This news just in: Foot and mouth disease has been discovered at a farm in Surrey, south of London. The Brits are declaring an emergency and all transport of livestock is halted, according to the bulletin issued by the BBC news agency.
While foot and mouth does not affect horses, it makes it impossible for animals to move from place to place. In the 2001 outbreak, shows and race meets were cancelled, breedings to stallions went unbooked, vets and farriers couldn’t conduct business normally. And that’s for starters.
But those were only the short-term effects. Farmers across the country lost livestock, often because of mandated “cull” killings. British meat and young stock was not exported, prices were depressed, and many farmers were depressed and even driven out of business. Farmers were sold, hay and grain went unplanted or unharvested, and the very face of the countryside changed in a single year. Resorts and museums and bed-and-breakfasts stood empty, as people stopped visiting the countryside.
This horrible disease can even spread from farm to farm on the wind.
The only up side (if there is one) to the epidemic is that it brought the countryside together in grief and sometimes in anger and frustration over the cull and quarantine regulations that often seemed so unfair.
I remember visiting Wales and admiring a woman’s border collies. “Oh, take them back to America with you, please, miss,” she cried. “We have 23 needing homes.” I was perplexed until she explained that she was re-homing farm dogs who no longer had farms to live on or livestock to herd since the outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001. Many farmers reluctantly killed their farm dogs with the livestock, knowing the only life the animals knew was destroyed. And some farmers ended their own lives.
This BBC bulletin is chilling news. And if you think it can’t happen here….think again.
Photo of sheep farm culling courtesy of Lancaster University Institute for Health Research.