direct effects of the BSE cull, had already severely depressed the British
livestock industry even before the killing due to hoof-and-mouth began.

The effort to contain hoof-and-mouth without vaccinating eventually cost British taxpayers £2.7 billion–about £675 per animal killed. About half of the total was paid in compensation to farmers, who according to the National Farmers Union also had £965 billion in uncompensated losses.

Some agricultural economists predict that culling without vaccinating, as Gill demanded, may actually have put 30% of the farmers in Britain permanently out of business. Hardest hit were older farmers with small herds of rare breeds or specially selected stock. Even if monetarily compensated, those farmers lost the investment of lifetimes in developing herds and specialty markets, and may not be motivated to start over.

Sympathy for farmers in that predicament fell, however, after MAFF and news media discovered evidence that, as Daily Telegraph agriculture editor David Brown explained, some were “deliberately infecting their sheep and cattle with hoof-and-mouth to claim compensation far in excess of their market value. Older farmers admit,” Brown said, “that they would be better off ‘taking the money and running,’ quitting the industry altogether rather than struggling to survive.”

The economic loss was not confined to farms. Visitors to Britain spent £3.1 billion less in 2001 than in 2000, as coverage of hoof-and-mouth discouraged tourism and tourists who came anyway found that travel to scenic rural
areas was restricted. The September 11 terrorist attacks on airliners could not be blamed for the tourism slump, since the decline was as pronounced before the attacks as afterward.

“Eco-terrorists”

But Gill and Dean Kleckner, past president of the American Farm Bureau, suggested at a May 14 conference of the Australian National Farmers Federation that the spread of hoof-and-mouth to Britain might be blamed on “eco-terrorism.” They based their comments on earlier remarks by PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk and PETA vegetarian campaign coordinator Bruce Friedrich to the effect that they would welcome the spread of hoof-and-mouth disease to the U.S. if it caused Americans to stop eating meat. PETA, at the time, had staff in proximity to hoof-and-mouth outbreaks in India, but there was no evidence that any were involved in any way in spreading it. Neither is there evidence to suggest that food scares bring lasting conversions to vegetarianism.

As occurred early in the BSE scare that followed the 1996 British government admission that mad cow disease can jump into humans as new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), many British citizens went vegetarian during the first weeks of the hoof-and-mouth epidemic. A BBC survey taken at the end of March showed that about 25% of all self-declared vegetarians were recent converts. But studies of reasons for remaining a vegetarian after initial conversion tend to show that those who convert for ethical reasons are most likely to remain committed. People who
convert on a whim, especially for health reasons without the reinforcement of a support group, are most likely to soon return to their previous eating habits.

Annual surveys of the British public done by Realeat Inc. found that the number of vegetarians in the U.K. soared to 5.4% of the population by 1998, but dropped back to 5% just a year later. The number of female vegetarians increased, for the 15th consecutive year, reaching 6.7% of all British women, but the number of male vegetarians fell from 4.1% to 3.2%, or approximately the pre-BSE level.

Permanent threat

Despite the intensive control efforts, a new outbreak of hoof-and-mouth could erupt at any time. Warned Irish veterinary researcher John Ryan, DVM, at a United Nations conference in Bulgaria, five months before the 2001 outbreak hit Britain, “Hoof-and-mouth disease now presents a permanent threat of reintroduction to Europe. This is particularly apparent with the activities of the Pan-Asia type ‘O’ strain,” the strain that swept the U.K. after hitting at least 25 other nations since 1990, when it was identified in northern India.

The Pan-Asian strain of hoof-and-mouth surged first across India with the illegal traffic in cattle for slaughter in the southern state of Kerala, then east, reaching Taiwan by 1999. It spread west into Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and eastern Europe in waves coinciding with the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca (as detailed in “Epidemic of Faith,” ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2001.)

Each year, hundreds of thousands of hooved livestock are mustered in and around Mecca for ritual halal slaughter and distribution of meat to the poor at the Feast of Atonement that ends the holy month of Ramadan. Each year, if any of those animals are diseased, millions of pilgrims could accidentally bring hoof-and-mouth bacteria back home with them–or the microbes responsible for any other livestock ailment. This culturally and politically sensitive problem has been long been recognized by Islamic physicians, who were centuries ahead of Europe in understanding disease transmission. But the intensity of religious and economic investment in the traditions of the haj has always inhibited an effective response.

