August 4, 2007

"Farmers... will be hoping and praying that this is an isolated incident"

A pyre of slaughtered animals: Britain, 2001.

The news broke August 3rd: cattle at a farm near Guildford, in the southeast of England, tested positive for foot and mouth disease. All sixty cattle on the farm will be destroyed.

Three excerpts from the Telegraph's coverage:
Britain is facing the prospect of a new foot and mouth epidemic after a case of the disease was confirmed for the first time since the disastrous outbreak of 2001.

Tim Bonner, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said: "Farmers around the country will be hoping and praying that this is an isolated incident and that the disease is not already widespread."

Peter Ainsworth, the shadow secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, whose East Surrey constituency is not far from the site of the outbreak, said: "The last thing we need is a repeat of the horrific images that blazed across the world in 2001."
Some 10 million animals in the UK, most of them healthy, were killed during the 2001 outbreak of the disease, at a cost to the nation of £8.5 billion. The countryside was shrouded in smoke from the burning pyres of dead livestock. The effect on farmers and rural life is impossible to measure. North Devon shepherd David Kennard's books, A Shepherd's Watch and The Dogs of Windcutter Down, are set against the backdrop of the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 and its aftermath. The epidemic destroyed many livelihoods and pushed others to the brink, and imposed on farmers a dense layer of bureaucracy that Kennard describes with understandable frustration.

A report in today's Guardian indicates a possible breakthrough in determining the source of the disease:

An accidental leak of an experimental vaccine from a private research site was being investigated urgently last night as the likely source of Britain's new foot and mouth disease outbreak. The news came as the government attempted to avert a full-scale crisis in farming and the tourism industry.

Movement of all livestock has been banned, exports to Europe stopped and country fairs cancelled to minimise the risk of the country suffering a disastrous rerun of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic which cost the nation £8.5bn.

Scientists made a breakthrough last night as they identified the strain of the virus as one which is not naturally occurring, but is a vaccine strain, and has never been seen before in Europe. This enabled investigators to link the outbreak to a company which lies less than three miles down the road from the source of the outbreak.

The Guardian received press awards for its coverage of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. Follow the links here. The BBC has extensive coverage of the current crisis as well. According to Wikipedia, foot and mouth disease is endemic throughout Asia, Africa and parts of South America -- "North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have been free of FMD for many years," according to Wiki.

Of course everyone who cares about farmers, livestock and rural life is praying this outbreak will be contained quickly, and the UK will be spared a repeat of 2001.

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