LONDON - In a country famed for its love of all creatures
cute and cuddly, animal rights activists are hoping the horrifying
slaughter of nearly a million livestock may have one bright spot:
increased public awareness of farming practices they see as cruel.
Images of dead sheep and cows broadcast on television nightly
during the 7-week-old foot-and-mouth epidemic are forcing many
Britons to confront the sometimes distasteful origins of their beef
roasts and racks of lamb, the activists say.
A farmer who refused to be identified, carries baby lambs on a farm near Peebles, Scotland, Tuesday April 10, 2001, as the lambing season continued despite the threat of the foot and mouth epidemic spreading through the area.The total of infected animals has risen to 1,191 throughout the United Kingdom.(AP Photo/David Cheskin,PA)
``The response from the public has surpassed everything we've
ever known,'' said Juliet Gellatley, director of Viva, a
Brighton-based group that promotes vegetarianism. ``What people are
saying is they're just sick to death of the way animals are being
Viva is among the pro-animal groups that oppose the
foot-and-mouth slaughters outright, saying officials should simply
let the disease run its course and use vaccinations to try to
contain it. Foot-and-mouth's harm, they say, is largely economic,
and its effects on animals are minimal.
``The whole slaughter policy is complete insanity and shows the
brutal indifference of our government and most farmers towards
farmed animals,'' Gellatley said.
She and others say the mass culls have given Britons a glimpse
of the brutality that is inherent in so-called ``factory farming,''
which many say subjects livestock to overcrowding, dehydration and
tortuous long-distance journeys to market.
``What the images on television have shown people is that the
reality of animals dying is part of industrialized farming, and
they don't like what they're seeing,'' said Andrew Tyler, director
of the pro-vegetarianism group Animal Aid, which is based in
Tonbridge. ``The slaughter and suffering they're seeing now is a
small visible part of what goes on behind closed doors
Tyler and Gellatley said they had been besieged by requests for
information on vegetarianism.
Foot-and-mouth is not harmful to humans and rarely kills
animals, who generally recover within a few weeks. But because it
decreases their productivity, many countries ban animal imports
from infected nations.
Although the disease poses no threat to food safety, its
appearance a few years after the discovery of mad cow disease here
has frightened some Britons off beef.
Still, the British Retail Consortium reported that far from
giving up meat, the public was filling its freezers, leading to a
strong 4.8 percent gain in retail sales in March compared to a year
The epidemic has halted British meat exports, and the government
has not authorized vaccination because it would lengthen the time
needed for Britain to regain its ``foot-and-mouth-free'' status.
Many animal rights groups acknowledge a need to eliminate the
disease, but they say the slaughter of animals that don't show
symptoms is inhumane and ineffective. A limited slaughter policy
combined with vaccination makes more sense, they argue.
Officials now are culling all animals on infected farms and
those adjacent to them. In the worst-hit parts of the country, the
culls apply to all sheep and pigs within two miles of an infection
Nearly a million animals have been put down, out of a total of
nearly 1.4 million selected for slaughter.
``We do reluctantly have to accept that infected animals may
have to be slaughtered, but it looks as though the government has
taken a real gamble'' by not allowing vaccination, said Julie
Briggs, of Compassion in World Farming, which is in Hampshire.
Even mainstream animal welfare groups that support the cull have
called attention to problems with its implementation.
Emma Nutbrown, a spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said it was investigating many
claims of inhumane slaughter practices. Press reports have said
some animals take hours to die or are buried alive.
As a result of foot-and-mouth, animals have been restricted in
their movement. In some cases, that means pregnant ewes are
stranded far from farms, their newborn lambs suffering exposure in
cold, muddy fields, Nutbrown said. In other cases, pigs are kept
cooped up inside, where many are fighting because of overcrowding.
On some farms, feed is running low because animals are not being
let out to graze, she added.
``We've got to take responsibility for ensuring that animals
reared in this country don't suffer, and at the moment they are,''
Briggs said. ``It's unfortunate that it takes a national crisis
like this to (call attention to) welfare standards and how animals
are actually farmed.''
On the Net:
Compassion in World Farming: http://www.ciwf.co.uk/
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
Animal Aid: http://www.animalaid.org.uk/
Soil Association, promoting organic farming:
National Farmers' Union: http://www.nfu.org.uk