The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Hoof and mouth disease

Apr 2, 2001

The TV showed the disgusting spectacle in England when farmers were forced to burn tens of thousands of animals, most of whom were healthy, because of an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease. This disease is not dangerous to humans, but it can quickly destroy livestock, and it is highly contagious.

It seems that the British infection broke out when the remains of an airline passenger's plate lunch were given to pigs near Newcastle, even though this is illegal. These remains were definitely contaminated and the pigs became sick. The pig farmer brought his animals to a slaughterhouse far away and in this way the pigs contaminated sheep.

Animals are forced to eat what they are given, but it's humans who are hungry for profit. If the error of one farmer can lead to such a catastrophe, it's because the entire system works in a crazy way.

It is possible to vaccinate cows and sheep against hoof and mouth disease, but Britain and other European countries have not done this for more than a decade. A big part of the problem actually originated here in the U.S., when the U.S. government, along with Australia and New Zealand, carried out a maneuver in respect to vaccinations to improve their position for exporting animals and meat.

In the United States, hoof and mouth disease had been eradicated by a systematic and long-lasting campaign of vaccination. Other countries were somewhat behind.

In that situation, the three big meat producing countries forced through laws against importing meat from animals still being vaccinated.This blocked most countries from selling their meat in the U.S.

It's true that the vaccination of animals doesn't take place under sanitary conditions, and in the course of the vaccinations various bacteria and viruses enter the animal. Sometimes the animal gets sick, but other times it carries the infection and spreads it to other animals. So there is a reason to stop vaccination once hoof and mouth disease is wiped out.

But hoof and mouth disease wasn't completely stamped out everywhere. And so long as it wasn't, vaccination would need to continue. The disease can spread rapidly from one region to another, from one country to another, and even across oceans, given the international aspect of trade. Nonetheless, the U.S. government used this as an excuse to exclude meat from other countries, cutting out the competition for the giant U.S. meat packing companies like IBP and Cargill.

The British government, like those in other European countries, gambled when they stopped vaccination against hoof and mouth disease in the early 1990s. They wanted to get quickly into export markets, and they bet the disease wouldn't come back. But now it has, and the losers are the tens of thousands, and maybe hundreds of thousands of healthy animals that are being slaughtered, as well as the small farmers driven out of business.

Meanwhile the disease has spread into France and other European countries, with reports that it has now appeared in the U.S., whose unvaccinated animals could easily fall prey to an epidemic.

The current epidemic in Britain is not due only to the action of the virus which causes hoof and mouth disease, but is also the consequence of economic choices made deliberately for profit, and masquerading behind sanitary concerns.