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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 08:51 GMT
One year on: It shouldn't happen to a vet
Vet checking lamb
Devon's number of cases was second only to Cumbria
This week we are hearing how the impact of foot-and-mouth lives on. Today vet John Head recalls his efforts to head off the disease - and how shaken he was to oversee the death of so many animals.

Being in contact with such an infectious disease was a most extraordinary feeling. I did feel contaminated myself; I could imagine the virus walking about on my hands.

John Head
John Head: "I'm used to death but it was hard"
When foot-and-mouth first hit, the vets in my practice in Cornwall decided that the quicker we could get involved, the quicker we could help deal with the problem.

After a week working on the Devon-Cornwall border I decided that my chances of seeing foot-and-mouth were relatively small and - partly out of clinical curiosity - I asked to be transferred to Devon as a Ministry of Agriculture vet inspector.

By 12 o'clock on my first day in the Exeter office I was on a farm and by 10 past I'd diagnosed foot-and-mouth.


I worked from six in the morning until gone midnight - one night I actually slept in my truck

Once the diagnosis was confirmed, it was my job to see through the humane slaughter of the livestock.

Silence of the lambs

For me and for the vast majority of vets, we knew that although it was a horrible thing to have to do, we wanted to see that the animals didn't suffer. The slaughter men felt exactly the same way.

Lambs
New-born lambs had a death warrant
All the cattle were sedated first so they had no idea what was going on. I felt very proud that not one animal suffered. We've seen film clips of animals being chased around fields, but of the millions slaughtered that was a tiny percentage.

I'm used to death, but on my second farm I had to put down 80 baby lambs by humane injection. Then they had to be collected. I put four dead lambs into each sack - that's 20 sacks - to save someone else having to pick them up. Even the slaughter men who were pretty hardened to it didn't want to do that.

I couldn't talk about it for a month or so afterwards because it upset me too much.

'Never want to see it again'

For that month in Devon, I worked from six in the morning until gone midnight - one night I actually slept in my truck.

Sheep testing
Checking sheep for signs of the disease
As for my own practice, it mucked the rota about having two of us off on foot-and-mouth duties. Those who stayed behind were kept busy checking herds, but there wasn't as much clinical work because so many farms were closed.

Things have only got back to normal in the past couple of weeks as movement licences have stopped. We're back doing another very important bit of work which is trying to control tuberculosis. There's a tremendous amount of TB in areas of Cornwall yet we weren't allowed to TB test from last February until a month ago.

One year on, I don't want to ever see foot-and-mouth again - clinically satisfied.

One year on, send us your memories of foot-and-mouth, and tell us how it's impact is still being felt. Here's some of your comments so far:

Ten months without water. When the authorities built their pyre they put it, against the rules, adjacent to my private water supply. I am still waiting for them to connect a new supply.
Mike, UK

The Westminster MPs spent a day debating hunting at the early stage of the outbreak. That day spent on how to combat this disease would have been more useful to rural Britain and all UK inhabitants.
Walter Black, UK

I work for the NFU, the organisation that represents many of the affected farming businesses. When I found out that we'd got FMD in the country I felt physically sick and couldn't take in the fact for days. It's now up to the government to stop this country ever having to experience such scenes again. Stop the illegal import of meat or we'll always be facing the threat of FMD.
Alison Pratt of the NFU, England

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John Head
"I had to put down 80 baby lambs"

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