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1 March 2001 Edition

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Foot and Mouth crisis

All Ireland plan needed

The spread of Foot and Mouth disease into any part of Ireland would be disaster but as An Phoblacht goes to print it already appears too late to avert a crisis. Throughout Wednesday, there were reports of concerns about outbreaks of the disease in Armagh and Wexford. In South Armagh that evening, those worst fears were confirmed when there was confirmation of Foot and Mouth Disease in sheep. But there is more. The 21 sheep in South Armagh were only part of a batch of 291 animals imported from Carlisle. It is believed the rest of the sheep were moved south of the Border and the hunt is now on to track them down.

There are serious questions about the sluggish response of the Dublin Government, which banned marts in border areas without imposing a state-wide ban. Disinfectant procedures at air and ferry ports were also lax for vital days last week. Over 200 Border checkpoints are now manned by Gardaí and in some cases 26-County army personnel. Even though the Six Counties has the same restrictions on imports of animals and animal products from Britain, the Dublin Government is busy drawing meaningless lines across the country. As someone said this week, viruses do not respect political borders.

However, up until Tuesday of this week, passengers coming into Cork Airport were not being disinfected even though many of the flights that land at the airport are from Britain.

It makes sense with any potential foot and mouth outbreaks to curtail movement of people, livestock and farming equipment around Ireland, but the measures in place on the border need to be questioned.

Yes, there were significant movements of livestock from Britain into the Six Counties and some into Cavan in the last week. However, Assembly Agriculture minister Brid Rodgers has placed exclusion orders on each of the 100 locations where animals have recently arrived or where there was any suspicion of contact.

Compare this to the action this week of 26-County agriculture minister Joe Walsh, who took his time in taking simple steps like banning marts but still let a significant amount of horses into Irish stud farms from Britain in the last week.

There has been an obvious inconsistency in Dublin Government policies. Surely this crisis is something that could be co-ordinated though the North-South ministerial councils set up under the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has called on people on both sides of the Border to be vigilant and to cooperate with measures to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease to Ireland. He also called for a more hands-on approach by the Dublin government and for the British Army to be withdrawn to barracks as their activities patrolling on farmland along the Border pose a real danger. Ó Caoláin said:

``The spread of Foot and Mouth to any of the 32 Counties would be a national disaster. I urge people on both sides of the Border to be vigilant at all times and to co-operate with measures to ensure that this disease does not enter this island. The livelihoods of almost the entire agricultural community are at risk with this potential epidemic.

``There needs to be a more co-ordinated and hands-on approach from central government. There is evidence that the initial response has been sluggish in some respects. The effort to protect the country from this disease should be led by the Taoiseach and a Cabinet Task Force should be established.

``I have been contacted by people in Border areas who have complained about the continuing activities of the British Army. British troops regularly and recklessly cross and recross farms and have been responsible for the spread of bovine TB. Their activities now clearly pose a danger with this Foot and Mouth crisis. They should be immediately withdrawn to barracks. Sinn Féin Assembly Agriculture spokesperson, Fermanagh & South Tyrone representative Gerry McHugh, echoed Ó Caoláin's call for the withdrawal of British troops to barracks.


An accident waiting to happen?

The Foot and Mouth Disease crisis


``I honestly hadn't seen anything wrong with my pigs''. This was the opinion of Robert Waugh ,who with his brother Ronald ran Burnside Farm at Heddon on the Wall in Northumberland, northern England. His farm had been reported to the RSPCA by the Hillside Animal Sanctuary because of the squalid conditions there. The RSPCA called in the Ministry of Farming and Fisheries, whose officials visited the farm in late December and January telling the Waugh brothers only to `pull their socks ups'.

The conditions on the Waughs' farm allowed foot and mouth disease to not only incubate and spread through their own livestock but also to a nearby abattoir and now, over a week later, has led to 24 separate incidents of the disease in England and Wales. The chain of events that started on Burnside Farm has led to an unprecedented level of action and intervention by the British and Irish governments to stop the spread of the disease, but should more have been done earlier?

No effort it seems is to small to halt this disease spreading and the financial costs of the operation must be massive. However, three vitally important issues have not been addressed, one is the underlying factoryisation of farming and the second is the impact of the EU and its agricultural policy. Finally there is the question of the quality of food on our table.

