An accident waiting to happen?
by Robbie MacGabhan
February 25-27, 2001
"I honestly hadn't seen anything wrong with my pigs." This was the opinion of Robert Waugh, who, with his brother Ronald, ran Burnside Farm at Heddon on the Wall in Northumberland, northern England. His farm had been reported to the RSPCA by the Hillside Animal Sanctuary because of the squalid conditions there. The RSPCA called in the Ministry of Farming and Fisheries, whose officials visited the farm in late December and January telling the Waugh brothers only to 'pull their socks up.'
The conditions on the Waughs' farm allowed foot and mouth disease to not only incubate and spread through their own livestock, but also to a nearby abattoir and now, over a week later, has led to 24 separate incidents of the disease in England and Wales. The chain of events that started on Burnside Farm has led to an unprecedented level of action and intervention by the British and Irish governments to stop the spread of the disease, but should more have been done earlier?
No effort it seems is too small to halt this disease spreading, and the financial costs of the operation must be massive. However, three vitally important issues have not been addressed, one is the underlying factoryisation of farming and the second is the impact of the EU and its agricultural policy. Finally there is the question of the quality of food on our table.
What does this latest outbreak say about the safety of food being eaten by the general public, and what are the regulatory authorities doing to ensure that the quality of the food being sold to consumers is of the highest standards possible?
Foot and Mouth, E-coli, Salmonella, BSE - it's a lot more than coincidence. For more than ten years the farming sector has been rocked by a series of crises that have all served to undermine consumer confidence in the quality of the food products we eat. This crisis has been caused by the transformation of farming from being family-run businesses into an industry where profits and costs dictate a factory philosophy for food production services.
The Waughs' farm that generated the first known Foot and Mouth outbreak was a product of two factors, one economic and one political. Farming was a business for the Waughs and Burnside Farm is just one of many holdings and agribusinesses they owned or had an interest in. Their situation is replicated in farming business across Britain and increasingly in Ireland where farming as a way of life is dying and farming as a business is growing. The Waughs were running a farming business where costs were cut and, it seems, so were corners.
We know that rotting pig carcasses had been left with live pigs and pieces of raw meat were found lying around the farm. We know that sows gave birth not in isolation but among other pigs and that grown pigs were eating piglets.
Is this a vision we want to contemplate at dinner time? Yet it is the one that is facing us today, albeit unbeknownst to most consumers, who really don't know where the family roast has been before it hits the Sunday table.The other factor affecting the operation of Burnside Farm was a complete failure of the regulatory authorities to actually enforce proper procedures on the farm and act adequately late last year when alerted by the RSPCA.
Now no effort is to be spared to eradicate this disease. However, had more resources had been put in ensuring food quality from the farm through the processing and retail sectors we might not be facing the crisis we are today.
FAILURE OF EU REGULATIONS
Part of the reason that there are now 24 reported cases of foot and mouth in Britain is because EU regulations and economic forces within the industry have caused the closure of hundreds of abattoirs in Britain and Ireland. Farm animals, sedentary beasts by nature, are being moved hundreds of miles across Britain and Ireland for two reasons. One is the obvious need to slaughter animals, the second is the speculative dealing in farm animals where dealers are continually shuffling stock from mart to mart in an attempt to capitalise on price differentials for animals.
The EU regulations that have forced many abattoirs to close were supposed to increase safety and quality at abattoirs across the EU. Their ability to spread infectious diseases rapidly across huge distances shows not only a failure of EU agricultural policy but also highlights how incredibly badly thought out it was in the first place.
Finally, there is the Issue of factory farming production methods and the issue of quality. BSE and its variants exist today as a disease because farmers saw offal as a cheap alternative for feeding cattle and sheep. Why was there nobody there to say that low cost farming methods were actively changing the food chain and turning cattle and sheep into meat eaters? Where then were the regulatory authorities which are trying to contain foot and mouth now?
It is the same look behind the ill thought out support at governmental level in Ireland and Britain for the use of GM foods. We have no idea what the long-term effect of these foods will be on humans who consume them yet no thought was put into this when companies like Monsanto were allowed to conduct tests on state-run farms in Ireland.
In Britain in the early 1990s, the then Conservative government actively discouraged research into the possibility of humans contracting BSE. How many people will needlessly suffer because of this and other similar shortsighted decisions?
Yes we need to do everything in our power to tackle the Foot and Mouth crisis. We need also to look at the underlying reasons that created the situation where we have to face up to this potential disaster in the first place.
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Editor's note: These actions taken by those in the know are not performed by chance or are they "ill thought out." They are deliberate. Look who's behind it. Monsanto.