SNFU president, Jim Walker, speaking of the slaughter policy for Foot and Mouth said at meetings in Dumfries and Castle Douglas on the 7 June, "If we had to re-run the whole policy after what we have gone through, then the only thing that would happen is that it would happen quicker and it would be even more Draconian." (The Galloway News, 14-6-01)
It is important to point out a) the errant science behind Mr Walker's words and b) the devastating consequences of such a policy.
The slaughter policy and, especially, the contiguous kill which has been responsible for most of the animal destruction, is built on the notion that if you slaughter animals fast enough you will outrun the disease. Never mind the fact that slaughtering animals on this industrial scale is contrary to the whole concept of "animal husbandry", the fact remains that there is no scientific evidence to support such a policy and there is much evidence which mitigates against it.
For example, the 1967 outbreak came under control without a contiguous culling policy.
A paper written in the Veterinary Record (12-5-01) claims that 1000 infected sheep can only spread the virus downwind approximately 200 yards. 1000 infected cattle are alleged to spread it approximately 700 yards, and 100 infected cattle only 200 yards. Even these figures are challenged by eminent experts such as Fred Brown of Plum Animal Disease Centre in New York. He carried out an experiment – seven times – to see if neighbouring pigs separated in the same shed could spread it to each other. None of the healthy pigs caught the virus. Brown states, "There is no direct, physical evidence for airborne transmission of foot-and-mouth virus." (The Independent, 10-4-01)
Maff admitted that there is no evidence that it is passed by walkers (Independent on Sunday, 25-3-01) and Dr Alex Donaldson of Pirbright has admitted that they have no evidence that the virus is carried in smoke from pyres (Farming News, 31-5-01, Livestock supplement sec.)
We are also entitled to question the true extent of this outbreak. The virus is so harmless in sheep that vets openly admit they have trouble diagnosing it. We are now informed that the "mystery blisters" which had been diagnosed as "foot and mouth" in the south of Scotland were "unconnected with the epidemic" (The Daily Telegraph, 18-6-01).
Yet, in the face of all this evidence, Mr Walker states that next time the killing policy will be even more "draconian."
He ought also to consider that the slaughter policy he and his colleagues advocate is directly responsible for the animal welfare abuses which have been perpetrated. It is responsible for the restrictions which are being placed upon our movement. It is responsible for the devastating loss of income being suffered by small businesses. It is responsible for a growing loss of confidence and trust in the police. Law-abiding people tell me they believe we are now living in a "police state". We have seen "armed response units" on standby outside the premises of farmers.
If it were not for the slaughter policy, life would have continued very much as normal. Foot and Mouth would have been just like any other animal disease that the public never hears about and doesn't care about.
If Mr Walker and his colleagues really do think that they will ever again be able to advocate the slaughter policy which has visited so much devastation, then they ought, at least, to consider the damage such an apparently arrogant attitude does to the public's perception of farmers.