Change in the wind

For now, after pursuing theories that hoof-and-mouth reached Britain via food waste from a freight ship that stopped in several nations which have had outbreaks, many British experts prefer to believe that it was just in the wind, kicked up by a sandstorm that swept northern Africa in mid-February 2001. “Satellite images show a dust cloud moving over the Atlantic and reaching Britain on February 13,” U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dale Griffin told London Observer science editor Robin McKie in September. “One week later, hoof-and-mouth broke out in the U.K. Since the
disease’s incubation period is seven days, that is one heck of a coincidence.”

Added fellow U.S. Geological Survey scientist Eugene Shinn, “There is no sewage treatment or proper garbage disposal there,” where the dust cloud originated and hoof-and-mouth is endemic, “so the soil is heavily infected with microbes and feces. Cattle there are infected with the same viral strain, Pan-Asia type ‘O’, that is causing hoof-and-mouth in Britain.

Recent investigations have discovered that even though hoof-and-mouth does not travel as far with the wind near ground level as was supposed less than a year ago, many viruses are quite capable of intercontinental travel with
atmospheric dust. If hoof-and-mouth is among them, it may only be eradicable through international cooperation to eradicate the endemic pockets of the disease in Africa and Asia–where vaccination might be accepted, but not mass killing.

Post-epidemic recommendations from most sources agree that policy changes favoring animal welfare must be made. “The main goal [in 2001] was maintaining the export markets–in other words, the protection of economic interests,” summarized Dutch agriculture ministry director general Johan de Leeuw at a November 6 conference convened by
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “The general public,” de Leeuw continued, “is becoming increasingly sensitive to the suffering of animals, and increasingly insensitive to economic arguments. Given prevailing views,” de Leeuw added, “culling zoo animals,” as some experts urged, “is simply unthinkable.”

The top announced priority for MAFF will be strengthening animal health supervision, including requiring farmers to insure their herds or flocks against the risk of spreading disease. MAFF is also hoping to compile a new master list
of agricultural holdings. A list of MAFF concerns published by James Meikle of The Guardian included a recommendation to strengthen anti-cruelty legislation so that farmers convicted of negligence can no longer evade fines by simply transferring stock–on paper–to other family members, and continuing business-as-usual.

Top priority for the Labour government went to passing a new Animal Health Bill introduced on Halloween and viewed with horror by both the Royal SPCA and the Royal Society of Veterinary Surgeons, among others. The bill closes the legal loophold used by the attorney Alayne Addy to save animals. According to Daily Telegraph farming correspondent Robert Uhlig, it also empowers government officials to enter any property, whether or not the owners give permission, to slaughter allegedly infected animals, “removes any right of appeal against any order made, and makes it a criminal offence punishable by six months in prison for anyone to refuse to assist an inspector in killing an animal. Demonstrating against any inspector’s actions will also be an offense.”

Royal Society of Veterinary Surgeons president Mark Green warned in an open letter to the Daily Telegraph that by “antagonizing the main people it needs to assist in any disease outbreak, namely the farmers,” the Animal Health Bill is “embarking on a course of action which could make the recent epidemic seem small in comparison.”

Nonprofit organizations offered simpler and gentler ideas. Mary-Anne Bartlett, director of Compassion in World Farming, recommended as early as April 2001 that Britain should take the hoof-and-mouth epidemic as a warning to abandon the live market system of selling animals–as the U.S. mostly did more than a decade ago–and move to electronic auctions, so that livestock go directly from field to slaughter instead of being mingled and stressed at auction yards while their fate is decided.

The conservation group English Nature noted the recovery of wildflowers in fields void of sheep for the first time in decades, if not centuries, and suggested that the upland sheep population should henceforth be kept below half
of the pre-epidemic level.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust and other organizations concerned with preserving old
English varieties of livestock seized the opportunity to start a National ReGENEeration Bank–a longtime RBST ambition. “We have to make sure that we hold sufficient genetic material to ensure that when the next farming crisis hits, we shall not lose any of the 63 unique breeds that the charity looks after,” RBST chief executive Rosemary
Mansbridge told BBC News. MAFF and private funders put up £120,000 toward the cost of getting started, with hopes of raising £2.5 million more.

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