|FIELDS OF FIRE
Astrid Goddard reviews the new book by Jacquita Allender
"Cry the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, the lovely land that man cannot enjoy; he knows only the fear of his heart" (Alan Paton)
Quita, a familiar name from the Smartgroups e-mail network/website on Foot and Mouth, has edited and self-published a chronological collection of the main events, commentary, views and feelings arising from last year's crisis.
In 152 pages, with 16 pages of full-colour glossy plates, Quita has put together a highly professional and attractive work for anyone who wants a readily accessible history of last year's Foot and Mouth scandal.
With material gleaned mainly from the "Smartgroups" Foot and Mouth pages; the stories, poems, letters, and personal outpourings of emotion comprise an invaluable record of the unforgettable and unforgivable abuse of British farmers, smallholders and pet owners, their animals and their countryside during 2001 -- at the hands of the supposedly democratic government under Tony Blair, who has yet to show any signs of remorse.
In the light of the extraordinary lack of action by the vast majority of political, animal welfare, and media circles, there was an unprecedented outpouring of self-help, mutual support, and willingness to challenge the law when it was manifestly unjust. The courage of the individuals involved, who together formed such a powerful support network, shines through the pages of this book.
Whilst Fields of Fire is sobering and often heartbreaking to read, it also contains a message of hope for the future.
The book begins with the text of the veterinary oath. Next is the report of the Committee of Inquiry on FMD in 1968. Followed by a poignant reminder of the Labour Party promise from before the 1997 election: "New Labour -- New Life for Animals". A publication which stated in the opening paragraph "Labour has consistently shown itself as the only party to trust on issues of animal welfare".
Quita's introduction then follows: "This book is dedicated to the memory of the millions of animals that have suffered and died, not from foot and mouth disease, but from the cure".
THE PHENOMENON OF THE INTERNET
"My Most Grateful Thanks To:" (page 11) mentions the familiar names of last year. Quita has tried to give credit where it is due to everyone involved. There is special mention for "Janet Hughes, for courageously risking all to save so many Welsh mountain sheep".
The book is seriously useful for anyone who wishes to gain a better understanding and feel of the events of that year.
Messages from the e-mail list, and articles, are in date order. I shall reproduce some of them here, although it has not been easy to chose from the many moving accounts :
12 March 2001
More sinister - why was the timber availability checked BEFORE the outbreak was first announced? - as confirmed by Baroness Hayman on BBC's Question Time, as being part of an ongoing EEC directive - and yet the first time in 34 years by the timber merchant when asked. Why don't the Government have the answers? Why don't they have effective contingency plans? What use are the spin doctors now? Do they understand the countryside? Do our urban neighbours care? But then, as Tony Blair is continually telling us, "Let's get this into perspective - we are only talking about less than 1% of the country's livestock".
How many of our heartbroken farmers are dismissed so arrogantly in that one sentence? Don't they care that the whole traditional way of life on the fell sides is under threat? We naively forecast three weeks ago, the effects of f & m on the heafed sheep, the lack of a clear policy for saving pedigree, rare breeds and important breeds for the national flock; the disastrous effect on the whole rural infrastructure and the tourist industry. Do these issues not bother them? My respect and admiration for a farmer's wife normally so quietly spoken, who defied bureaucracy, and wouldn't let herself be fobbed off until she had told Nick Brown's secretary that "he has written off the lake district".
Lest one imagine that this book is only about the past -- these issues still have to be dealt with -- we need to learn from the terrible experience of which Fields of Fire so powerfully reminds us....
Shiva emphasises that while it is clear that globalisation of trade and increased movement of animals has spread the disease, the UK government continues to support increased liberalisation of agricultural trade in the World Trade Organisation. The livestock being killed are "a ritual sacrifice to the gods of global markets." An excellent essay; read it in full here.
Retired dentist Dr Frances Fish was served with a Government A-notice yesterday morning. It declared that nearly 200 of her rams, ewes and new lambs were being culled, because they were in an infected area within three kilometres of two Border farms where foot and mouth was confirmed last weekend.
... Gosforth born Dr Fish said last night: "It was like something from a police state. It was obviously worked out to make it impossible for us to get to the fields in time. "The police car was blocking the drive preventing us from getting our car out. The officers said we were free to leave but the only way we could do that was by walking. They stayed around 45 minutes and I regard it as nothing more than a blockade.
