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10 Years On – Remembering the Foot & Mouth Outbreak May 10, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Life, Chatter & Politics.
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Growing up in rural Devon, there was no way I could miss the devastating effects of the foot and mouth outbreak on the farming communities that are so important to Britain. The months, nay, years, of traumatising tests, culls and disinfecting have stayed with me, and 10 years down the line I thought it was time we looked back at such a ridiculous and horrendous time in our modern history.

Beginning in February of 2001, Foot and Mouth spread violently from an Abattoir in Essex, and despite a nationwide halt on transport of all animals, soon started cropping up in farms and abattoirs all across England. It was a farmer’s worst nightmare – an illness so quick spreading that once started it was hard to stop, and of which the consequences were undoubtedly going to be horrible to deal with.

Living in Devon, we watched as the news, and the disease, crept its way ever closer. And then, before we had really got our heads around what was going on, it had hit. Farms were no go zones, the world was suddenly replaced with buckets of acrid disinfectant. Everywhere you went you saw a sea of plastic bags over shoes, of bright red hastily scribbled warning signs, and the drawn pinched faces of the farmer’s whose livestock were so terminally threatened.

It was terminal, you see, although not necessarily as a result of the illness itself. The choice made by the government at the time was between vaccination, and culling. For a myriad of reasons, much questioned nowadays, the chosen answer was culling, the immediate execution of any stock that showed foot and mouth symptoms, or which had potentially been exposed to the illness. The consensus nowadays, generally, is that a combination of vaccination and culling could have been more beneficial, causing a less immediate destruction of otherwise healthy assets.

Still, culling it was, and all around the nation great smoking pyres of burning bodies were erected. Despite the fact the virus can be transmitted on the air, the unfortunately cloven hoofed animals that were destroyed were burnt, and my strongest memory of that time of my life was the stench of death that seemed to hang so cloyingly in the air. The sight of pale grey smoke enveloping your car, the terrifying glow of the flames licking their way through the pile. Even now I can’t smell a meat-heavy BBQ without my stomach turning in disgust – it smells to me of death, pain, and misery.

It wasn’t a pleasant time, with Farmer’s losing their livestock and businesses, and some never recovering. People like to cite the compensation that followed, but sometimes money can’t heal. Many, many animals lost their lives, and so many of these animals were members of meticulously crafted and much loved groups, or of breeding stocks. I think it is the sort of event that needs to be remembered, even in passing.

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