The deadly power of agri-business

Foot and mouth disease

THE GOVERNMENT’S ‘Operation Cobra’ policy to eradicate foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a failure. Parts of the countryside are knee-deep in slaughtered animal carcasses yet the disease shows no sign of diminishing.

Dave Carr

What makes this political and social mess worse is that the government ignored a warning three years ago by its own BSE advisory committee that a FMD outbreak could be caused by infected pigswill.

But banning cheap pigswill containing animal products and switching to proper animal feed would have cut into the industry’s profits. An embarrassed government is now considering a ban.

The ‘firewall’ slaughter policy results from New Labour protecting agribusiness’s export trade profits. Vaccination would stop FMD but this would halt the £570 million a year animal export trade. As deputy prime minister John Prescott blurted out: “Our top priority is to protect the farming industry.”

But this protection costs us dearly. The Independent on Sunday says: “Vaccination would mean the country lost one year of the exports; more likely it would be three months’ worth, or £140 million. Even this is misleading because – as Dr Caroline Lucas, a Green MEP shows – exports in pork and lamb are almost balanced by imports, in what she calls a ‘food swap’.”

Years of cutbacks in resources, e.g. cuts in the number of vets, have made this disaster worse. Now the government is paying the price for its short-termism.

The total bill for the FMD epidemic is expected to reach a staggering £9 billion. That’s enough to end the NHS’s immediate underfunding crisis, with £2 billion spare for other essential public services.