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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Has the election eclipsed foot-and-mouth?
On Sunday William Hague has spoken of Tony Blair "turning his back" on the countryside. Foot-and-mouth disease returned to the top of the news agenda last week. For some, the problem never went away.
Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo has claimed that the Labour Party has misled the public about the extent of the crisis since the election was called.
Tony Blair has warned against complacency, but Yorkshire's farmers now fear a "new Cumbria". The people of Settle maintain that they have been "culled by Labour".
Has foot-and-mouth disease threatened your way of life? Were restrictions put in place to try to stop the spread of the disease relaxed too soon? Has election campaigning been affected? Or is the election just an unnecessary sideshow for you? This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Mr Blair announced FMD was over and then called the election for June 7th. Tell the people of Settle, Skipton and areas around Northallerton that it is over. Yes, it has been sidelined. So have the problems of rural business as well as the farmers. I run a small B&B. My house is reached by a bridle path, now closed. My takings are 100% down. Is there any help for me? If there is, where do I go? I hear about millions being given to the tourist boards to promote tourism in the countryside. If we all go under, where with the new tourists stay?
The truth is not getting out or is being suppressed. I was at home in the country last weekend talking to family. The burial site oozed black effluent into the stream, which flows into the river that goes through the town. Foxes and rats gorged themselves for 3 weeks prior to burial and they are carriers - where have they gone to? Warm weather will bring it out again. Contractors got paid but didn't pay local hotels. The election is masking or suppressing free speech about all this incompetence. Country folks know, city folks are unaware.
I was in the lower reaches of the North Yorkshire Moors with my family yesterday. Lots of healthy sheep around with their lambs. We drove through three disinfectant points, went to a lovely hotel in Lastingham, were the only people in for Monday (Bank Holiday) lunch. The Americans have all cancelled. Yes, FMD is still inflicting serious damage on the farming and tourist communities, but if you keep off the bits where the warning signs are, it's still all there and still lovely!
The government should be congratulated on how they handled the foot and mouth problem. The country should be grateful the Tories were not in power. We would have seen pictures in the press of ministers' children eating offal sandwiches, whilst the leader would be saying "What problem? There isn't a problem".
The value of a farming industry is the ability to feed your own nation not its contribution to GDP. Would you rather pay unemployment benefit to farmers and import your meat? This crisis has escalated due to a lack of proper action by the Government. Will we see an outbreak of T.B. in humans next?
What's this myth that the countryside is going to disappear if we stop giving free money to farmers? It's not townies going out and digging up hedgerows for vandalism, but farmers for more profit. The top of Ben Nevis has no farms on it, but is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Nature is rather good at making things pretty - rather better than farmers who create great prairies of oil-seed rape. Is foot and mouth sad? Yes it is. Is it one of the long-term costs of farming? Unfortunately so. Should the taxpayer pay for it? Not on your nelly. Are we getting good environmental value from the money we give to the farming industry? Not at all.
David E Flavell, Liverpool, England
I cannot believe the some of the comments I have read here. What has been happening is mass animal cruelty and devastation for the farmers. There is a perfectly good vaccination and vaccinated meat is safe to eat. We already eat it. There are no problems with keeping disease status free anymore because no one wants our meat anyway.
I totally agree with the comments posted by Ann Ward. I have been driven to the point of rage by the way that foot-and-mouth has been driven down the news agenda. The contiguous cull strategy that the government used to stop the foot-and-mouth outbreak is based on a flawed statistical model that assumes the outbreak all started on the same day at one farm in Northumberland. Once they had committed to this policy, they couldn't back down for fear of losing face (and foot-and-mouth free status). MAFF vets have questioned it since the diagnosis may have been wrong in many cases, and people's pet animals and rare breeds have been massacred. I am appalled by this government's arrogant and unfeeling attitude to animal welfare. It's all very well for Tony Blair to blame the voters for being cynical and apathetic; it's situations like this that have made us cynical and apathetic. It's a good job for Blair that sheep don't have votes, he'd be out on his ear and deservedly so. In case anyone thinks this is a party political diatribe, Hague would probably have done much the same thing, equally ineptly.
