Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Farmer burns cattle in Mad Cow pyre
Police guard the gate of a farm in Highhampton, Devon as a farmer burns his cattle under instructions from MAFF. Photo: Nick Cobbing.

Stark Staring Bonkers

Devon organic farmer Tim Malyon sends this dispatch from the heart of an exasperated British countryside in the middle of the Mad Cow fiasco

April 2001

It was watching the pyres pumping black smoke, the charred carcasses and the gunshots in the background that pushed the penny to drop - this is wrong, period. We're possessed by a collective madness, a tunnel-visioned obsession that will tolerate no other vision.

At first the cull seemed half way reasonable - "let's stop the outbreak in its tracks" - except the tracks had already disappeared over the horizon, from Longtown to Devon, across into Wales and all over Cumbria.

Now, thousands of animals, prize flocks and herds have been blown away, generations and centuries of joy and grief and hardship and breeding, up in smoke. And the slaughter has hardly begun. If we continue, mass burials and pyres will pollute our water courses and the air we breathe. And vital parts of our animal heritage, the Herdwicks and Swaledales and Devon Reds and Cheviots will be lost.

We cannot treat animals like this, period. I was bought up to look after animals, be they cats or calves, to treat them well and with due respect. It's part of being a decent human being. Lining them up and mass slaughtering them so they know exactly what is coming and bellow with terror is obscene and against all laws forbidding cruelty. And how will the children grow up, the ones who've witnessed these horrors? They've either been separated from their parents so they could go to school and be with their friends, or stayed on the farm, cut off from school, living in a limbo-land, confined inside until the men from the bungling Ministry arrive to kill their pets.

We could have vaccinated, right from the beginning, or as soon as we realised it was out of control, within the first few days at least. And we could have vaccinated to give life, not kill the animals later. Based on the experiences of other infected countries, that would have stopped the epidemic in its tracks. And the damage? At best we wouldn't have been able to export animals or meat - a small percentage of the market - for one whole year after the last vaccination and outbreak. At worst we'd have had to live with occasional outbreaks of a disease which most animals survive. Balance that against the horror and economic ruin which is actually happening.

We could even, heresy of heresy, have treated the animals who came down with the disease, improving resistance in flocks and herds and dispelling the panic which foot and mouth's rapid spread amongst stressed, resistance free animals engenders.

And we could have applied proper prevention measures.

No farms in this area so far have been infected, touch wood. We're four miles from a restricted area and about 11 miles from the nearest confirmed outbreak. There's one small road into the area which passes through Uplowman Court farm, owned by Stafford Blake. Stafford's the only farmer in this area who regularly went to market, with all the attendant dangers of infection. All farmers in the area including Stafford Blake want to see the road closed, as do the local MP, councillors and Devon County Council Highways Department - who did actually shut it. There's an easy detour, adds about three minutes to the journey. But then our elected council was told to open the road by the police, and an appeal to MAFF from our MP in the House of Commons fell on deaf ears. The police informed us that roads would only be closed if MAFF made a recommendation. MAFF refused to recommend because policy from London wouldn't permit unless we had an outbreak on the road - hardly prevention.

The police threatened to arrest us if we put any signs on the tarmac asking people not to drive through the farmyard. So we put big signs in the hedges and on the verge, which stopped the locals at least going through. MAFF even refused to help provide decent mats and disinfectant to disinfect the public highway through the farm, despite spending millions on slaughter when prevention fails. A car drove through last week en route from Cumbria. There's ten farmers who border on Stafford Blake's land, a thousand head of cattle and more of sheep at risk. We wait in hope.

Then came the borax saga.

Borax 30 is the homeopathic remedy for ulcers and salivation in cattle, the symptoms of foot and mouth. I wrote my first article about homeopathic veterinary care some fifteen years ago and was thoroughly impressed. Homeopathic vets are generally also allopathic vets. They treat using both systems. They make no extravagant claims, but many believe that certain remedies may work, like borax 30.

It was used during the 1939 and 1967 outbreaks. There's a farmer near Dartmoor, surrounded by infected farms, who's using it, has kept his dairy herd free of infection, and intends to keep it that way, while MAFF try to make him cull. Let's be clear, borax 30 cannot at present be used to cure, because that is illegal. Any outbreak of foot and mouth must be reported immediately and the herd slaughtered. But borax may well have a preventive effect. "We have no problem with you using it at all," Simon Hack told me, from MAFF's veterinary medicine directorate. "We have been inundated with calls, there are many many farmers using it." Meanwhile, in a strange reversal of roles, the Soil Association helpline told me that preventative use of homeopathic borax is "illegal," possibly because there's controversy raging amongst homeopathic vets as to whether borax 30 acts to prevent, or merely masks symptoms. If we'd only spent a tiny fraction of the money being consumed by funeral pyres on researching borax 30, farmers wouldn't be so confused and we might have an effective preventative remedy.

The future lies with local markets, with people knowing where their food comes from and being able to see for themselves. How we feed ourselves and use our land is perhaps the most important issue facing the human race. If there's anything good to be drawn from this cruel, polluting waste, it's that we have to change the system. But first we must stop this senseless slaughter. It's wrong, full stop.

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