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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 17:27 GMT
No borders for meat trade
Pigs on transporter
Animals and meat are moved around the world
As British meat is banned from many countries because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the editor of, Jim Muirhead, considers the global nature of the trade.

Many people are now asking as to how this could happen again, but the answer lies in the fact that meat production is now a global industry.

In many areas of the world viral diseases such as swine fever and foot-and-mouth are endemic.

The main problem is that many of these viruses are highly resistant to chilling, freezing and curing and experience has shown that even boiling may not destroy all disease organisms.

Even a tiny amount of meat or dairy product could contain a dangerous virus and if eaten by pigs, poultry or other animals, it could allow the disease to establish itself.

Foot-and-mouth blister on a pig's snout
Foot-and-mouth blisters on a pig's snout
Both producers and consumers need to know the risks.

A carelessly discarded pie could have been the cause of last year's swine fever outbreak in the UK and the use of infected pig swill was believed to be the cause of the recent South African foot-and-mouth outbreak.

For these reasons the feeding of meat products to animals has been banned in many countries for many years, even prior to the additional requirements resulting from the BSE crisis.

Animal welfare, media and consumer pressures are dictating a move to more "welfare friendly" methods, such as outdoor production.

Outdoor production

Animal welfare improvements can only be a good thing.

However, one of the main reasons why animal production moved indoors was to reduce the risk from disease.

Outdoor production increases the risk of disease, which in the UK is to be compounded by legislation allowing increased access to the countryside.

Auctioneer putting up
The outbreak is having a profound impact
In today's world these two goals might appear incompatible.

People need to be aware that times have changed. In the past the local farmer raised, fed and fattened his animals locally.

The animals were then sent to the local slaughterhouse or butcher from whence they went to the local shops to be eaten by the local community.

Animals and people all mucked in together and the risk of disease spreading was low.

Global marketplace

In today's global economy, animals can be bred on one farm, fattened on another, slaughtered in a different country, then processed and eaten in yet another country.

Add to that all the transportation and the globetrotting of both man and beast, is it surprising that disease outbreaks are becoming more prevalent?

Leaving out the global economics of farming, the different controls and standards set by different governments and the arguments of farm gate and supermarket prices (which all contribute hugely to the situation but are not under the control of the individual), it remains vital that the risks and responsibilities created by today's society are understood and respected by all.

Unfortunately, given the omnipresent global marketplace, there is no way of knowing where the meat in most processed food products has come from.

It is vitally important we all make the effort to ensure our own waste meat products do not enter the food chain.

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