It saddens me to read comments like those in this Talking Point. It appears people simply have no idea what it is like in the countryside. I no longer keep livestock but many of my friends do. Comments about farmers' greed and responsibility for this crisis show how little most people understand what has happened. I can't speak for every farmer but I have never met one that is greedy or who doesn't care for his/her livestock. To watch your life's work being destroyed in front of you has to be the most devastating thing that can happen to anyone. When this involves living animals it is also heartbreaking. People don't realise a lot of these animals are people's pets. This Government has behaved appallingly. MAFF has shown gross incompetence bordering on criminal negligence. The wanton killing of so many animals has been unnecessary at best. The outbreak of the disease in Yorkshire simply proves their incompetence. One has to wonder if Tony Blair has another objective (freeing up farm land for pleasure use perhaps). After all, foot-and-mouth will be over by 14th June - Tony has ordered it. My friends will have to wait until at least three months after the last outbreak to see if they have escaped this disease and the heavy hand of MAFF. We should all feel for the farmers, their families and their children. They are all suffering far more than any of us can even imagine.
Colin Williams, Bracknell, UK
Don't believe the press when they blame the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Settle on the relaxation of access to the countryside. Non-farming rural businesses desperately need help in the form of returning visitors. At least farmers get compensation. Hoteliers with an empty hotel for 3 months get nothing. An outdoor shop in Keswick, where trade has fallen drastically gets nothing either. The draconian measures that closed off the countryside are crippling rural businesses. Many people have lost their jobs and futures remain uncertain. I would like to hear the politicians discussing these issues - if they dare!
Huh? What foot and mouth?
Am I the only person to be struck by the fact that farmers behave as if they were the last bastion of old style socialism? They resist being opened to the market forces that affect the working lives of most other people. They expect Government handouts when they fail to make a profit and bemoan the fact that they might not be able to pass on their farm to their children (invariably eldest son). Not only do they want a job for life they want it for the duration of their children's' lives as well. Astonishing.
My criticism of the government's foot-and-mouth policy was that they got involved at all. The farming industry should be left to sort out the problem on its own. They can then argue amongst themselves about culling or vaccination. If they want to call in the army they should have to pay. The rest of us can decide whether to buy British just as we do with any other commodity.
Wake up farmers and join the rest of us in the economic reality of the twenty-first century
Without the provision of subsidies and grants from the public sector, the countryside would fall into a state of disrepair. The beautiful patchwork of our green and pleasant land would disappear to be replaced by a weed and scrub infested void. Who would then go trekking in the Peak District, holidaying on the coast or rambling in the Chilterns and who would be expected to take the blame for the collapse of the tourism industry? The farmers?
The foot-and-mouth epidemic has provided us with a snapshot of what can be expected if the subsidies go.
I think that those who argue against the grant and subsidies that are available to our farmers should go out and appreciate the product of their investment, the greatest resource that we have ever had: a living, working and sustainable countryside.
Personally I feel that the government has managed the crisis well. Foot and mouth is a naturally occurring disease that has unfortunately hit the countryside, and although many people can empathise with the plight of the tourist industry and farmers, blame really cannot be apportioned to the government. Unlike the damage done to the mining industry under the Conservative government in the 1980's.
Foot-and-mouth has only affected my life in that I enjoy hiking as a pastime. It distresses me that I cannot get away from London for a long hike in the countryside. In this way, it has impacted my mental health. I cherish the peace and solitude that walking in the beautiful outdoors provides. Can this sadness compare to grief that farmers have suffered in the country? Of course not. However there are many other people in cities who do not enjoy the countryside as I do and they have not been impacted by foot-and-mouth in the least bit.
I don't know why anyone has any sympathy with the farmers - their animal welfare record is dreadful. They cut corners with food safety, sneak livestock backwards and forwards, with no regard for sensible quarantine arrangements, in order to swindle increased subsidies. Of course when it all goes wrong and people catch fatal diseases from beef, or our status as a disease free livestock exporter falls into doubt, it is always someone else's fault (generally the Government or the EC) and the taxpayer picks up the tab. The more compensation they get the more they want and the more they whine on about the countryside in crisis. It's farmers who need to put their house in order, not the Government.
