Do we learn from history? Are the welfare problems of the foot and mouth epidemic different from those of 1967/68? I suspect not, but I do not recall the same outcry then as now, but why not? Has our moral conscience changed or is it simply that the recent publicity over our declining agricultural industry and the spectre of globalisation are having an impact that any straw will be grabbed and used to try to turn the tide? The methods used to tackle the disease have been the same for decades but our vaccines have not advanced sufficiently to be used as part of a control strategy. This is partly because successive UK governments have reduced expenditure on disease research. The nature of farming is such that the increased intensification of livestock on fewer farms means that more animals will be affected if a farm is infected. The increased transport of animals spreads the disease further, and in this case more complications arose over the clinical signs and their prevalence in some species, and the suspicion that some farmers, and even animal rights persons, had inadvertently or advertently spread the disease.
It is sometimes overlooked that ill health is a welfare matter in its own right, as an animal’s welfare will be compromised. In this sense health is always a subcategory of animal well-being. Poor welfare, however, can be found in otherwise healthy animals that are free from disease, other than the psychological suffering of those animals. We had it within our power to prevent considerable animal suffering, through vaccination, but rejected it on economic grounds, fearing affect on future trade, and also on our ability to finally diagnose and eradicate the disease. The animal distress and suffering through the mass slaughter, often in appalling conditions, and the toll it had in terms of human welfare of all involved (farmers, slaughtermen, local communities, the general public, zoo owners, vets, scientists, and so on), did not seem to have been factored in, but nor was it 1967. So what lessons do we learn this time round to minimise the impact on humans and animals alike? Globalisation will increase our chances of introducing such diseases in the future – that has to be recognised and accepted. We must not blindly reject vaccination but develop vaccines that meet the criteria needed for dealing with such a disease in the short and longer terms (e.g. bedside tests, differentiating between vaccinated and infected animals). We should consider creating buffer zones using vaccines and not the mass blunt kill of non-infected animals – whether pedigree, rare, research or other susceptible species or potential carriers. In that way both human and animal welfare would have been better protected and, yes, maybe there would have been an economic price to pay, but which is dearer?
Finally, this is my last year as President (or Chairperson) and we have yet to elect a replacement. The AGM has been delayed because of F&M, but is to be on 18 October 2001 at Langford and will consider welfare, ethical and legal aspects of the foot and mouth crisis. It has been a good year for AWSELVA. We held an excellent meeting on Ethics in Oxford (thanks Peter for organising this), and have been asked to comment on papers from the Home Office as well as MAFF. We have sent representatives to work on various welfare bodies, from looking at the use of shock collars in dogs to the future of farming. We have had working parties on Casualty Slaughter (soon to report) and on systems for redress for veterinary clients. As well as all that we have had the report of the working party on veterinary ethics published in the Veterinary Record, a copy of which you should receive with this Newsletter. I would like to thank the other members of the AWSELVA Committee for their work, both in front of and behind the scenes, as without them we would have not achieved so much. I hope you will all continue to support AWSELVA, especially by putting yourself up for election at the next AGM.