The Foot and Mouth crisis caught Britain by surprise. By the time the source had been traced, it had already spread through markets to several areas - from Northumberland it quickly arrived in Cumbria, Devon and Essex. This revealed how far and often animals are made to travel. Can all these journeys be necessary? Many slaughterhouses have closed in recent years and this is blamed for some of the increased journeys, but going to slaughter is not the only reason why animals are moved. They may be born on one farm, sent to market and raised elsewhere, then back to market for a final fattening at another farm. Some are then off on another journey for export. Other journeys result from illicit practices such as a farm hiring extra animals from a neighbour in order to claim extra subsidies. A more rational system would not only be kinder to the animals, it would have made it easier to contain the Foot and Mouth disease and no doubt reduce the spread of other diseases, which are rampant, though little publicised. The swine fever outbreak of last year was quickly contained because pigs stay mostly where they are born.
The consumers are rarely aware of the nature of farming and have been horrified to read of the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of beasts and to see the pictures of huge graves and funeral pyres. Yet these animal deaths are only a proportion of the animals regularly going through the slaughterhouses. Fortunately, some are making the connection and directing enquiries to the Vegetarian and Vegan Societies. They realise that the plastic wrapped food item they pick up from the meat counter was part of a sentient being killed for their dinner.
Many farmers have seen their stock disappear. Some were breeding unusual types and have lost each one. Many will no doubt give up farming and it is certain that a complete review of British farming and of E.U. subsidies is needed. It seems strange that a disease that will not harm humans and from which the animals soon recover should have caused so much distress. The economic blow to the tourist business in the countryside was many times greater than the impact on agriculture. This too must encourage a review of farming policy. Some claim that grazing animals produce the landscape visitors want to see. They say that without grazing animals the land would revert to untidy scrubland. They overlook the fact that too many are depressingly huge and, though acceptable if viewed at speed from a motorway are far from inviting to the rambler and useless to the bird watcher. Heathlands are far from unattractive and, if desired, could be kept under control by sporadic grazing by animals not destined for slaughter - deer, wild ponies, or animal sanctuary, for example.
The idea is going around that present farming is too intensive and we could move to less intense methods. I did not hear of any cases of Foot & Mouth on organic farms - maybe they were healthier and better able to resist infection. Fewer cattle and sheep would reduce methane gas emissions and help with Global Warming targets. We could suggest that hills would benefit from more 'set aside' and that farmers should be paid for conservation work - maintaining footpaths and perhaps keeping a few pet animals in reserves - donkeys and goats might be seen once more. More woods would look fine on the uplands - hazels and other nut trees should certainly be more attractive to visitors. Trees help reduce C02 levels as well as reducing water run off that led to swollen rivers, causing heavy flooding.
Small farmers were already suffering, many being at a subsistence level. Supermarkets are monopoly buyers who can force down the prices they pay farmers, without necessarily lowering the prices to customers.
With a reduced area of land being used for farming, the countryside could be developed to benefit the tourist business in many ways. Rambling routes (some are ploughed up by farmers) could be maintained and more created. More could be done to attract visitors with Nature Trails, Bird Hides, Animal Sanctuaries (suitable for school visits), Arboretums, Ornamental Gardens, Flower Meadows, Bluebell Woods. These would provide local employment.
Intensive farming has driven farm hands away from the land. Caring for the countryside would be more labour intensive. There could be more horticulture producing fruit and veg for local markets. We could plant trees for coppicing and willows for biomass fuel. Local crafts could be encouraged. The unemployed trapped in inner cities could come for fruit picking and path clearing, for holidays in a healthier environment. Some might be encouraged to stay. We could cultivate flowers for selling at home instead of importing them from Kenya or Colombia, where they reduce the area of land available for food cultivation there. We could have fields of lupins for protein, flax for linen, hemp for clothing. Would this not be a more beautiful countryside?
Finally, we would love to see Demonstration Centres for a vegan future, like the one being developed by Plants For A Future in Devon or the one planned by the Vegan Organic Network (VON).
Out of the chaos and misery we have just lived through, we could build a future of sanity, beauty and
compassion. The opportunity is there!
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Cross-reference: Foot and Mouth Disease
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