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FOOT AND MOUTH - The suffering continues
Posted 1 July 2001
Foot and mouth may be off the front page - but the suffering goes on. Animal Aid continues to push hard to ensure that all the emotion and hand-wringing engaged in by the farming industry, the government and the general public doesn't dissolve without trace.
Lessons to be learned
Foot and mouth offered the nation several important lessons:
It showed, through the conduct of the 'cull', the contempt with which farmed animals are treated. If this level of brutality and incompetence could take place in open fields for public inspection, what horrors - people wondered - occur behind the closed doors of factory farms and slaughterhouses?
Foot and mouth also demonstrated that animal farming is in a state of permanent crisis. The epidemic came in the wake of large scale infective outbreaks of salmonella, E coli 0157, bovine TB, campylobacter, BSE and swine fever. Given the oppressive, polluting, high-throughput nature of modern farming, more disease catastrophes will inevitably follow - unless there is real change.
The veggie message
Animal Aid's first objective has been to convince people to be part of the solution by adopting an animal-free diet. With the help of our fantastic UK-wide network of supporters, we've put out clear information on the background to the epidemic and on positive action individuals can take.
Hundreds of thousands of leaflets, posters, and reports have been circulated - both on Going Veggie and on the nature and causes of foot and mouth.
Then there have been the media statements - more than two dozen on every conceivable aspect of the crisis - and letters to hundreds of newspapers around the country.
Among the demos we staged was a lively affair outside the National Farmers' Union London headquarters. About 30 activists dressed in farmers' garb demanded an apology from NFU president Ben Gill for the carnage and mayhem resulting from the foot and mouth crisis, and for the refusal of the Union to take any responsibility (see photos). Our letter was accepted on Gill's behalf by the NFU's vice president, Michael Paske and deputy director general, Ian Gardiner.
The Animal Aid protesters beat tin plates and carried a three metre long banner declaring: 'Farmers say sorry! We've seen the light. Meat Stinks - Go Veggie!' Numerous smaller placards continued the theme.
And we screened, for passing members of the public, our new five minute shock video called Choose Life - Go Veggie!. This shows the violence and bloodshed that are at the core of the meat industry.
Shambles of the cull
There have been many horrors associated with the cull itself. These include animals earmarked for destruction not being fed properly in the days before; pregnant and baby animals being stuck in fields and dying in the mud; others being ineptly 'despatched' with the inefficient captive bolt gun and then buried alive; terrified animals chased across fields by killing gangs. Even Farmers Weekly reported (May 18) on a group of cattle in North Devon who took flight when they saw their fellows being shot but were finally cornered in a neighbouring field. The trade journal describes animals 'huddling terrified under the hedge in full view from the village while marksmen tried to shoot them. Some escaped again'.
Killing animals in the sight of their fellows is a practice prohibited in slaughterhouses because of the distress it causes (even though, in the killing factories, pigs are typically electrically stunned in groups.)
We took a complaint to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) - the body that sets and maintains standards for the profession.
Injection into the heart - Royal College condones cruelty
We also notified the RCVS that young pigs, lambs and calves - whose skulls are too soft for the captive bolt - are being killed by injection directly into their hearts (intra-cardiac). This is a painful and traumatic procedure that the American Veterinary Medical Association outlaws, except where animals are heavily-sedated, unconscious or anaesthetised. There are less cruel ways of dispatching young animals, including the use of pre-sedation followed by shooting with a small bore free bullet, or the administration of a lethal injection. But these methods are considered less convenient for the killing gangs.
Incredibly, Roger Eddy, the president of the RCVS, defended intra-cardiac injection as well as killing animals in the sight of their fellows during the foot and mouth emergency. In correspondence with Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler, he claimed that the former wasn't painful. And he argued that sheep and cattle are quite untroubled while watching the killing of members of their own family and social groups - even though we'd reminded him of the legal prohibition on subjecting animals to such an experience in slaughterhouses.
Animal Aid regards the president's views as an outrage, not only because they are voiced by a man sworn upon oath to protect animals, but also because his views are likely to be communicated to new generations of veterinary surgeons. We called for his resignation and lodged a formal complaint with the College.
We also called directly upon Agriculture Minister Elliot Morley to order an immediate cessation of injections into the heart. He expressed his concern and passed our letter on to his welfare officials. At the time of going to press no action had been taken.
The future of markets
It was to Elliot Morley we also turned on the question of the future of livestock markets, given that the bartering of live animals was officially identified as a key reason the foot and mouth epidemic spread so fast and far.
We reminded Morley of a meeting we'd had with him in the House of Commons last June - just before publication of Bartered Lives, Animal Aid's third major report into welfare problems at livestock markets. Our report was supported by strong undercover video footage which revealed:
- aggressive and neglectful treatment of animals
- the ramshackle, unhygenic condition of many markets
- lack of accredited training of animal handlers
- lack of access to water
- animals arriving sick, diseased or injured
- lack of enforcement of regulations
We called on the government to:
- Establish a welfare league table of markets, based on data provided by the State Veterinary Service vets. Markets unable to meet a standard consistent with current welfare requirements would be required to upgrade immediately or close.
- Provide sufficient financial resources for the proper enforcement of the law and MAFF's own 1998 welfare strategy.
We reminded Elliot Morley of these two recommendations. He said he was awaiting a report from his official advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). So we wrote to FAWC calling on them to support our demands. They told us that the issues of a welfare league table and sufficient enforcement funding were under consideration but that their Report on the Welfare of Livestock at Markets would not be completed before Summer 2002.
We shall continue pressing the Minister and FAWC to act on markets - and on intra-cardiac injections.