Recent farming scares
Health scares that are associated with farming have often made for dramatic headlines and news stories, and this was certainly the case in 2001 when Britain suffered its first major outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1967.
Foot and mouth disease
Foot and mouth disease is a viral disease which is highly contagious. It affects animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, which means that breakouts of the disease have a significant effect on farmers and the farming industry. The disease can be spread to humans through close contact with an infected animal; however this is an extremely rare occurrence. Foot and mouth disease is able to spread very quickly amongst animals and because of this it can cause major disruption to farmers and the agricultural industry.
In February 2001 the first case of foot and mouth disease was found in Britain, and as cases began to spread across the breadth of the country, the E.U. placed a worldwide ban on all British exports of meat and livestock. To try and prevent the disease from spreading rapidly amongst farms and livestock, the government decided to begin culling all animals within two miles of a known case. This policy resulted in the memorable images of huge pyres of burning livestock, as farmers were effectively forced to destroy their major source of income despite the fact their animals may have been disease free. Use of a vaccine was debated during the outbreak but it was never put into use.
Effects of the 2001 crisis
The agricultural industry lost millions of pounds of revenue from livestock and meat exports, as well as other sources of income such as milk production. Many farmers suffered heavily because of the crisis, with many struggling to cope with the intense emotional and financial effects of having their livelihood destroyed in such a way. The industry also lost millions in revenue that it would have received from tourism, as restrictions placed on people’s movement and quarantines placed on farms meant the countryside was out of bounds for the general public. British people travelling abroad were subject to stringent checks at airports to try and prevent the spread of the disease to mainland Europe and other continents. Foot and mouth did make its way on to European farms eventually despite efforts to stop this happening.
The crisis caused wide ranging disruption with the British general election being postponed, as well as sporting events in the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland being suspended due to the threat of spreading the disease. Farmers did receive compensation for cattle that had been slaughtered and the disease was brought under control by the end of 2001, but the effects of the outbreak were felt greatly in rural areas like Cumbria with local communities devastated by the losses suffered due to the disruption to farmer’s lives. British tourism was the other great victim of the crisis as people avoided the countryside costing the industry, which relies heavily on the appeal of the countryside, millions in lost revenue. The overall cost of the outbreak to the British economy was estimated to be around 8 billion pounds overall.