The Socialist 23 March 2001
Blair's Hated Policies
Foot and mouth crisis: A 'plague' made by big business
TONY BLAIR's government is increasingly turning to desperate measures to eradicate foot and mouth disease (FMD) and allow their planned May election to proceed.
But now there is a backlash against the extreme measures the government is contemplating. Some farmers are threatening to stop culls of healthy animals by agriculture ministry officials in FMD-infected areas.
Government plans to dump animal carcasses in huge landfill sites have also been attacked as environmentally dangerous.
Environment minister Michael Meacher, in order to create an air of normality and to placate the tourist industry, said unaffected parts of the countryside were open to the public - it was 'business as usual'. He was then slapped down by his own ministry officials.
Meanwhile, the overall government bill in compensation to farmers and others could be a colossal £9 billion - almost twice as much as the BSE epidemic and possibly wrecking the government's public spending targets.
Big business policy
BUT THIS political crisis is a result of a food industry policy driven by capitalist agri-business interests. FMD is not a modern plague. Most adult animals recover.
Vaccination of herds could stop the disease. But the livestock industry has long insisted that governments pursue a disease-free policy to secure lucrative export markets.
By vaccinating, animals would carry FMD antibodies in their blood. At present there is no test to determine whether antibodies are the result of animals recovering from FMD or from being vaccinated.
But there is no research being conducted by the ministry of agriculture.
France for 30 years until 1991 regularly vaccinated animals. This policy was ended after pressure from the British Tory government. Now Britain's big farming interests have been hoist upon their own petard.
Yet, the mass slaughter policy could prove ineffective in eradicating the disease. A FMD epidemic in Taiwan in 1996 was initially dealt with by culling but after one-third of the pig population was slaughtered and the disease was not abating, vaccination was introduced. While the country lost its export markets it was nonetheless able to curtail the disease and certify meat products as disease free.
Clearly, New Labour has decided the capitalist interests of the livestock export trade which is costing us billions are more important than the interests of the public in securing safe, wholesome food.
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