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Interesting stuff sent to me by Abigail

Just been digging some stuff up on Argentine meat from the 60s. V interesting story. Basically, for over 40 years, Argentina was sending us infected meat, which via pigswill caused over 50% of all FMD outbreaks during this time. Meat imports from other infected countries were banned in the '20s, but because the Argentine trade was so important (at that stage providing 1/3 of our meat supply) and due to substantial British investment in Argentina (we owned a considerable % of the meat packing houses and shipping cos), the government decided to continue the trade. Instead of a ban, administrative arrangements and inspections were introduced to try and stop FMD infected animals leaving the farms and ending up at the meat packing plants for export.

Despite the fact that as time went on, other supplies of meat from Australia, NZ etc grew while Argentine supplies fell, and British interests in Argentina became much less important, this situation continued. Every time there were outbreaks related to this source the farmers demanded a ban, and every time the government refused. The most action they took was to check all the admin arrangements were working properly.

The message was clear: in the interests of the consumer, butchers, shippers and various other British-owned Argentine businesses, British farmers had to put up with FMD.

Disease incidence had been minimised as much as possible, but a certain amount of disease had to be expected, a price paid by farmers in order that other interests should benefit. Even in 1967, when Argentine meat caused the biggest ever FMD outbreak in Britain, the government refused to ban imports - and they only provided 5% of our meat at that time. Instead, vaccination was advocated to help control the small number of outbreaks that would inevitably occur.

So, Argentina was treated in a radically different manner to all other infected countries because other interests took priority over farming.

This, to me, raises 2 important points:

Found some seriously juicy stuff in the PRO last week on Argentine/British relations in 1967-68, all of which shaped our reaction to the FMD epidemic then. The recommendations for future vaccination contingency planning in the Northumberland report were actually made due to the impossibility to cutting off all meat imports from South America. If this had been possible, it seems most would have been confident that FMD imports would have ceased and therefore vaccination wouldn't be needed.

The question of why we couldn't stop South American imports is fascinating. Basically, we banned them for 3 months during the course of the 1967 epidemic, during which time Britain suffered one of the worst balance of payments crises of all time. On top of that, one of our most promising export markets in Argentina which represented the route to economic recovery was practically severed due to retaliatory action. We wouldn't buy their meat so they wouldn't buy any British exports. As a result of this, we didn't win the contract to build the 1st Argentine nuclear power station (worth £70m) and lost another £20m of orders.

On top of this, our govt was also secretly discussing the peaceful handover of the Falklands (which we wanted rid of as they were taking up a disproportionate amount of time and money.)

This plan was eventually knocked on the head by the intervention of the Islanders, who roused serious opposition to the British government by refusing to become part of Argentina.

Even when we reopened ports to Argentine meat, they refused to send it to us - presumably to teach us a lesson despite the detrimental effects on their own people. It was months before things got back to semi-normal - just about the time the Northumberland report was published. After that little lot, there was absolutely no way MAFF could get its way and ban Argentine meat, there was far too much at stake elsewhere and political relations were only just back on an even keel. So vaccination was hauled on as a means of placating all those who wanted to see an end to Argentine imports. We couldn't stop its future introduction, but we could make sure the disease would inflict less harm next time.

I strongly suspect the cessation of vaccine contingency planning and the holding of vaccine stocks was somewhat related to the end of the Argentine meat trade with Britain.

The EU banned it in 1974 for several years, and then there were the FMD trade rules and zoning concepts introduced. Presumably if Argentina was no longer a risk, vaccines would never be needed........

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