Animal Aid

FOOT AND MOUTH - The policy of culling

Posted 16 March 2001
Burning pyre

A statement from Animal Aid

Ian Gardiner, NFU deputy director general, quoted in Farmers Weekly, 16 March 2001:

"I think it will be hard for the farmers involved. But the common message from all farmers now is 'kill, kill, kill'."
i.e. business as usual.

Farmed animals

Never before have we lived in such an atmosphere of hypocrisy and fake tears, with the animal farming industry expressing grief for the unnecessary loss of life taking place during the foot and mouth outbreak, while omitting to mention that it breeds animals every year to have their throats cut, then breeds replacements for those it has killed.

The Ministry of Agriculture's website states that the most serious effects of foot and mouth disease are seen in dairy cattle. Loss of milk yield is commonplace. The justification of the slaughter policy is that widespread disease throughout the country would be economically disastrous, if it meant allowing a cow to produce less milk than is currently forced from her body.

The majority of animals would recover from the disease, even though its symptoms can be extremely painful. Many already suffer from far worse diseases and stresses in filthy, rapid-growth intensive farms.

The belated and haphazard attempts to control the disease include the culling of healthy animals, and there is mounting evidence of mistreatment and inefficient killing methods on farms.

Yet the government, while already planning closure of public footpaths, kept livestock markets open for several days after the first case was identified.

It then rushed to get animals off-farm and into abattoirs before an effective system was in place. It has allowed milk tankers into even 'the highest risk farms' [media definition] - and as milk is said to carry even more risk of zoonotic transfer (i.e. to human consumers) than meat, this in itself seems bizarre. Farmers Weekly, furthermore, carried reports on 16 March of 'lax or no disinfection of milk tankers visiting dairy units'.

Certainly, animals (whether infected or not) are better off killed on farm than subjected to further weeks or, at the most, a couple of years of imprisonment before being trucked to slaughter. The answer to the culling is to stop eating animal flesh and secretions, and to close the slaughterhouses for ever.

Wildlife

There is no scientific evidence that a cull of wildlife would have any effect on the spread of disease. Unless the government is prepared to wipe out every last animal and bird in a given area, and even the entire UK, it is meaningless to kill any. This is because the survivors will all potentially carry the foot and mouth virus as easily as it is carried on vehicle tyres, shoes, hair and indeed on the wind. Farmers may have no qualms about total destruction - they are, after all, experts in breeding animals to be killed and then replacing them. They do it every year. But wildlife is irreplaceable.

Indeed, the physical tracking and killing of frightened animals would in itself spread the disease into new areas and would be likely to bring wild animals closer to livestock than they might otherwise venture.

Rescued and companion animals

The possibility of seizing and culling companion animals also rears its head.

Sanctuaries are already being told by MAFF that if one of their animals contracts the disease, 'they would probably take the animal to an infected farm and slaughter it there to ensure it was disposed of correctly, and that a licence for that movement would be needed'. This would present both disease-spreading and welfare risks, but this is MAFF's position.

Notes to Editors

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