What does this latest outbreak say about the safety of food being eaten by the general public and what are the regulatory authorities doing to ensure that the quality of the food being sold to consumers is of the highest standards possible?


Foot and Mouth, E-coli, Salmonella, BSE - it's a lot more than coincidence. For more than ten years the farming sector has been rocked by a series of crises that have all served to undermine consumer confidence in the quality of the food products we eat. This crisis has been caused by the transformation of farming from being family-run businesses into an industry where profits and costs dictate a factory philosophy for food production services.

The Waughs' farm that generated the first known Foot and Mouth outbreak was a product of two factors, one economic and one political. Farming was a business for the Waughs and Burnside Farm is just one of many holdings and agribusinesses they owned or had an interest in. Their situation is replicated in farming business across Britain and increasingly in Ireland where farming as a way of life is dying and farming as a business is growing. The Waughs were running a farming business where costs were cut and it seems so were corners.

We know that rotting pig carcasses had been left with live pigs and pieces of raw meat were found lying around the farm. We know that sows gave birth not in isolation but among other pigs and that grown pigs were eating piglets.

Is this a vision we want to contemplate at dinner time? Yet it is the one that is facing us today, albeit unbeknownst to most consumers, who really don't know where the family roast has been before it hits the Sunday table.

The other factor affecting the operation of Burnside Farm was a complete failure of the regulatory authorities to actually enforce proper procedures on the farm and act adequately late last year when alerted by the RSPCA.

Now no effort is to be spared to eradicate this disease. However, had more resources had been put in ensuring food quality from the farm through the processing and retail sectors we might not be facing the crisis we are today.


Part of the reason that there are now 24 reported cases of foot and mouth in Britain is because EU regulations and economic forces within the industry have caused the closure of hundreds of abattoirs in Britain and Ireland. Farm animals, sedentary beasts by nature, are being moved hundreds of miles across Britain and Ireland for two reasons. One is the obvious need to slaughter animals, the second is the speculative dealing in farm animals where dealers are continually shuffling stock from mart to mart in an attempt to capitalise on price differentials for animals.

The EU regulations that have forced many abattoirs to close were supposed to increase safety and quality at abattoirs across the EU. Their ability to spread infectious diseases rapidly across huge distances shows not only a failure of EU agricultural policy but also highlights how incredibly badly thought out it was in the first place.


Finally, there is the issue of factory farming production methods and the issue of quality. BSE and its variants exist today as a disease because farmers saw offal as a cheap alternative for feeding cattle and sheep. Why was there nobody there to say that low cost farming methods were actively changing the food chain and turning cattle and sheep into meat eaters? Where then were the regulatory authorities which are trying to contain foot and mouth now?

It is the same logic behind the ill thought out support at governmental level in Ireland and Britain for the use of GM foods. We have no idea what the long-term effect of these foods will be on humans who consume them yet no thought was put into this when companies like Monsanto were allowed to conduct tests on state-run farms in Ireland.

In Britain in the early `90s, the then Conservative government actively discouraged research into the possibility of humans contracting BSE. How many people will needlessly suffer because of this and other similar shortsighted decisions?

Yes we need to do everything in our power to tackle the Foot and Mouth crisis. We need also to look at the underlying reasons that created the situation where we have to face up to this potential disaster in the first place.


Sinn Féin Ard Fheis to be kept under review

Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that the party's Ard Fheis, due to take place in Dublin on 10/11 March, will be kept under constant review over the next few days because of the threat posed by the current Foot and Mouth Disease crisis.

``There is widespread concern across the island regarding the possibility of the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease to any county in Ireland,'' said McLaughlin. ``Sinn Féin has been urging people to act responsibly and to cooperate fully with measures to ensure that this disease does not enter the island. We are all conscious that this potential epidemic places at risk the livelihoods of communities throughout rural Ireland.

``In terms of the party's Ard Fheis, we have been in touch with the Department of Agriculture to seek their advice and of course we will be acting responsibly and will take any precautions that they advise. At this point they are not recommending that we cancel.

``We will be keeping the matter under constant review over the next few days.''


An Phoblacht
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