On Monday April 30th 2001 I wrote the following. Some of what I understood then was not quite accurate. It was Pirbright rather than Porton, for example - but I had absolutely no idea that nothing substantial would have changed by January 2002 and I would still not feel able to return to my far more enjoyable and eccentric french diary (http://englishinfrance.com)
Monday 30th April
I have to tell you - that is anyone who now accesses these pages - why I have become obsessed with the Foot and Mouth crisis. It is now plastered all over my latest pages. Interestingly, NO ONE who e-mails me (except my nephew, bless him) refers to it at all. It is very painful, certainly, yet it must be obvious that it is on my mind day and night.
When the Foot and Mouth crisis first emerged just before I went to England I too hid away from it. Wouldn't watch the news or read newspapers. I felt desperately sad for all involved and furious about the killing of healthy animals - which seemed daft - but felt that since there was only one of me there was nothing I could do.
Then it affected Colin, my farmer friend in Dumfries. I talked to him on the phone. An outdoor man of considerable skill and toughness, he was tearful about his rare breed sheep and their new lambs - all doomed to die and still having to be fed and cared for while he waited and waited for the killing group to arrive.
Also, being the person he is and having the contacts he has, he was full of information about what was really happening.
Which is why my website is now up in arms. I am ashamed of what has happened to the ideals of democracy in Britain, ashamed that policy can be barged through by a consortium of greedy wreckers. I am ashamed of the appointment of someone as easily pushed around as Nick Brown, with no experience whatsoever of agriculture, to be the Minister at Maff, of a man like Jim Scudamore to be "Chief Vet" and I am appalled by the emotive language and political posturings of the "scientist" David King. But perhaps, in view of everyone's cynicism and apathy - mine included , we now have the government we deserve.
In brief, the unthinkable is now being thought by a lot more people than me and it is being thought by people who are in a position to know. Not anarchists or trouble makers or those with any political axe to grind - just people who are deeply troubled by what is happening and are taking the trouble to examine some very nasty evidence.
It looks more and more as though the outbreak was planned in advance. It was planned as a way of getting rid of the overstocking of sheep in the country and to change the face of the farming landscape without having to go through the tedious business of public accountability.
The EU granted Britain - as an island - the right to deal with any FMD outbreak in any way she saw fit. The way was thus left open for the powerful meat industry bosses and the agribusiness NFU executives ( who, by the way, are not elected by ordinary farmers in the NFU union), to make these changes almost overnight. The government and they worked together - although how much Nick Brown actually understands of the calamity he has set in motion I really don't know.
A few mistakes were made - such as letting it become public knowledge that Maff had ordered timber and sleepers for mass pyres several weeks before the outbreak was "discovered". Rumours began to abound about the FMD virus at Porton Down and its disappearance. People getting off planes in New Zealand from Britain, long before the outbreak was known about, were disinfected because of "the imminent outbreak of Foot and Mouth in Britain". Farmers were suddenly advised by the government to take out insurance against a possible outbreak of Foot and Mouth. (Then advised not to by the NFU when their insurance company, NFU Mutual, realised the implications.)
It's possible that the outbreak wasn't intended to cover more of the country than Devon and Cumbria - but there again, the fact that it has been reported to be so widespread has meant that huge numbers of animals have been slaughtered - most of them healthy - which will prove to be helpful in changing British agriculture to arable and "diversified" farming. The Guardian calculates the figure of animals killed or awaiting death now to be approaching 4 million.
The experts in the field of FMD have been ignored. Professor Fred Brown, a laconic Lancastrian who now works in USA, says that the policy of slaughter is nonsense as a means of controlling this particular outbreak of the disease. From very early on he was advising ring vaccination. In March he offered the Maff a simple kit that made testing for FMD possible on the spot. Maff turned it down. they preferred to kill first and then do a test. Amazingly the BBC did report this - in an edition of Farming Today, aired very early in the morning.
Dr Paul Kitching - who is also pre-eminent on FMD at Pirbright, the Govt. own research establishment, was probably the one who leaked a memo - front page news yesterday in the Sunday Times - saying that the slaughter policy should be abandoned at once. He's off to a new job in Canada. The memo itself was also available. I read it closely. It was clear that Kitching said at the meeting with the National Sheep Association on April 20th that one in four of the farms said by Maff to be infected did not show positive results after the animals had all been slaughtered. This means that all the hundreds of animals around those farms were in no danger whatsoever of becoming carriers. They all died though.
Kitching says in the memo that the disease is very mild in sheep anyway and the risk of their passing on the disease to cattle is very low. With proper risk assessment (vets using blood testing kits) it would be negligible. He deplores the way that Maff based all policy on outdated and irrelevant models.
Meanwhile today the killer squads carry on. The media are silent, especially the BBC. The govt are now desperate to get tourism back to places like Devon, the Forest of Dean and Cumbria. Chris Smith has been waltzing around Canada saying that the disease is no big deal at all. Tourists will never see fires. Paths are open. This would explain why they want ALL the sheep killed.
This so-called "scorched earth" policy kills two birds with one stone. First, it raises the price of sheep meat which was severely depressed because of overstocking. Second, it makes it possible for the countryside to be reopened quickly without the govt losing face.
It will be a new Disney type countryside where lots of money can be made by farmers who are prepared to sell ice-cream and "diversify". A bit like the pretend "show" mines with their nice clean coal exhibits. There will be an abundance of snowy white calves I imagine.
It seems that there has been and continues to be a terrifying lot of collusion. The BBC are deafeningly silent. The major newspapers say very little indeed - in spite of the fact that much is now known. You could say that the reason for this is that people have lost interest or don't want to have their faces rubbed in it any more.
Perhaps so - but if I were an editor I would have thought that the knowledge that twenty billion pounds of taxpayers' money is likely to be the cost of this bloody massacre, that thousands of peoples' lives have been personally affected directly or indirectly, and that we have a government department that has plotted, lied and covered up consistently and cynically IS of public interest.
There must be a public enquiry. Ends do NOT justify means. And these means have been bloody indeed.