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Astrid Goddard ASTRID GODDARD files a report from the Killing Fields of Cumbria - the other war, which the Government would like us to forget. 15 October 2001.

A phone call this morning alerted me to the news that a flock of sheep was due to be killed "as a precaution". The carcases would then be rendered. On hearing this I took some Legal Advice Packs and related information and set off in my car. The purpose of the legal information was to make people aware that they do not necessarily have to allow healthy stock to be killed.

I found the farm without difficulty and pulled up just as the sheep were being rounded up and penned. I was stopped some distance from the farm by a DEFRA official. I introduced myself and explained that I am a freelance journalist. I said that I wished to learn why the sheep were being killed. I was told that he could not give me any information, and that if I was a journalist I should know that I would have to telephone Headquarters for information. I said "I do know that, but I am also a protester, (to which he replied that he had seen that coming), and I would like to know what justification you have for killing these animals if they are not infected." I was asked to move my car, which I did.

As luck would have it, I parked right by the pen that the sheep had been driven into, and as I got out of my car, I heard a pop, pop, sound, of a humane killer in use. I was at once both dismayed and relieved. I know that much of the slaughter that has taken place since March has been inhumane. However, I was dismayed that the slaughter had commenced...

A man in coveralls, with a face mask, probably a vet, came toward me, stopped on the other side of the fence, and said "If you come a step nearer we'll have to disinfect you, and we'll have to disinfect your car". I responded that I did not have a problem with that. I did not need to come any closer. "These are infected premises". To which I replied that I had not heard that they were -- at this point we were supposed to have gone 12 days free of FMD outbreaks -- and I wanted to know why they were killing the sheep.

I raised my camera. The vet shouted "It's sick wanting to take pictures of dead sheep, and if you take one more photograph, you'll be arrested." so I told him that I could not see any that were dead from where I was standing. One of the slaughter team called out "Do you want to kill them then?" So I responded "No, I do not, and I don't want you to kill them either! What you are doing is wrong." At about this point the DEFRA man approached me and politely said "This man will explain it to you, he is a vet".

The vet was a young man from abroad, working here temporarily. I asked him "Is this just a precaution? Are they infected? And why are they due to be rendered if that is the case?" He said that the sheep had been blood tested and were antibody positive. He also said that he did not like what he had to do any more than I did. "I love animals, and don't want to cause them any suffering," he said. I asked how it was that they would be rendered if they were infectious, and was told that the rendering would kill the virus. "Burying them doesn't get rid of it".

"Well, If that is so, why do we have all those burial sites? Why are there thousands buried at Great Orton?" I wanted to know. We had a discussion about the rights and wrongs of the issue, within the hearing of the other vet and slaughter team. Also the DEFRA man was close by.

Below: Vet at the gate challenges Astrid.

Cull Scene

The vet would not give me his name, or anyone else's. He said "Please don't make this any harder for us than it is already. And please don't take photographs, the lads live locally and they are getting a lot of flak as it is." (The word on the street is that they are compensated for such distress to the tune of a thousand pounds a week). I asked him about the need to slaughter and asked if he knew the views of Fred Brown and Ruth Watkins. His face lit up at the mention of Fred Brown, and he said that he knew him well. He knew about the "Smart Cycler" test and said it was not in use because it had not yet been field tested.

The vet tried to tell me that the sheep had to be slaughtered because they had positive antibodies. Also that sheep which have been infected with FMD do not recover fully, are weak, sickly and abort their lambs. He appeared to believe this. "I am not eloquent in scientific matters, I told him, but I know that this is wrong. I have heard Ruth Watkins (expert virologist) speak on the subject. Whether we should have vaccinated, he said that was another matter, I know that this vet disagreed with the way in which FMD is being handled in this country and he is looking forward to going back home and getting away from the slaughter. However, his next statement was chilling. "I am just doing my job"

This vet told me that he and his team can't sleep at night, they are terribly distressed, and also that he spends hours talking to farmers and people affected by the cull, at all hours, trying to help them cope. "No-one reports that." he said. At which I told him that I would report it.

