Back to Inbox ~ Home Page ~ Newspapers ~ "other news today"

I have now watched 'In the Shadow of Foot and Mouth" (thanks to Joyce for sending it to me), which was a film made by the Dumfries and Galloway Libraries, Information and Archives Service, to show the impact of FMD on the lives of people.

It did this very well - but, of course, one must remember that it wasn't the impact of the disease itself that we saw, but the impact of the policy chosen to deal with the disease, and that distinction is important.

In one part of the film, the blistered and lesioned tongue of a dead cow is shown and an animal health officer states that it was frightening how quickly the suffering came on, with cows paddling round, not knowing which foot to stand on because of the pain. In cases like that, I think most of us would support killing a suffering animal (if no treatment were available to help it to recover) - it is the wanton killing of healthy animals that we find so despicable and so unnecessary.

It was heartbreaking to watch the ewes and their new lambs being driven in, separated from each other into pens and slaughtered - and it must have been one of the saddest of occasions, as the animals' owner, to carry each of your little dead lambs, that you had so recently watched over during lambing, and lay it out neatly in a row with all the other little dead lambs. The sadness and the suffering on the faces of the people shown on the film was palpable and yet, despite this, they showed enormous dignity and courage. How callous and lacking in any understanding of people's feelings Vikki Cleghorn (the vet in the bunker) seemed, when she said, "They say they don't like unnecessary killing, but they're going to be killed anyway - they're bred for slaughter. If you're going to shorten the suffering of animals who have FMD by killing healthy animals, well, I don't have a problem with that".

A few farmers appear on the film, as well as Carolyn Hoffe and her mother, Juanita from Mossburn Sanctuary, Colin, sheep keeper and weaver of beautiful garments, and Andy and Kirstin Hurst, organic farmers. Those who are part of the FMD group will know well the stories of these people I have mentioned. Carolyn and her mother are filmed in the room where her sheep were slaughtered, which is still full of straw that they feel unable to clean out. Carolyn says, "I can't get over it. We don't sleep. We don't do anything. I can't believe in this day and age that people can come and do such awful things".

Juanita's battle to save the Sanctuary was filmed as it went along, until the cull was called off, because of the announcement by Ross Finnie that the 3km cull was to be discontinued and decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis by the vet. Vikki Cleghorn comments about the Sanctuary, "This was a severely high risk case - it should have been taken out as a dangerous contact".

Colin, the weaver, is visibly moved as he tells the sad story of the loss of his sheep and of his deerhound, Bray, howling and crying in sympathy with his own sadness - and we finally see the valuation and the heartbreaking slaughter of the Hirsts' sheep, lambs and goats.

The programme was excellent at capturing the sadness and the tragedy of the slaughter, but what I felt was lacking was any logical argument against the 3km culling policy, or in favour of vaccination. We hear the vets presenting the case for the policy - Hugh Reid says, at the beginning of the programme when sheep are being slaughtered, "The reason for doing this is important. The lesions in sheep are subtle, the disease may not be picked up - it is vital that these sheep within 3km of infected premises should be culled". Vikki Cleghorn says, "Some of our vets were really special people, who were very, very good at talking to farmers and they deserve that recognition - and the army as well. It had to be done, it had to be done. If we hadn't done it, we'd still be having cases now" (two months after the cull). Even one farmer praises the cull, saying they had done a very professional job and it had worked, it had stopped the spread and they had done the right thing.

I feel that any ordinary member of the public watching the film, and knowing little or nothing about FMD, would think how sad and what a shame, but it had to be done. The film almost seemed like emotion versus logic - and, of course, the slaughtering shown was efficient and quick and calm (not like many of the unshown killings)!

There was a discussion afterwards, with a panel consisting of Ross Finnie, Jim Walker (president of NFU Scotland), a Green MP and someone talking about NZ farming (sorry, I forget their names) and an audience of farmers, etc. Someone in the audience briefly mentioned vaccination, but it was dismissed by someone else, who said, "Until we have markers to tell us the difference between disease and vaccination, we have no option but to cull" (this received applause from the audience). Comments were made about compensation - one farmer said that it wasn't compensation that he received, but compulsory purchase. A discussion followed which touched on the future of farming, etc, but didn't really get anywhere - a comment was made that Scotland spent #500 million on subsidies, but many farmers were only making #80 a week.

My overall feeling is that this is a very sad film and a good record of what happened, but a missed opportunity to present the other options available and to educate people. Notices outside the Hirst farm said ECONOMICS BEFORE COMPASSION, SHOOT VIRUSES NOT ANIMALS and V FOR VACCINATION. It is a pity that these were not discussed in the film, or the question asked - what kind of country do we live in, anyway?

This is probably a bit rambling - hope it will do. One more thought - on the film, army personnel gave out figures of animals slaughtered each day, and sheep and lambs were counted separately. Why were they then conveniently counted as 'one unit' in overall figures given out?