Jimbo, Barnsley, UK
To say that farmers are greedy and stupid just shows how much the public knows about farming and the countryside. The reason farming needs subsidies is because the government allows cheap imported meat into the country which does not meet our high welfare standards so while our farmers are made to pay for these costly standards other countries can produce meat for half the cost and import it into the UK while our farmers go out of business. The trouble is that this situation does not get publicised. Similarly foot-and-mouth crisis is no longer in the news so as far as the public is concerned it has disappeared. I believe that it is rather a large coincidence that once the election campaign started the foot and mouth crisis finished. And to top it off it was probably the government that allowed foot and mouth into the country because it has no control what so ever over what meat enters the UK.
Limiting the discussion about foot and mouth to the economic percentage agriculture represents is a narrow-minded city view. Farmers have a much wider responsibility of countryside preservation, if only to preserve the bank holiday escape of all the city folks that will flock on the motorways by Friday. When criticising the public money that goes to supporting farmers, just think about the public money spent on city transport infrastructure.
I was astonished that, in the thick of the foot and mouth outbreak, Blair made the decision to move the election back by only one month. Political expediency clearly drove that decision, yet there is yet another example of short-sighted self-interest in government as the potential for a further outbreak rears its head.
I think the government did a brilliant job. It's just that people get bored by the same 'news'. Just look what happens to all the wars over the world. Even the ones on our door step (former Yugoslavia, Chechnya) were ignored after a couple of weeks. It's amazing how a little minority managed to shout that loud that the news trickled through as long as it did.
Volker, High Wycombe, England
I just hope that all the massive slaughter of thousands of infected animals will not be for nothing. Labour should find a solution as soon they can.
Farming represents less than 1% of the UK economy yet receives more subsidy than the rest of UK industry put together. And still farmers complain.
Yes, the election has overshadowed foot-and-mouth, thank goodness. Many of the whingeing farmers (who have had God knows how much public money in compensation) didn't give a damn about people like the miners and now the rest of us have become unsympathetic towards them. The Government has done more than enough, and MAFF is still dealing with the new outbreaks anyway. The fact that foot-and-mouth is no longer headline news does not mean the Government has withdrawn any resources, and it is preposterous to imply otherwise.
Steve, your comments are hurtful to country people and unworthy of a British citizen. You complain that the farmers showed no sympathy for the militant miners. As I remember it, neither did the rest of the country at that time. I agree that the fuel protesters went too far in September 2000. I'd rather see them win the battle through the ballot box by electing the Tories. However, the miners were blatantly trying to bring down the Tory government undemocratically.
Harry Wentworth, if what you say about nobody else having any sympathy for the miners at the time is true why are you complaining simply because the boot is now on the other foot where the farmers are concerned?
Steve, I am not complaining. I am simply saying that neither the Miners nor the fuel Protesters were acting democratically. Both were trying to bring down the respective governments of the day, and both were in the wrong.
I think the Government have handled the foot-and-mouth thing well but it could have been better. I think the rules should have been relaxed but not to such a great extent when there was still a risk.
Labour cannot be trusted and deserve severe punishment for their mismanagement of this crisis.
What the Labour Government has done is belittle the crisis to the whole nation.
My business has now folded due to foot-and-mouth along with many others.
If businesses in the big towns the cities and the South east had been affected then Labour would have reacted differently.
It just shows what this government's attitude to the countryside is:
it doesn't care.
The extremely media influenced public opinion regarding foot and mouth changed very quickly when the number of outbreaks started to decrease. The idea that the problem was over and became under control, seemed quite a common misconception. The fight against foot and mouth should be fought to the very end in the same way it was at the peak of the crisis.
Pete Blacker, Manchester, UK
Farmers already have been 'compensated' for their own greed and stupidity far more than they deserve. I would like to know what the various political parties propose doing about stopping all subsidies to farmers and re-organising agriculture so that the environmental and other damage farmers cause is stopped once and for all.
It appears that our media here State-side continues to ignore this problem of foot & mouth.
At the same time at the livestock auctions here continue in fear of this dreaded disease.
Rest assured while you are across the ever shrinking waters - this problem is global not local.
Definitely too little too late by the Labour government.
I understand that the ELISA test is used to detect foot-and-mouth and that the test merely detects antibody proteins that are assumed to be specific to this one virus. If this is true, foot-and-mouth cases might be reported because this test comes out positive yet the animals show no signs of illness. If the virus was never isolated and the usual electron microscope photos are not published, how do the vets test against false positives in healthy animals? ELISA is known, in other cases, to cross-react with many things, including proteins related to the influenza virus.
George Bannister, London
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