By this time I was more concerned for the sheep, not wishing them to be in distress waiting beside their dead fellows. One Ewe broke away and had to be recaptured. Please don't stop us getting on with it said the vet, visibly distressed himself. By this time a policeman had arrived. "If you don't leave I will have to arrest you." My mobile phone rang at this point.

The phone call was from a fellow protester. She was trying to get others to come along and help... I told her of the situation. I did not want to walk away from those poor sheep and leave them to die, but if I had insisted on remaining, my arrest would not have helped the sheep, since the slaughter would have resumed as soon as I was removed. I told the DEFRA team, vet and Policeman "I came here to speak up for the sheep, they can't speak for themselves, and they can't vote either. If they could, Tony Blair would be in trouble." I left, peacefully, with a heavy heart.

I pointed out to the DEFRA team that we have tried all democratic options open to us, and no-one is listening. WHY?

If the unfortunate sheep had antibodies, surely it only means that their God-given immune system was functioning as it should. How were they a threat? Isn't that what vaccination does, stimulate the body to produce antibodies?

Professor Fred Brown is the World's leading expert on Foot and Mouth Disease. He offered his expertise to MAFF in March. Why was he told that they were too busy? Why did they refuse again in May and September when he repeated his offer of assistance, and the use of his "Smart Cycler"? This can determine the difference between infected animals, those with antibodies, and those vaccinated, in about 2 hours.

To quote Dr. Ruth Watkins, expert virologist: Speaking at a public meeting in Penrith on July 27 2001:
"It is interesting that FMD is in the same family of viruses as polio. Like most viruses, it's at its most infectious BEFORE any physical symptoms show. So the disease has been passed on long before anyone has thought of getting blood tests done. By the time the results of the tests come back, the animal has started producing antibodies and is recovering from what is, from the animal's point of view, quite a mild disease. If it is allowed to recover, the animal will be immune. We can safely eat the meat and the animal doesn't even need vaccination."

"But what are we doing? We are killing immune animals! Lunacy!

"Some people object that once an animal has had the disease it will be a carrier. Well, maybe, but it has been shown that it's almost impossible to get a carrier animal to infect another. They have actually tried rubbing their noses together and failed to create even one case of the disease. So the immune, recovered animals are not exactly dangerous."

Dr Paul Sutmoller Dutch FMD expert, speaking recently at an FMD forum in Bristol, has confirmed that the disease is not self-sustaining in sheep; that left alone, it will simply peter out; and that sheep carrying antibodies present no risk of disease transmission to other livestock. When pressed on the terms used during this epidemic of "old disease" and "silent shedders", he dismissed these as nonsense and repeated that there was no risk from either carrier or recovered sheep. There was no scientific reason to slaughter such animals, only the "no antibody" rule for FMD-free status. When asked about the current UK epidemic, he said that his strategy would have been to vaccinate only the cattle across the country.

It costs £740 to destroy a typical beef animal through the LWDS (welfare disposal scheme) but not more than £200 to get it through winter.

The fear that this irrational cull was supposed to have been based on was of losing an export market worth £500 million. It has been suggested that the total figure for losses related to Foot and Mouth is near £20 billion.

Dr. Richard North, Epidemiologist, has made an enemy of this Government, simply by trying repeatedly to tell the truth. Why does the truth disturb them so much?

Below: Astrid Goddard (centre) at an anti-cull Funeral Cortege protest in Central London on the 12 August 2001. The protester at the front is carrying a large version of the picture which appears here

Street Protest

For what reason was I to be arrested? They said I had to leave in order for them to block the road off. What crime would I have committed, if I remained, silent and peaceful. The policeman repeatedly said "I don't want to arrest you" but he would have. Why?

I am not a lawbreaker, and have no criminal record. But today I could easily have earned one, for trying to defend the defenceless. I committed no crime, broke no law, and threatened neither person nor property. I wished only to observe and report.

Where did this take place? On a public road in Cumbria, England... Land of the free.

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