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How the Westcountry Lived through the Nightmare

Astrid Goddard reviews

The Western Morning News has published an excellent glossy, full colour, manual-style, 95-page book compiled from their foot and mouth reports in 2001. The report offers a personal, immediate and intimate glimpse of the lives, concerns and sufferings of the people of the West Country during the foot and mouth outbreak.

The compilation, full of vivid and sometimes startling pictures, forms a diary of the unfolding horrors of the year. It also chronicles those things that were good which emerged from the crisis. For example, the ways in which people helped one another to cope, the involvement of celebrities such as Noel Edmonds, and the Green Wellie Appeal which raised funds for the beleaguered farmers.

Space is given not only to every group affected by foot and mouth - farmers, vets, hauliers; indeed all those who were involved, but also to those who helped contribute to the problems, as well as those who helped to alleviate them. Even Tony Blair is given almost two pages in which he responds to the Western Morning News criticism of his policies, and offers his opinions.

MAFF's activities are detailed. Almost another two pages are given to the "Ten Men at the Sharp End" (some of the key players promoting the government's slaughter policy) with a thumbnail sketch, and photograph, of each man and his involvement in the crisis.

Protests are covered, as are the rare bright spots and headline news, such as Phoenix the Calf's reprieve.

The questions of what went wrong, and how, are posed, and serious attempts at answers are offered. Particularly impressive are the writings of Carol Trewin in articles such as "The Real Cost of Cheap Food". No less relevant, the article "Why Did We Shun the Lessons of 1967?" by Ken Tyrell, veterinary surgeon, who diagnosed the first and last cases of foot and mouth disease during the 1967 epidemic.

The Western Morning News campaigned for the rights and needs of the farmers, with the Heart of Devon campaign. This worthwhile publication sets an example, by coming down firmly off the fence, from which most of the mainstream press never budges an inch.

The postscript to the book offers an important statistic (p.95): "On July 10, there was a fresh surge of public anger when the Government admitted that 200,000 animals had been unnecessarily slaughtered after errors in foot and mouth tests. WMN London Editor Jason Groves reported that statistics released by DEFRA showed that, nationally, 600 farms had had all their livestock killed because foot and mouth had been supected on a neighbouring farm but later disproved. Devon suffered more than any other county - 9,551 cattle and 44,176 sheep were killed unnecessarily on 122 farms. This amounted to almost one in seven of all cattle and sheep killed in the Westcountry, and around 10 per cent of all farms affected."

Foot and Mouth - How the West Country Lived Through the Nightmare
is available, priced £9.99 from:
  The Western Morning News
Brest Road
Derriford Business Park
Plymouth  PL6 5AA

Our grateful thanks to Peter Clark of the Farm Crisis Network
for bringing this to our attention and kindly sending us a copy of the report.

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