The initial measures to contain the recent outbreak of Pan-Asian 0-Strain Foot and Mouth Disease, thought to have been imported into the United Kingdom from cheap meat from Asia fed to pigs, seems to have failed. France now confirms its first case in Mayenne, western France. The problem is that when the symptoms of the disease appear, it means that it has probably spread to other herds infected with the virus. Foot and Mouth affects cows, sheep, pigs and goats, it is highly contagious among cloven-hoofed animals (except horses) but is not fatal. However, the current practice used by agricultural ministries in the EU is to kill the herd before the infection spreads to others. The point is that an infected herd is classified as diseased, therefore downgrading the quality of the meat. To slaughter a herd is synonymous with receiving a subsidy for the upgrading of stock. Hence the mass burnings of animals in the UK and the probable repetition of this practice in other EU countries in the near future. The drama will be felt in non-EU countries to the East if the virus spreads, because EU subsidies as yet are not paid to non-member countries, unless of course, the EU can be held responsible by law for exporting a disease which created the need for compensation payments. In the United Kingdom, police are forcibly removing shotguns from the houses of farmers as mass suicide is feared among this sector of society, when news appears that there are plans to kill a further 500,000 sheep. As in all trades, there are rich farmers and poor farmers. At the top of the pyramid, there are the large farms which produce enormous profits due to their dimension. At the bottom are the smallholders, with mixed livestock/vegetable production, mostly produced for domestic consumption and some sold on small market stalls. Both survive for different reasons. The real drama is lived by the medium farmers, who have bank loans to pay and who probably make a nice profit in a good year but spend the average year making ends meet. The BSE crisis drove a wedge into the side of the EU farming community. The Foot and Mouth outbreak could very well drive many of those who survived BSE to ruin. More and more, the argument to change agricultural policy makes more sense. Local, and not multinational production and distribution chains, seems to be safer than what we have today.


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