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FIELDS OF FIRE
 
New book by Jacquita Allender

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
Quita goes on to relate how the book came about, and describes the foot and mouth e-mail discussion group: "This group is a phenomenon of the internet age - knowledge, scientific information; up-to-date reports about which parts of the country the latest killing fields are in and a rallying call for help to anyone in that area; legal advice and help packs for farmers; a list of sympathetic solicitors; useful numbers and addresses of MAFF/DEFRA officials, media contacts, MPs etc. to use in our endless campaigning; and internet hugs for those who need them - all available at the touch of our fingertips! This has meant that people have ended up with answers to their questions and more knowledge (dare I suggest!) than most MAFF/DEFRA officials."

"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
Subject : TOO PAINFUL TO TITLE
Dear friends of truth:
What is happening to our livestock should break our hearts, should cause us to weep some at least, knowing the tears to be the rain of the soul. I know that what you are about to read is right. When I had my home in Swaziland in the late 60's there was a severe outbreak of foot and mouth disease. No cattle died, nobody died. It was like an outbreak of influenza among humans; except that extra quarantine precautions had to be taken, for it not to spread across the borders into South Africa and Mozambique. Dear friends, our animals are us down to the bone marrow. Only the spirit that is asking us to see what we are doing to them gives us our special place in creation.

3 April
Here are some extracts from an Open Letter to the People of Cumbria from Annie Mawson, Cumbria Woman of the Year 2000:
"Emotions run high at rumours of sheepdogs killed; and was it rats in their thousands that are spreading the disease? Who do we believe? There is mud running alongside my house for 20 feet and within six inches of my steps from the wagon wheels carrying diseased animals to be rendered. Is it infectious? Yes, says Chief Veterinary Officer Jim Scudamore; No, say MAFF."

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".

Annie Mawson also mentioned the 412% mark up by the big 4 supermarkets, the need to think small and local and other relevant matters in a list of issues which she believes need addressing.

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....

Unholy mess of the Easter Lamb

4 April
Quita reproduces the excellent article by Vandana Shiva, "Unholy Mess", from The Guardian of 4 April 2001, which emphasises that the disease is neither fatal to humans nor animals. This "war against farm animals" reflects the insanity of the globalised, industrialised food systems which created, promote and spread disease, yet which simultaneously want a "disease free national herd". This "zero tolerance for disease has led to a zero tolerance for animals". Farm animals are killed on "the basis of unjustified exaggeration of the impact of foot and mouth disease".

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.

15 April
I copied the following from yesterday's
Newcastle Journal :
Rare Breeds Expert "Blockaded while flock was killed"
The bodies of some of the rarest sheep in Britain were smouldering on a funeral pyre last night after the woman who had vowed to protect them says she was kept away from the round up.

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...

17 April
I know all this has already been said, I can't remember a time though when the whole population was so unanimous about something. So where's the democracy gone? Why are we letting this all happen? Why are we putting up with the lies, all the spin, all the bullshit? If we don't do something to stop it, will we be able to live with ourselves afterwards, in the wasteland that's left?

7 May
... As I am a cynic and believe in conspiracy theory, I am now wondering what MAFF and the Government are trying to achieve; the destruction of small scale traditional farming? Or is it a (not so) subtle exercise in people control to test how compliant the UK population is?

The following extract, although un-named, continues in similar vein and seems to epitomise what the book is about...

8 May
Over the last few weeks I have read some very complimentary (and somewhat embarrassing) comments about 'incredible people' and what I am doing here at Blackfordby and other people are doing around the country.

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...

7 June
From a farmer in Worcestershire:
STOLEN
It has just occurred to me that I am being led into the trap of defending myself yet again. Why should I have to spend more time, money and effort on proving that I have been treated badly? I would have thought having 120,000 dead animals buried here and the potential for 1.2 million to be buried here, with just a press announcement saying they were going to do it would be proof enough.

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.

11 June
Why is MAFF Killing the Farming Community?
Article from The Western Morning News
Farmer's daughter Leila Winslade describes her anger at the Government and officials following the cull of her father's livestock, and blames the crisis on official incompetence and a European conspiracy.

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.
 
My father is a hardworking, honourable man, totally dedicated to his farm. His animals were checked twice daily. He never missed a single calving, just in case there were difficulties. He worked all day, every day. He never took a holiday. I know of very few people with his knowledge and commitment and I'm very proud of him...

17 June
FOOT AND MOUTH CRISIS LINKED TO FARMERS' SUICIDES -- Ananova Reporting
The pressures of foot and mouth and BSE on the British farming industry have been brought sharply into focus at inquests on three farmers. Powys coroner John Hollis described the suicides of the three prominent farmers as "catastrophic".

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."

22 June
... My sadness is for the human race, I have always believed that we are put on this earth to be stewards, to care for our poor little insignificant planet, so tiny in such a Universe.

... 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.
It will stand as a reference work to the history of that terrible year. Buy a copy for yourself, and perhaps buy another copy for donation to your local library. Ensure people can know what we went through, so it won't happen again...

Quita's cow

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."
 


  Fields of Fire can be purchased for £12, payable to Jacquita Allender at
Laurel Cottage,  Star,  Somerset  BS25 1QE
jacquita_a@hotmail.com
 

 
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