alive logo

Britain Still Slaughtering Cows


Over two and a half million animals were slaughtered, burned and buried in Britain this spring because of foot and mouth disease (FMD). By May, another 150,000 condemned animals awaited slaughter, held up by more than 200,000 carcasses needing burial.

Over two and a half million animals were slaughtered, burned and buried in Britain this spring because of foot and mouth disease (FMD). By May, another 150,000 condemned animals awaited slaughter, held up by more than 200,000 carcasses needing burial. This carnage adds to the 150,000 British cattle doomed and downed with mad cow disease in previous months.

What has happened to British agriculture? Is there a relationship between the two "outbreaks"?

Although it will cost British taxpayers at least $1.4 billion in compensation to farmers for the FMD massacre, many of the animals were perfectly healthy when killed. Most were slaughtered simply because they were on the same farm as or within three kilometres of sick animals.

Sickness is determined by a positive test for antibodies apparently related to FMD. The animals may not even have had any symptoms. In fact, there were only about 1,600 actual cases of FMD with any symptoms at all. This means that for every animal with symptoms, another 1,562 healthy animals were killed. And most animals with symptoms would have recovered quickly. The British Ministry of Agriculture, which enforced the testing and slaughter, admits that "the disease is rarely fatal, except in the case of very young animals" and that it "usually runs its course in two or three weeks, after which the great majority of animals recovers naturally." The 24-hour slaughter policy masked this fact.

The disease has no effect on humans but may cause animals to temporarily grow more slowly, stop producing milk or require extra care. Their meat is still considered fit for human consumption.

The justification for the shocking slaughter is purely economic. Britain wanted to preserve its "disease-free" status to freely export meat products. But the disease can exist in wild animals like hedgehogs and in horses without symptoms. The "burn first, ask questions later" policy is futile but it has caught on worldwide and Britain has little choice but to continue it.

Tests Faulty

The foot and mouth disease tests themselves are even questionable, developed and conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture by a single British laboratory, the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright. The ministry Web site notes that the lab's primary test, the ELISA, can be inconclusive. No independent labs conduct or verify the tests.

The use of antibody testing is an unreliable indicator for disease since antibodies are produced as part of the immune response to a virus or other agent. They can be generated without a successful infection and will remain long after recovery. They may help identify the cause of disease in a sick animal but in a healthy one, antibodies cannot predict whether an animal is about to get sick, was previously ill, has recovered and is now immune or has developed immunity without ever being ill. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization research paper notes that stressed animals are more likely to have false positive results.

The reliance on antibody tests does not actually prove that the antibodies are caused by a virus. Symptoms of disease may result from an infection or poisoning related to intensive farming practices. Mad cow disease is now linked to organophosphate pesticide poisoning. Oddly, although there were only one-tenth as many cases of FMD with visible symptoms as there were of mad cow disease with symptoms, 17 times as many animals have been slaughtered for possible FMD.

The current dominant view of infectious disease is that the pathogen alone causes the disease and that the pre-existing health or nutritional status of the animal has no impact. But even killing every cow, sheep and pig in England wouldn't stop the disease from reoccurring without improved farm practices. History is instructive of this fact. During a 1922-24 outbreak of FMD, the Duke of Westminster won an exemption from slaughter for his herd, which was treated with locally known remedies and extra attention. Recovery was so good that some of the affected animals won prizes at the next Royal Agricultural Show. Other farmers had similar experiences. When slaughter was delayed the animals recovered.

Britain's farmers and livestock deserve the same chance.

Disease Scientist Blasts Kill Policy

One of Britain's leading advisers on foot and mouth disease says his government slaughtered hundreds of thousands of animals it didn't need to in the campaign to contain the outbreak.

Dr Paul Kitching has left the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, Britain's main centre for FMD, to head Canada's Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases in Winnipeg, MB. Leaked to the media, Dr Kitching's critical memo to the British FMD emergency team said that up to one in four sheep farms were wrongly diagnosed. On the advice of statisticians basing models on a 1967 FMD outbreak in cattle, which are affected differently, hundreds of thousands of sheep were slaughtered on suspicion alone.

Mulching Rules!

It's the time of year to add moisture, life and nutrients to your garden while keeping the weeds down. Mulching is your best answer.

Mulch protects the soil from sunbaking and crust formation, which prevents water from soaking in. This organic blanket holds moisture in the soil for plant use and keeps soil temperature cool in hot weather and warm in winter.

Other benefits of organic mulch:

  • Increases root zone
  • Stops erosion
  • Controls weeds
  • Eliminates cultivating
  • Protects plants from mud splash
  • Increases number and activity of beneficial earthworms and nitrogen fixing microorganisms
  • Contains growth-promoting hormones
  • Releases nutrients slowly
  • Gives soil good tilth easy to work and till, wet or dry
  • Recycles waste products

The choice of mulch should be based on such factors as availability, cost, function and appearance. Some organic mulches are straw, shredded leaves, grass clippings, cocoa bean hulls and bark chips. The type determines the depth it's applied usually two to four inches deep.

Source: Julie Ferraro, Acres USA, January 2001



Hollywood Balancing Act

Hollywood Balancing Act

Drawing on martial arts philosophy, Peter Jang finds mind-body balance in a decade-plus career

Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe