The first caller lambasted Ben Gill as a liar over his "no vaccination"
stance and outlined the foreign virologists who had direct experience of
using vaccination in the field to successfully control FMD outbreaks, and
whose expertise Gill consistently ignores.
The second caller was Lawrence himself, who also spoke in favour of vaccination, pointing out that the restrictions accompanying the slaughter policy are themselves extremely harmful to the wider rural economy, shutting down farmers markets for just one example. He expressed astonishment that Gill appeared to take no account of this far-reaching damage in his pro-slaughter stance.
The third caller was Alan, who expressed his agreement with the two previous callers in supporting the vaccination option and criticised Gill for his consistent opposition to it. He pointed out that in Holland the recent FMD outbreak had been controlled using vaccination to a total of just 26 cases, with 30 days between the first and last case, an impressive demonstration of its effectiveness. He contrasted this with Gill's support for the contiguous cull policy here in Devon, when leading world authorities on FMD such as Paul Kitching and Alex Donaldson had now spoken out to denounce this policy as unscientific and unnecessary, yet still the NFU will not abandon their support for it in the face of such powerful evidence.
So poor old Ben had a fair pasting from the first three callers, and we gathered from Johnathan Dimbleby that this was representative of the many calls the programme had received!
Maybe it will do some good. There's a link to the BBC website where you can hear the broadcast via Realplayer:
# # # # Here's an interesting article from The Times website yesterday:
FRIDAY JUNE 15 2001
Whatever you call it, stupidity is the same
Blair must listen to voices silenced by MAFF in the foot-and-mouth scandal
All change in history, all advance, comes from nonconformity, wrote the historian A.J.P. Taylor. "If there had been no troublemakers, no dissenters, we should still be living in caves."
It would be nice to think that Tony Blair had stuck that saying on the wall of his office, or at least reminded his new Cabinet of its fundamental importance. A second term, backed by an overriding majority, gives him the moral authority not just to take unpopular decisions, but to listen to voices which question the narrow orthodoxies of government and extend its intellectual reach. Nowhere is that more true than in the handling of foot-and-mouth. This is a disease whose diagnosis has been flawed from the beginning, whose progress has been wrongly predicted, and which has been tackled by methods that are challenged by a growing body of scientific opinion.
Yet their argument has not been heeded. Experts of real distinction have been sidelined, their requests for data rejected, their input ignored. In direct contradiction to the recommendations of the Phillips inquiry into BSE, which said that dissenting scientists should always be listened to, they have become untouchables.
This week some of them met in London to go over the evidence again and to press for a public inquiry. People such as Dr Paul Sutmoller, who has helped to eradicate the disease in Latin America and the Caribbean, and probably knows more about it at first hand than anyone in the world. Or Dr Ruth Watkins, virologist and sheep breeder, who has pressed the case for vaccination with intelligence and passion. Or Simon Barteling, from The Netherlands, who could explain how the Dutch outbreak has been eliminated. They are not listened to by MAFF (now the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) because they challenge its methods and criticise its science. But Mr Blair could change all that. He could end the cult of secrecy, the lack of openness that has shrouded the disease and alienated farmers up and down the country.
Already there are dark rumours that the outbreak in Settle, in North Yorkshire, is far worse than had been feared, and that infection levels may be as high as 80 per cent. If that is true, then thousands of dairy cattle in the Ribble Valley may be at risk. At the same time, another rumour has it that the department is about to launch a further round of killings, taking out animals that have had the disease but recovered. If antibodies are found, then sheep that are harbouring them will be slaughtered, adding to the misery of those who have already lost healthy flocks in the course of the infamous three-kilometre "contiguous" cull.
An open debate about these developments would throw up two ideas. First, that the only sure and certain way of controlling the Settle outbreak is by vaccination. The Government's emergency committee, known as Cobra, this week heard, and rejected, a proposal from Gareth Davies, the former veterinary epidemiologist at the European Commission, that vaccination should be used. The usual arguments prevailed - that the farmers did not want it, there were no staff to administer the vaccines and, more shockingly, that there were no vaccines available because the batch had expired. These excuses are not only threadbare, they are scandalous. As Mr Davies told The Times: "I asked what would happen if we didn't vaccinate and what were the chances of this cluster blowing up really big. There was a deathly silence."
Silence also surrounds the issue of sheep found to be carrying antibodies.
So intent is the department on demonstrating to Europe that the British flock will eventually be FMD-free that those animals found to have had the disease and recovered will also be slaughtered. The latest research from virologists, however, suggests that the risk of infection from these animals is negligible. Whether they are right or not cannot be determined, since they are not being allowed access to the virus - the department's scientists say that it is too infectious. This is absurd, since some of the laboratories concerned are used to dealing with highly infectious organisms such as HIV and Hepatitis B.
The department, however, is claiming a monopoly on expertise and thus on policy. This might be acceptable if that policy was clearly seen to be working, or if that expertise was unimpeachable. Neither is true. The epidemic seems set to last for the rest of this year, while there is a growing feeling that the data on which the policy has been based is inaccurate.
Dr Paul Kitching, of the Government's Pirbright laboratory, who has now left to go to Canada, has stated in no uncertain terms that the epidemiological models supplied to him were flawed.
Perhaps the most serious charge is this: that in tackling the outbreak, a very simple and crude approach has been adopted, in which science has come second to expediency. Killing all animals, infected or not, is like using the trench strategy of the First World War. It may finally eliminate the disease, but the cost will be astronomical. Meanwhile, scientific research, the need to carry out advanced tests to assess how and why this particular strain of virus is spreading, to learn more about it and thus to combat it more effectively, has been relegated. That is why Mr Blair should consult not just his resident team of scientists but those who have been left outside - the real experts, the virologists and the epidemiologists who understand this disease, who know what has to be done, and whose skills and experience would help to bring the nightmare finally to an end.
# # # # From the BBC Devon website yesterday:
It says animals on more than 20 farms around Clayhanger on the Devon/Somerset border face slaughter.
Such is the concern at the way the outbreak has been spreading that much of the area has been sealed off.
The sixth case in five days in the area was confirmed today. It takes the total to 183 cases in the region.
The area had previously been clear of the disease, and the outbreak has been described by the NFU as extremely worrying.
Ten homes were sampled initially, but it is being stressed the problems could pre-date the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Well water is used by tens of thousands of people across the South West. In West Devon alone, it's thought more than 2,000 homes are not on mains supply.
The concerns about the safety of well water have been heightened by the foot-and-mouth outbreak. At Chulmleigh, one couple were both admitted to hospital after becoming ill. They were living close to a funeral pyre. Now they want to be on the mains but say nobody is listening to them.
Local councils are keen to tackle the contamination problems but say, as the law stands at the moment, they have limited powers.
Anthony Gibson of the NFU said: "Defra will do everything it can to avoid the Ashmoor site because it would be a huge focus of protest.
"Clearly, if we get a lot more outbreaks, then they may have to look at Ash Moor, but I'd be very surprised if it came to that." He said that at the moment, the carcasses were all going to rendering.
Defra said today that they have no plans to use the Ash Moor pit at this stage. A spokesperson said that no burials were planned, as all carcasses were able to go for rendering.
Mr Gibson added that the latest outbreaks had put Devon's farmers "on a knife-edge."
He said:"The disease ought to be disappearing by now. It does raise some very big question marks over what the epidemiologists said about it."
Anthony Gibson of the NFU says further cases are still a possibility The Government has said that decisions on the lessons to be learned will be taken only once the outbreak has ended.
The new Rural Affairs Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that an inquiry is under review, but many scientists believe the crisis has exposed weaknesses in the way their advice is sought and used by ministers.
Some farmers have said they are increasingly dissatisfied with the position taken by the NFU over the past few months, believing the NFU has become too close to the Government, and can no longer claim to fully represent all aspects of the industry.
The Deputy Director General of National Farmers' Union, Ian Gardner, says he is "absolutely certain" that his organisation has "made errors" in its handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis - but he maintains the union still has the confidence of the vast majority of its members.
Mr Gardner says that membership of the farming division of the Union has been falling, but only in line with the number of farmers leaving the industry and adds that their non-agricultural membership is on the increase.
But the South West regional director of the NFU, Anthony Gibson, said it was a different picture here, where membership has actually gone up during the crisis - indicating that farmers in the region were happy with the way the South West NFU had represented them.
ENDS This next article comes from The Independent newspaper:
Maybe we should double-check today, just to be sure, but the radical French farmer and campaigner against globalisation, who rose to world fame by trashing one of the ubiquitous hamburger joints two years ago, has more ways of making an impact than by swinging a sledgehammer. He started off a day in Britain yesterday by laying straight into British agricultural policy, proclaiming the industrialisation of farming produced by free-market economics had been directly responsible for the outbreaks of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease.
"Absolute rubbish," riposted Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, in a testy two-way BBC Radio 4 exchange that ended with Mr Bovi lumping the NFU with the Government as the villain of the piece. It was riveting radio but you only got half the value of Josi. You have to see the guy.
Just as appearance did for William Hague, there is no doubt the huge moustaches that droop from the Bovi upper lip, not to mention the magnificent pipe that hangs down between them, big as a sock, have helped to glorify the legend of the little man from the Massif Central who is taking on the transnational corporation. He seems the perfectly designed French peasant farmer, like something out of Balzac or Clochemerle: his entire aspect proclaims Sturdy Son of the Soil.
Appearances are deceptive. This is a sophisticated political radical in the great French tradition, the son of left-wing university lecturers who, just too young to be a protesting student in the revolt of May 1968, brought his school out on strike and then engaged in a long career of radical activism. He is a genuine farmer now, producing ewe's milk cheese, pork and veal from his land near Millau in the Aveyron, the most remote of the French dipartments, but his decision to take up farming was a political act.
The fortuitous combination of appearance and reality have made him the most visible of all the growing band of campaigners against the takeover of the world economy by huge multinational companies, and his voice is being increasingly heard. He was in London for the launch of the English edition of his polemic against international industrialised agribusiness, entitled The World Is Not For Sale. More than 700 people attended the launch party on Tuesday night.
Yesterday he joined a lobby of Tony Blair and the new Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett, calling for Britain's small and family farmers to be given priority in the post-foot-and-mouth restructuring of British agriculture that the Government has promised. He didn't get to see either, being kept at the gates of Downing Street, and meeting only Lord Whitty, a junior minister in the new department.
Mr Bovi didn't mind: he energetically proclaimed his vision for more than an hour at a press conference in his punchy if rusty English (the legacy of his parents' tenure at the University of California when he was a child). The essence is simple: in agriculture, small and local are good, normal and natural, while giant and international - the way the world is increasingly going - are ruinous. He hit straight out, and hard, at British agricultural policy.
"The model you have here for agriculture is the destruction of the small farm," he said, between puffs of his pipe. "In 1992 when they decided to change the European policy for agriculture, we were 11 million farmers all over Europe; now we are only seven million, and in '92 they said this policy was going on until we should be only five million. They want to go on with the destruction of family farms."
Most analysts of British agricultural policy would say that was quite accurate. But this was no way forward, he said, for farming, for consumers or the environment. Large-scale industrialised agriculture was responsible for the disease outbreaks of the past 10 years and he prophesied the next crisis would be over the large-scale use of antibiotics on animals.
With its exports of cheap produce, agribusiness was also helping drive farmers to the wall in poorer countries all around the world, he said. "In the European Union we are exporting milk to India. India is the biggest milk-producing country in the world, and we are exporting this milk at a lower price than it can be produced in India, so we are dumping on Indian farmers. This is incredible. We are killing everything with our export subsidies. We have to destroy export subsidies."
What had to happen, he said, was that food production be taken out of the control of the World Trade Organisation. "We want food sovereignty for everywhere in the world, not only for Europe, but also for Africa, Asia, South American and everywhere else. People should be able to eat food produced by their own agriculture. Eighty per cent of food exports in the world come from the US and Europe, so it is we who are destroying other farmers in the world." Each region of the world should have tariffs to protect its agriculture, he said - a thought that would give the WTO apoplexy.
He believes fiercely that the march of globalisation is not unstoppable. The economic bottom line does not necessarily govern all, he says: people will be prepared to pay more for food produced with less harmful results, people can change in what they want, and he gives an example that could only come from France.
"Things have changed with veal. Before, people when buying veal they wanted white veal, the meat should be white. This is crazy. When veal meat is white, it means the animals see no light, they're not outside. But in France, since 10 years, people, they want pink meat. That means the animal has been outside. So you can change habits if people are understanding what's happening with agriculture."
He is quite unperturbed about the three-month prison sentence hanging over him from the attack he and colleagues launched on the half-built McDonald's site in Millau two years ago. He has just lost one appeal; the final one, to France's highest court, will probably be heard early next year and, if he loses, he's in the slammer. "Well, it's not a problem for me," he says. "I already went there. But if I have to go again it's going to be a big mess." A deep revolutionary chuckle comes from under the magnificent moustaches. "It's going to be a decision for the French government. They're gonna have problems, not me."
ENDS This is the editorial leader from The Telegraph
Under discussion? She says this as if there were some question about the need for an inquiry or the breadth of its scope. If we were talking about a minor train crash on a suburban line, the Government would immediately have ordered a full inquiry to discover its causes, the way in which the emergency services had handled it and ways of preventing a similar accident in future.
Yet here is a disease that has led farmers to suicide and has wiped out two entire industries in some parts of the country. And here is Mrs Beckett saying that the issue of an inquiry is "under discussion". Only a week after its re-election, the Government is behaving as if it thinks that its mandate from 25 per cent of the electorate is a licence to get away with anything.
There must be a full inquiry. This is a crisis for which the Government showed itself from the start to be utterly unprepared. In the early days, there were scandalous delays between the diagnosis of the disease and the slaughter of infected animals. Expert advice was not acted on. Ministers seemed to be thrashing around in the dark.
The inquiry's first job must be to produce a step-by-step handbook to show exactly what must be done to prevent a future outbreak, and how to deal with one if it happens. But it must also examine the political handling of the crisis. So far, between five and 10 times more animals have been slaughtered than during the outbreak in 1967, in which more farms were infected than now. Has the scale of the cull been strictly necessary - or has it had something to do with the election date? It is not only the ruined farmers and hoteliers who deserve to know the truth, but also everyone who cares about responsible government.
# # # # We've received a copy of this letter, which has been sent in to the Western Morning News:
Whenever we hear about foot and mouth it is essential to keep reminding ourselves that it is not the illness that creates the havoc that we are seeing: it is the governments approach to "treating" it. We desperately need more holistic ways of looking at this and other illnesses: quarantines, selective breeding and biodynamic treatments need looking into now. In the meantime, Venezuela is successfully treating an outbreak of Foot and Mouth with ring vaccination, as it has done before.
The hunt for Foot and Mouth Free Status ranks alongside the "charge of the light brigade" during the Crimea War amongst the most stubborn and stupid tactics employed in British history.
Mid Devon Green Party # # # # This contribution comes from Michaela:
On testing, remember that despite your 'conversations' that the tests are 'set' to secure positives rather than negatives for reasons of safety. Not that I am suggesting that you should not test. Just if there is discrepancy be prepared to argue strongly. I can help. It is generally considered that Devon has just been too reasonable in the response to this whole fiasco. Somebody must be prepared to argue the toss. Here in Wales I am stirring like mad. The Welsh fortunately are a recalcitrant and rebellious lot. I suggest that all farmers refuse to co-operate any further, insist on re-opening marts, vaccination whatever. You never know, an idea planted? There lies a good opportunity on Mon. at a Meeting with T Edwards at Builth.
Good luck with that Michaela. Lawrence wrote in similar vein that he is not prepared to risk blood testing either. Certainly if our position had been different, we too would be resisting the test programme. We are still trying to establish the legal position via Alayne Addy, will report back as soon as we can.
Michaela also sent us this bombshell:
Forgot to say... there was a meeting with 2 Dutch vets in London. Holland has never lost its FMD free status as a result of vaccination. Apparently a % of vaccinates in the population are allowed. This is surely published somewhere, somebody responsible knows!
Our comment: as far as we know, this has never been mentioned in the UK media - we wonder why?
# # # #
Finally, here is the next extract from "Jane's Diary" to bring us right up to date. By the way, if any of you that have joined us recently would like the earlier sections, just let us know and we'll E-mail them to you.
Foot & Mouth Diary Part 5 28 May 01
Oh God no, another new case for Devon, after a gap of nine days. The address is Wembworthy, just the other side of Chulmleigh, but it also has Winkleigh on the screen, so perhaps the animals are not at the home address? This is close to the friends where I go to make our cider - they have sheep too, so just hope they are far enough away to escape the 'contiguous' label. Although everyone knows that contiguous culling is pointless and barbaric, still it blunders on and on. Nick Brown has assured us that the culling will not be stepped up after the election, but why then has the TV reported about sealed trucks lining up empty at various points in Devon and Cornwall with drivers maintained on three-month contracts? MAFF would have us believe that this is to deal with any livestock that prove positive after blood-testing, but we have already seen that the positive blood test at Copplestone was dealt with by lighting another pyre (remember how we aren't supposed to be having any more of those??) So, it follows that if positive tested animals are burnt on the farm, those trucks are waiting in readiness for a whole different category of animal, presumably all the remaining sheep in Devon. It's got so bad now that I can believe MAFF capable of just about anything. There is no logic, common sense or even legality in so many of their actions, why should we not fear the worst from them in the future? I can actually envisage myself fighting these slaughtermen off, though of course they will just turn up with three vanloads of police (as they did at Knowstone) and get on with it. I really don't think that they (government, authorities, police) have any idea just how furious people are around here, and just what an unexploded bomb Devon has become. The silence from Bridgerule was mercifully due to a computer glitch and nothing more sinister - when I rang them this morning they had already had five other calls from concerned friends who has missed their regular Email. We just have to look out for each other these days and hope that when the chips are down true friends will risk leaving their own livestock to come to help defend ours.
29 May 01 Whilst limewashing a wall today, I was thinking about the latest case at Wembworthy where the farmer was adamant that he had taken all the "biosecurity" measures possible, and still his farm had become infected. I' ve always doubted the feasibility of disinfecting vehicles, especially those like milk tankers which have paired wheels which it is impossible to get between in any effective way. I checked the MAFF website to see if the Wembworthy case included cows. It did (though it's not possible to tell if it's a dairy herd). Then I looked at a few other cases and found something very very interesting. So interesting in fact that I went through all 1,660 cases from the start of the disease to see which of them were sheep only farms (ie no cattle or pigs). The result? Out of 1,660 infected farms, only 217 of them had solely sheep. That is just 13% of the total. Even MAFF seems to agree that one third of their diagnoses were wrong - that takes the total down to 9%. Add in the likelihood of their being more misdiagnoses in sheep than cattle and that takes it even lower. So why have we consistently been told that this is a disease in sheep, and that sheep are to be blamed for the spread of it? If less than a tenth of infected farms are sheep farms, doesn't that argument start to sound rather silly? Has anyone actually checked this detail out before? It makes it sound that if there is an argument for contiguous culls for any scientific or statistical reason (which is so far totally unconvincing) then it should be the COWS that are taken out if they really intend to stop the disease spreading. I'm so astounded by this revelation that I really don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight. Perhaps I'm missing a very obvious point here; if so I hope someone points it out to me soon because the way I am thinking about this at the moment, not only has the whole thing been a total cock-up from start to finish, but they are actually killing the wrong animals. Feel as if I am on an immensely high cliff looking into an unknown abyss, these simple facts could be dynamite!!
30 May 01 There have been one hundred days of this foot & mouth outbreak so far. I can hardly remember what it was like 'before'. I'm still buzzing with yesterdays 'discovery'. No-one has told me I've missed something very obvious (so far) so I will continue my researches via the dreaded MAFF 'Statistics' section on the website (you can imagine how exciting a read that is!). As this is half term, Claudia and I went to Exeter to buy some bits and bobs for her, the most important (as far as she was concerned) being a denim jacket. Not a vital garment, but vital for me to get something she really wanted because she has been so amazingly uncomplaining about her totally disrupted life lately. Also I remembered that at about her age, a denim jacket was something I would have loved to have, and it amazes me how if you hang on long enough, everything comes back into fashion eventually. She's mad at me for throwing out all those old flares! So we bought the jacket and it hasn't been off her since. I must check if she took it off before getting into bed tonight. The city was hot, dusty and noisy and we were very glad to get away and back to the diseased old countryside. Saw one 'Vote Green' poster en route which cheered us up quite a bit. Left the van outside, the food took three barrowloads to bring in, all the way down the hill from the top. Then baths and hairwashes and all the rigmarole which I'm heartily fed up with, but well, you just have to keep it up don't you? Saw an interesting piece on the Westcountry News tonight: after showing film of various depots with lines of trailers awaiting carcases, stockpiled sleepers and stacks of big bales of straw, Peter Greig-Smith (Devon MAFF boss) was interviewed about the rumour of an increase in culling after the election. He said there was "absolutely no truth in it whatsoever" which was good to hear. However he rather discredited himself by then going on to say (about straw and sleepers) that there was " No question of stockpiling locally or nationally". Right. So that's no in a yes kind of way then? For what it's worth he also claimed there was "no evidence of sheep on Dartmoor or Exmoor harbouring disease", "no evidence of lingering infection" and what MAFF was doing at the moment was "downsizing" its operations. Well, we'll see won't we.
31 May 01 Tractors, tractors everywhere today, the whole of Devon seems to be making silage. It's good to see such a hive of activity, but it does worry me that so much more movement inevitably means more risk as well. MAFF has finally revealed their culling figures for the Westcountry. In Devon they claim 358,565 animals have been slaughtered: 70,068 cattle, 258,547 sheep, 29.872 pigs and 78 goats. However, their national slaughter total amounts to 3,094,973 - a number far smaller than many other sources have estimated, so how much truth there is in the Devon total - who knows? Whatever the final figures add up to, it is a wholly unacceptable number, especially when you consider that most of them were perfectly healthy, and would have remained so, and most of the rest would have recovered from the disease without much effort. It is the treatment of sheep that has particularly incensed me; even now they are considered eminently expendable, especially by the likes of the NFU, and have (I am pretty sure) been blamed for the spread of this disease for no more than political expediency. I hope to ferret out some useful figures to back this up. Half term is not the easiest time to be an unpaid researcher though, especially as it takes so long to analyse the information even when you can track it down.
1 June 01 A bad start to my favourite month. Went to bed last night with a splitting headache (surely not the result of a Pimms two days earlier?) desperate for the oblivion of sleep. Had finally dropped off only to be awakened by furious growling and barking from Toto (the terrier) in the kitchen below. This dog only barks for a reason (herd of bullocks in the yard, fox in the duck pen, weasel coming in through the cat-flap etc.) so she is not to be ignored. I still felt unable to move my head without it exploding, so Hugh went down to investigate. Nothing. After ten minutes she started again, and despite many visits downstairs, including letting Polly (the collie) out to investigate, this went on at regular intervals for about four hours from 1.30 am onwards. We tried to block our ears, we tried to ignore it, but sleep was pretty much impossible until about an hour before it was time to get up. Needless to say, we have both felt shattered all day today, but Toto had her reprieve when I saw the local news at lunchtime. Amazingly, there had been an EARTHQUAKE last night at half past one, with tremors through the night, epicentre just off Bude!! Enough to put cracks in buildings and shake those nearer it in their beds. Poor Toto - she'd known something was wrong and was desperately trying to tell us. Such a sensitive little dog. No mention of Foot & Mouth on the news though, as obviously an earthquake is much more exciting. However, Dartmoor is opening up most of its southern reaches, with the rest accessible from 1st July. The farmers are not happy, and I agree with them, though I can see the arguments from the tourist side as well. I just think a life and death problem should take precedence - tourism losses are only money after all.
2 June 01 Two missives from MAFF today. One was the Devon Information Sheet (no 5) in it's jaunty 'comic' typeface, containing Nick Brown's letter to Ben Gill which more or less tells him to sort out those of us who are refusing to lie down and watch our healthy animals slaughtered as we are being such a nuisance. I don't know why he thinks Ben Gill will be any help to him. If we are going to challenge the government we're hardly going to take any notice of the more or less self-appointed head of an organisation that is one of the reasons that British farming is in the disastrous state it now finds itself in. The other large envelope contained the 'Agricultural and Horticultural Census June 2001' - timing is not one of MAFF's strong points. Having explained that there is a legal obligation to complete and return it (well they know all about legal, don't they?) MAFF then tells me that it will help them "make well informed decisions and representations and evaluate the success or otherwise of previous initiatives". Funnily enough I can't find the boxes marked "total cock-up", "unprecedented barbarism" or "cruel and callous beyond belief" so I don't know how accurate my responses can be. Today we ALL went out together - unusual at the best of times, and unheard of in the last three months. Our destination was Tapeley Park near Bideford where Hector Christie had opened up his gardens for us to hold a Foot & Mouth "Stop the Contiguous Cull" Rally. Quite a good number of people turned up (including out prospective Green candidate) and there were a speeches and some music, and a popular stall where one could "Drown the MAFF man" in a large tub of very cold water. It was lovely to see our friends from Bridgerule in person for a change. John Gouriet (who is a tireless national campaigner) spoke very movingly about the scenes he has witnessed at farms from Scotland to Devon. He is a retired Major, and not in the best of health, but his words were all the more convincing for coming from someone who feels so let down by the 'establishment'. He referred to the point that frightens me so much - if the government and authorities can take no notice of the law in this way, then why should the rest of us? This can only lead to anarchy. I managed to collect quite a few signatures for the petition that's being taken up to MAFF HQ in London on Monday, but I wonder just how much good it will actually do. Got back to find that the MAFF website was reporting ELEVEN new cases since yesterday, including another at Knowstone in Devon. Wonder if that is a result of the runaway calves after the hopeless open field culling attempt there a fortnight ago. What a tragedy. What a mess.
3 June 01 Another dry day. Good for getting rid of the virus, but disastrous for the vegetable garden which has cracks a small dog could fall into now. Managed to dig a fairly inadequate trench for the beans with great difficulty, and filled it with soggy duck bedding and old leaves that have been quietly rotting in an unused water trough for a couple of years. Probably a recipe for disaster, but it is supposed to help the roots grow downwards. Planted out the french beans that I started in the polytunnel, but this evening it's got really chilly, so I'm worried that they'll freeze to death tonight! Hugh spent time doing more "fences across gates" to stop our sheep and our neighbours sheep being able to touch noses. It's useful having these gates to deal with escapologists from time to time, but at the moment a more solid barrier would suit everyone concerned. Our sheep are looking great - even the two really thin ones have filled out (sideways at least) though I'm looking forward to the time when I can't feel their bony spines any more. Their time inside has certainly made them friendlier, and they all hurtle up for a tickle even though I don't have a bucket with me. I made the mistake of going in to see them in sandals today - not only were my toes vigorously trampled, but the new disinfectant I've got (Sorgene?) has made my shoes reek of vinegar. (I suppose it's based on acetic acid - every time I use it I get a terrible urge to eat salt & vinegar crisps). Claudia is back to school tomorrow after a lovely lazy half term, so we'll be back to the walks at each end of the day. Actually, it hardly seems any distance now we are used to it and the weather is kind - we popped up to the triangle on foot this morning to staple some Green Party stickers over our farm sign on the top road. No one needs directing here at the moment, so we might as well use the sign for political rather than directional purposes this week! Wonder if it's been pulled down yet, I'm pretty certain we're in a minority of one in these parts. Looking forward to tonight's message from Bridgerule - after yesterdays excitement when there wasn't time for them to write it I felt quite bereft.
4 June 01 Whilst I was gardening and ignoring the computer yesterday, all hell was breaking loose in Knowstone. I should know better than to try and take 'time out' these days. The confirmed case is indeed the farm over which the panicking bullocks ran during MAFF's cull fiasco three weeks ago. At the time they agreed to have their sheep culled, as they were out in the field the bullocks rampaged through. Their cows were inside, and at no point under any risk. The cows have been checked by the vet every other day since and pronounced fine. Then suddenly MAFF declare that one of the sheep culled three weeks ago had tested positive (a completely unconfirmed diagnosis as far as the farmer is concerned) and all the healthy cattle has to go too. Sufficient people turned up yesterday to prevent MAFF carrying out this illegal act. They included a former High Sheriff of Devon, an army major and neighbouring farmers and villagers (hardly 'Rent-a-mob') and they persuaded the police to get MAFF to stand off as they were on dubious legal ground. So what happened? Did commonsense triumph over illegal thuggery? No, MAFF came back at 5.00 a.m. this morning, forced entry with a huge police escort, threatened the 70 year old owner with arrest if he resisted, and killed his healthy cows. By the time the supporters arrived it was all over. The TV reported it as 'rural terrorism'. This is the sort of treatment meted out by the Drug Squad on the secret lair of illegal dealers, and it's being used on pensioners who have committed NO CRIMES, in rural Britain, in the middle of an election campaign, by government employees. There are hours and hours of election programmes bickering about this and that and nothing that anyone cares about - so why do we never hear a word on what is being perpetrated by (what I once foolishly believed would be a socialist) government, and the downright abuse of ordinary law-abiding citizens in their own homes??? They are killing healthy animals faster now than they were at the height of the epidemic, but it seems no-one finds anything strange in this. Perhaps they will use the same logic to solve the waiting lists in the National Health Service - "oh yes, you look a bit off colour - just take this overdose would you?" Just wait..........once they are back in government they simply won't be able to keep this quiet any longer and by golly, will it hit the fan hard when it gets out. If this can make someone as pathetically law-abiding as I am so ANGRY, then what on earth is it doing to those who have less scruples? I can see real civil unrest as a result of it all - and it won't just be a few bolshy truckers this time, it will be rural middle England driven to revolution.
5 June 01
Well yesterday's final remarks turn out to be remarkably prophetic as today the local news reports that the village of Knowstone is planning to take MAFF to court over its disgusting and illegal behaviour. Has this EVER happened before? Today MAFF bungled yet another cull there - this time a couple of ewes and their lambs are on the loose in the woods nearby after MAFF efforts at slaughtering out a perfectly healthy contiguous farm. MAFF's assurance that they are "no danger to surrounding livestock" rather leaves dangling the question "So what the hell are you killing them for????" doesn' t it? But despite the fact that two days before an election a rural Devon village is attempting to prosecute the government, none of this is deemed national news or of any interest to the country as a whole. There was an excellent article in the Telegraph by Matt Ridley, and my friend from Bridgrule has one in the Guardian tomorrow, but national TV and Radio have obviously been blacked out by the powers that be, at least until after the 7th. Tomorrow I was planning to go on the march to MAFF HQ in Exeter, but really feel that Knowstone will have to be my destination, because when it really comes down to it, trying to save the animals has to come higher up the priority list than shouting at civil servants. The "risk" at Knowstone is obviously greater, but I honestly don't believe that the animals there are a problem - the disease is in the minds of the MAFFia. When I take a deep breath and look at this objectively (which is getting harder and harder now) it seems almost unbelievable that someone like me, at my age, should actually be trying to decide which of two bits of civil unrest I should be attending! We really are at war here in Devon, and the rest of the country is toddling along as if nothing is happening at all.
6 June 01 Well MAFF has buggered it up again in Knowstone - by the time I got up there today there was a calf on the loose 'somewhere'. As I needed duck food from the Clean Feed Co which is near Rackenford, it was only a few miles further to Knowstone, so I justified my trip there. It was difficult to find the right place as I didn't know the name of the farm, and to start with I found myself driving down a lane where all gates were festooned with tapes and red signs declared "Foot & Mouth Disease" in no uncertain terms. Actually found this quite frightening - there was no-one around to give me directions and I felt as if I'd accidentally strayed into some kind of secret military establishment and could be shot at any moment. The lane was beautiful, but there were loads of transparent plastic bags with blue writing on them littering the road and verges. The lane turned out to be a dead end, but luckily I managed to turn the transit in a house gateway with a "Heart of Devon Campaign" poster that matched the one on the back window of my van; at least they would know I was on 'their side'. Retracing my route, I suddenly guessed what the bags were - could they be the bags that the sterile white boiler suits come in? If they are (and I could be wrong) I thought how that just summed up the attitude that is being shown to our beautiful countryside by MAFF at the moment, and how dearly I would have liked to prosecute them for causing litter. What is even sadder is that presumably the people at the infected farm have been too demoralised to do anything about it themselves. It's these small things that often make the whole situation so depressingly poignant. Anyway, after a bit more exploring, I saw a BBC 'Spotlight' van so realised I had got to the right place. Luckily, friends were already there, so arriving on my own was not as bad as I'd thought. I'd taken my usual placard with the toy lamb tied to the top - this time the message was very simple, just "MAFF OFF" which I though summed it up nicely. It turned out to be the only placard so was the focus of quite a bit of media attention. Both BBC and ITV were there, mainly because Anthony Gibson was due, and the media all love him.
I must admit, he has been the voice of reason when everyone else has been lying and prevaricating, and he has appeared regularly on both channels throughout, but I'm not so bowled over by him that I can't remember that, not so long ago, he and the rest of the NFU were entirely behind the contiguous cull, and also played an important part in scuppering the vaccination plans. He may be siding with the fox at the moment, but he's run with the hounds for most of the foot & mouth crisis. I think the NFU owe him a vast debt though, because without his calm and gravitas Ben Gill would have turned far more people against the organisation, far sooner. Anyway, MAFF were not much in evidence as the legal arguments are being waged away from the farm at the moment, but I think it was very valuable that a good group of people were there ready and could be seen standing around whilst the interviews were being conducted.
By the time I had to leave to meet Claudia from school, more people were arriving from the Exeter demonstration at MAFF HQ, including some of the "names" who are becoming known as part of the campaign. It seems that the legal processes should keep MAFF away until Friday at the earliest, unless they chose to ignore the law (which we know is quite possible). Claudia was amused to see our "lamb on the stick" had a whole shot to itself on the Westcountry news this evening, and could also be clearly seen behind the interviewees on the BBC as well. Foot and Mouth managed to be the lead item on Westcountry TV with both Knowstone and the MAFF demo. featured. On the BBC local news Anthony Gibson was interviewed live in the studio and said that despite the NFU trying to find out, there was no evidence of preparations for an increase in culling after the election. Well, we'll see won't we..... Was rather concerned driving back here this afternoon when I came up against about ten cars parked at the side of the lane (between here and Witheridge), an empty low-loader, a new red digging machine being manoeuvered about, a couple of tractors in attendance and worst of all, a man in army fatigues who seemed to be directing things. Is my imagination just too fertile these days, or did this hint at something not quite right? Haven't heard anything locally, so maybe it's just a coincidence? All seemed to be OK on my return, though I didn't go in with the sheep but instead did the bath, hairwash and clothes in the machine routine. Probably took the greatest risk of all today, but took my own sprayer with me, and sprayed the van before I left Knowstone as well as before I came back here. Will have to go out to vote tomorrow, so will take the van to a garage somewhere and pressure wash it, as I don't want to bring it in here to do it. Life seems to be one long risk assessment at the moment, and I'm really, really sick of it. If only the constant worry and pressure could be lifted just for a few days, but of course it can't, and we have no option but to see this thing through to the bitter end, whenever that might be.
7 June 01 After doing the animals and slapping a coat of limewash round Claudia's 'new ' bedroom, I went out to cast my vote this morning. I'm saddened to think that last time I thought that a vote for Labour would bring about something of an improvement and lead to more "open government" as we were promised. I feel that those of us who are too old to qualify as "new Britons", too skint to have benefited from their supposedly brilliant handling of the economy and too rural to figure in Blair's plans have been totally let down. I've actually read and agreed with the manifesto of the party I voted for (how many people can claim that??) so although a Green vote won't go far towards forming a government, I can do it with a clear conscience, and just hope that one day the rest of the world will see sense as well. When asked on TV why MAFF were persisting with trying to cull the sheep at Knowstone (whether or not they tested positive) when contiguous culling had been shown to be both barbaric and unnecessary, Peter Greig-Smith could only justify it by insisting that it was "policy" - he had no other reason to offer. Just as it was "policy" to cull all contiguous cattle, then it wasn't, then it was if you lived in Cumbria but not in Devon, then it was 3km, then it was 1km, then there was Phoenix, and then the "policy" changed again. There is NO reason, just an unwillingness to admit that they've dithered and blundered and made the wrong decisions throughout - that's what goes under the banner of "policy".
8 June 01 Found myself wondering today when this diary would come to a natural conclusion? As we all know, Foot and Mouth was going to be all over and done with by the election, not that it would have made any difference because Labour doesn't care if it gets no votes at all from country dwellers because there's not very many of us, we're an awfully long way off, and anyway we can be managed by brute force, bullying and police control if needs be as we 've all just seen. We're all too busy slaughtering the wildlife to need any human rights, and we're much too poor to have much effect on the economy. As long as we shut up and keep the fields looking pretty for the tourists then everyone's happy. Amazingly, just sometimes when we make enough noise and get really embarrassing, we get heard! On the lunchtime local news MAFF declared that, actually, they'd changed their mind about Knowstone and they weren't going to cull the sheep after all (having taken out several farms already there!).
Well for once it seemed as if our direct actions might just have had an effect, and I felt really chuffed, and spent the afternoon getting on with things without hanging over the phone waiting for a call to action. But it didn't end there. When I checked in the evening, two telephone messages, and two Emails had appeared warning that the culling of the sheep at Knowstone was just about to start. I'd missed them because the news I'd heard at lunchtime had made me think all was OK. After ringing the friend in Bridgrule it transpired that even whilst the news of the reprieve was being announced on the TV, the sheeps owners were under the impression that slaughter was imminent; the army and MAFF slaughter vet were on site, a TV crew were in attendance, and as late as 5.00 pm, frantic legal actions were still being planned. MAFF had not thought to tell the owners about the change of "policy" and that their sheep were safe. Callous or what? Of course they hadn't seen the news because they'd been defending their field gates all day, but could easily have been contacted as both have mobile phones with them. I can only assume MAFF just wanted them to sweat as long as possible.
9 June 01 Yet another outbreak in Somerset yesterday, a completely clean area near Bridgwater; and another today at Wembworthy in Devon which sounds close to the last one in that area. But that was on May 28th, nearly a fortnight ago - so what has been happening there in the meantime I wonder? It's going like the clappers in Lancashire and Yorkshire, so any idea that this would be over by the election (even with the accelerated culling to achieve that whatever the cost) is just pathetic. Checking the MAFF website tonight one is confronted with a photo of a cheerful-looking Margaret Beckett - new boss of DEFRA, the new-look MAFF. I've always thought Margaret Beckett rather good, so perhaps she can actually have some effect in her new job. But will she support a public enquiry? Somehow I doubt it. Claudia is away for the weekend with the school on an art and screen-printing course, so Hugh and I have spent the whole day in her new bedroom trying to put up a flat-pack sort of bunk-bed thing with a desk underneath and a chair that folds out to make a spare bed for chums. Amazingly we were still on speaking terms by the evening, and went OUT FOR A MEAL to celebrate my birthday (early) which was a real treat, and my first non-essential outing since early March. What indulgence.
10 June 01 Another whole day of 'flat-pack-erection', but we got it done eventually, despite the translation of the instructions from Norwegian. Claudia got home in the afternoon, completely exhausted having been up all Friday night until 7 am (!) chatting and giggling in the girls dorm. A bath, a meal and she was in bed by 7.15. Just hope she can get up for school tomorrow ( and that the teachers can too!). Had a call from the farm where schoolfriends of Claudia' s live, the one where their livestock lay slaughtered for a fortnight, as they wanted advice (before the MAFF man came tomorrow) about their cob buildings. They have ancient barns with both bats and barn owls in residence which they had been told would have to be steam cleaned, followed by some kind of transparent disinfectant sealer ("which keeps the germs in the wall, so they can never get out"). This is such spectacularly stupid advice as any sealer will cause cob to break up and fall apart sooner or later, steam cleaning would produce all sorts of problems, and apart from that it is a criminal offence to disturb bats, and this is the middle of the nesting season. They were assured that "the bats would fly out when the steam cleaning was going on, and then return for their young and take them away". I don't think I'll even bother to add my comments. The farmer already knew that limewash was a better solution, and would work with cob without doing any damage, so I only needed to confirm this, add a few suggestions of my own, and give him contact numbers for people who will advise and support him, including one in the County Council who originally got in touch with me about this very problem. It made me wonder just how many historic barns are getting treated on the advice of MAFF vets? We all know how well they deal with the foot & mouth problem - God knows how much damage they can cause by suddenly claiming to be old building experts!
11 June 01 Just sitting on the grass beside the orchard gate today, one dog beside me, one sniffing about nearby, the ducks puddling in a ditch about 5 yards away. Suddenly there was a terrible kerfuffle of feathers and a fox raced off down the orchard, with one of my ducks in its mouth. The dogs shot off in pursuit, I had to run inside to get my boots and then leg it down the steep hill to the river, all the while listening to bloodcurdling yowlings, growlings and snarlings coming from dogs and foxes in the trees at the bottom. By the time I got there - silence, and nothing to be seen. Despite calling till my throat was aching, and even going along the river in the one neighbouring field that doesn't have any livestock in it, I could find neither dogs nor foxes nor duck, alive or otherwise. That was six hours ago and now I'm getting a bit worried. If they aren't back by the time it gets dark I'll be really anxious......
12 June 01 Good and bad news today. The good news is that the farm at Wembworthy has today been granted a reprieve, despite the fact that even this morning MAFF were trying to get an injunction to get in and kill the cattle by force. This afternoon the farmer received a phone call from Nick Harvey, our MP, to say that MAFF had pulled back and would be monitoring instead. (Note, MAFF did not tell the farmer itself). This is obviously a result of the demonstrators and supporters who gathered at the farm yesterday and today, accompanied by the cameras from Westcountry TV. The bad news is a new case reported at Clayhanger, on the Taunton side of Tiverton, and again, in a completely new area. No details yet so I don't know if this is the result of a blood test, or a genuine new outbreak. Foot and Mouth featured on the World at One on radio 4 today: now the election is over, the BBC evidently feels it's OK to mention it again. Feel terribly let down that the BBC can be such a government poodle - I think I might write and see if I can find out just why this happened. Won't get an answer though, will I? A friend I haven't seen for a couple of months ( a mother from Claudia's school) rang up to see how I was. She is quite distraught over the whole business. They have a dairy herd, they are on schedule D (though at one stage were "dangerous contacts"), the disease has been all around them, several times. She thinks she will never be the same again after this. She has been both bullied and frightened by MAFF officials and has found it very hard to cope with. She said she takes a bucket up to bed with her because she is sick in the night with worry. I found I was actually grinding my teeth, this was making me so livid. All I could say was to hope that she would keep making a fuss and not give in, because that is the only way that we will ever manage to get this policy changed. She agreed. The dogs came back last night at about 10 pm, ravenous, thirsty but not particularly dirty. At least there were no obvious wounds, so I suppose they had just been rabbiting after they lost the fox.
13 June 01 Is it all starting up again? The Clayhanger case has multiplied into four outbreaks, the army is being brought back into Devon (having left only yesterday), thousands of animals are being slaughtered as I write this, and Exmoor is yet again under threat. Pessimists are predicting an upsurge in cases, and in the autumn, a return to a full blown epidemic. Surely it is only a matter of time before someone from the government argues a logical case for simply slaughtering all the remaining livestock in Britain? FMD free status would be achieved immediately, the tourist industry (which earns far more money than farming) would spring back into action immediately, footpaths would re-open, events could go ahead, MAFF (or DEFRA, as I must get used to calling it) would save a fortune in testing and fiddling about, and the only people who would be really upset would be the farmers (who are REALLY UPSET already). If this sounds over-dramatic and impossible, then just think what life was like six months ago - would we have believed that we could be in the situation we find ourselves in now? I think not. We could import all our meat, Europe would be delighted, and the state could just pay the farmers to cut the grass and keep the countryside looking pretty. Of course there is an alternative - that we ban meat imports of all description, vaccinate at the first sign of any further outbreaks, eat our own home-produced meat and say "To hell with exports, who needs them?" I know which sounds like common sense to me.......but then commonsense is no longer a virtue it seems. ENDS
Thank you Jane for sharing your innermost thoughts with us. We know from "feedback" that for people outside the infected areas of the UK, your diary conveys something of what we on the inside are really going through.
All for tonight from Alan & Rosie