Last night Lothian and Borders Police denied that Dr Fish had been blockaded in her home...
The following extract, although un-named, continues in similar vein and seems to epitomise what the book is about...
Thank you all for your comments, support and sentiments, but let's get something absolutely clear - it is all of YOU that are wonderful 'incredible people', for without YOU we are nothing. YOU have inspired me and many others in my position throughout the country to 'stand up and be counted'. I could never have done it without YOU.
Many people have asked if I am nervous, scared or even just plain frightened witless - well of course I am, but it is YOU who give me the courage to continue. Without YOU I am just a plain ordinary coward who would never in a million years have stood up to the might of the state...
I have already spent considerable time and money on phone calls, internet access, printing paper and ink, petrol and countless wasted hours at council meetings. I have felt very distressed, I have been frightened, I still feel scared and unsafe. I would be afraid to own a cloven footed animal in the future for fear of what could happen, people who have worked hard to build up good herds that they are proud of have seen it all wiped out.
We are still under a D notice. This applies to our entire community here, although we had virtually no foot and mouth in Worcestershire. The stress in the harder hit communities like Devon and Cumbria is on a much greater scale than we have had. I wonder if they will ever recover.
When I read the posts saying what they were going to spend putting people's lives back together in rural communities, I feel even more angry, because they have stolen peace of mind and it will take more than money to fix that. If it is a gift then let it be a gift, not a way of making what's happened OK.
Any money paid to farmers is their money and that has been stolen from them. Any money spent on helping rural areas get over what has happened will be welcome, but not an excuse for what has happened.
No wonder I feel scared and unsafe.
It is extremely difficult to put into words the anguish and frustration of the past few weeks. The injustice of the contiguous cull and the tears that I and my family have shed in recent days are some of the things I will never forget. I can hardly think of Dad's cattle without crying and if I feel that way I can only begin to imagine the torment and desolation that my parents must be feeling. How does it feel for my dad to walk out to that empty yard? Silence, no animals anywhere. Ever since I was a little girl we had cows. I remember helping my dad write up charts, showing when each one was due to calf.
The article goes on to give brief stories of the suicides of Glyn Lewis, 59 of Llwyn-y-maes, John Bayliss, 56 of Kerry, Newtown, Mid-Wales, and Brian Oakley, 5 of Llanfechain.
.... Mr Hollis said that as he had dealt with three farm suicides he felt certain that foot and mouth and BSE had exacerbated the situations. "We have a situation where the crisis in the farming industry has been catastrophic for the families of these three decent men and their deaths are to be deeply regretted."
... We, the human species, blunder away through life, most of us totally unaware of the millions of life forms within a few feet of us. I understand that life is a compromise and that for each species to survive another species will die. I cannot accept that due to some flawed "scientific" plan millions of animals are slaughtered, many terrified in their last moments. This is being done by people who are the same species as me, supervised by vets, who are in the same profession as those who have cared for our pets, who have several times helped our pets to die quietly and at peace.
... I only hope that at the final judgement, whatever that is, that the small band of caring people, such as the folks on this group, will be allowed to plead for mercy for the rest of the human species.
Today I am the sad old Quaker from Bewcastle.
As you can see from the extracts I have selected, the messages and responses on the various websites (such as Warmwell and Farmtalking) and newsgroups which came into being as a response to last year's F & M crisis, powerfully illustrate what a wonderful source of support, advice, encouragement and information was put together by these diverse individuals.
Alan Beat's concise sum-up of the scientific facts concludes the book, and finally there are contact details for some of the websites concerned with these issues. Alistair McConnachie's report which alerted the country to the killing of Misty the Goat is reproduced in full on page 28 and his article Some Issues at Stake is on page 71.
Fields of Fire
is an impressive mix of angry emotions, with
moving letters from children as well as adults, news stories and
personal accounts, heart-rending photographs, ancient wisdom and
scientific facts, plus poems by young and old.
There is a poem near the end of Fields of Fire, called An Ill Wind, by Katrina Porteous. It is well worth reading; surely one of the best poems I have ever read on the subject. It was commissioned by Radio 3's Poetry Proms, and I would recommend it as a catharsis for anyone who is still struggling to cope with the memories of last year.
The final word on the back cover is a well-known quote from Edmund
Burke: "The only thing necessary for
the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."