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(Updated 04/03/01)

Foot & Mouth: a historical perspective

by Nick Mays


THE EFFECTS of the latest outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease upon the farming community is, as anyone can plainly see, nothing short of catastrophic. The disease, caused by an airborne virus, creates a plague amongst farm livestock which can assume biblical proportions. Hundreds of farmers face ruin if an outbreak is found by MAFF officials on their farms, their livestock are destroyed, the bodies piled up and burnt in gruesome funeral pyres, the smoke - and smell - permeating an area of several miles around each farm. Even now, in the 21st Century, with greatly improved farming methods, more sophisticated vaccines and highly trained veterinary surgeons; the ‘Great Cattle Plague’ can still make its presence felt throughout the UK.

The effects of Foot and Mouth are not limited to the cessation of movement of farm livestock in an attempt to halt the spread of the disease - horse racing and animal shows - including dog shows - can all be affected.
Last weekend, the Shropshire Gundog Show was cancelled, due to an outbreak on a farm in the area; the risk of the disease being vectored via dogs or humans was too great to take, and the organisers were forced to cancel.
The dog fancy was badly affected during the last great Foot and Mouth outbreak which occurred in late 1967. Scores of shows were cancelled until well into 1968, although then, as now, there was no official compunction from the Minister of Agriculture upon the Kennel Club to cancel shows.

Earlier this week, John Webb, a spokesman for MAFF, told OUR DOGS: “MAFF do not have an official position on the staging of animal shows. We give advice if it is sought, so if a show were to be held in a field, near an affected area, we would advise against this. If the show is to be held in a hall in a town, then there’s no problem.”
Asked whether MAFF was concerned about overseas exhibits entered in UK shows possibly running any kind of infection risk, such as the 200 foreign dogs entered in Crufts for the first time this year, Mr Webb said, “We don’t make rulings on individual events. Overseas animals are not subjected to any kind of special quarantine arrangements because of Foot and Mouth.”

Back in December 1967 at the height of the last Foot and Mouth outbreak, OUR DOGS reported on the grim situation and how it was affecting dog shows. The Kennel Club decided that it would be “in the national interest” to ban all dog shows for a period of some weeks, even though they were under no compunction to do so from MAFF. In the issue dated December 22 1967, the KC made an official announcement on how the issued was being addressed:

“The Committee of the Kennel Club, at its meeting today (December 19th) decided that because of the continued outbreak of foot and mouth disease, it would be in the national interest if the ban on the holding of dog shows was extended until after December 31. It has instructed all societies in England and Wales to cancel their shows up to and including January 13.

“The Committee will decide at weekly intervals whether to extend the ban on holding dog shows and a further announcement will be made if necessary on December 27 regarding the holding of shows in the week ending January 20.

“The Kennel Club Field Trials Committee has cancelled all Field Trials for the present season.”

OUR DOGS added the discreet, but slightly critical rider to this announcement: “We understand that the Kennel Club has just addressed a letter to the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today, December 20, asking for a definite decision (by December 27), regarding the holding of dog shows after January 13. The point of this is, of course, that it is, strictly speaking, a decision for the Ministry to take and the Kennel Club to follow out.”
A week later, in the issue dated December 29, OUR DOGS printed the reply from MAFF to the KC. The Minister for Agriculture said that “...he does not think he would be justified in asking the Kennel Club to cancel all shows in future - i.e. after January 13.”

In something of a deja-vu situation, the Minister continued: “He would, however, think it inadvisable for shows to be held in affected areas or shows near to those areas, as they might be expected to attract entries from them. In addition, he would ask that shows held in other parts of the country should not accept entries form affected areas.”

OUR DOGS added: “He (the Minister) thanked the Kennel Club and the doggy world <sic> for the public spirit, which he appreciates, in cancelling licenses from the middle of December to the middle of January.

“The position really is this: There is no official compulsion by the Ministry or the Kennel Club as regards shows after January 13... it is unlikely, in view of the improved position, that the Kennel Club will enforce cancellations, but they are keeping the matter continually under review.”

However, on the same issue, the OUR DOGS Leader column praised the KC for the stance they had taken, putting the cancellation of some dog shows down to “just part of dogdom’s contribution to the price that has to be paid by the nation as a whole.”

Scottish dog shows, held under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Kennel Club were largely unaffected, as the outbreak of foot and mouth was confined to England and Wales. However, the Paisley Show, due to be staged on January 6th 1968 was re-organised, and all English entries returned, whilst the panel of judges was changed to a panel of Scottish judges.

The 1967 foot and mouth outbreak eventually petered out by Spring the following year, but in that time, no less than 2,364 outbreaks were confirmed at a cost of £150 million - £1.5 billion today - in control measures and lost sales. 442,000 animals were destroyed, hundreds of jobs were lost and £27 million in compensation paid out.

The last outbreak in Britain was in 1981 when the virus struck the Isle of Wight. Two hundred cattle and 369 pigs were destroyed. It is believed that the virus was carried on the wind from infected pigs in northern France.

There have been numerous outbreaks in the EU over the past decade. In 1993, two years after the disease was officially pronounced extinct in the European Union, there were outbreaks in Italy, costing the lives of 3,500 animals. Until this outbreak, other European countries had carried out a programme of vaccination on animals against the disease, but this was abandoned in favour of the drastic British method of killing and burying or burning the affected animals.

The last outbreak in Europe was in 2000 in Greece, when the EU imposed a ban on livestock exports. The ban was lifted after two months, when over 7,000 farms animals had been slaughtered to contain the disease. There had been two previous outbreaks in Greece in 1994 and 1998.

The current British outbreak has been traced to a pig farm in Northumberland.