Animal Groups Seek Public Awarness

April 11, 2001 Associated Press by Beth Gardiner

LONDON (AP) - In a country famed for its love of all creatures cute and cuddly, animal rights activists are hoping the horrifying slaughter of nearly a million livestock may have one bright spot: increased public awareness of farming practices they see as cruel.

Images of dead sheep and cows broadcast on television nightly during the 7-week-old foot-and-mouth epidemic are forcing many Britons to confront the sometimes distasteful origins of their beef roasts and racks of lamb, the activists say.

``The response from the public has surpassed everything we've ever known,'' said Juliet Gellatley, director of Viva, a Brighton-based group that promotes vegetarianism. ``What people are saying is they're just sick to death of the way animals are being treated.''

Viva is among the pro-animal groups that oppose the foot-and-mouth slaughters outright, saying officials should simply let the disease run its course and use vaccinations to try to contain it. Foot-and-mouth's harm, they say, is largely economic, and its effects on animals are minimal.

``The whole slaughter policy is complete insanity and shows the brutal indifference of our government and most farmers towards farmed animals,'' Gellatley said.

She and others say the mass culls have given Britons a glimpse of the brutality that is inherent in so-called ``factory farming,'' which many say subjects livestock to overcrowding, dehydration and tortuous long-distance journeys to market.

``What the images on television have shown people is that the reality of animals dying is part of industrialized farming, and they don't like what they're seeing,'' said Andrew Tyler, director of the pro-vegetarianism group Animal Aid, which is based in Tonbridge. ``The slaughter and suffering they're seeing now is a small visible part of what goes on behind closed doors constantly.''

Tyler and Gellatley said they had been besieged by requests for information on vegetarianism.

Foot-and-mouth is not harmful to humans [Common misconception] and rarely kills animals, who generally recover within a few weeks. But because it decreases their productivity, many countries ban animal imports from infected nations.

Although the disease poses no threat to food safety, its appearance a few years after the discovery of mad cow disease here has frightened some Britons off beef.

Still, the British Retail Consortium reported that far from giving up meat, the public was filling its freezers, leading to a strong 4.8 percent gain in retail sales in March compared to a year ago.

The epidemic has halted British meat exports, and the government has not authorized vaccination because it would lengthen the time needed for Britain to regain its ``foot-and-mouth-free'' status.

Many animal rights groups acknowledge a need to eliminate the disease, but they say the slaughter of animals that don't show symptoms is inhumane and ineffective. A limited slaughter policy combined with vaccination makes more sense, they argue.

Officials now are culling all animals on infected farms and those adjacent to them. In the worst-hit parts of the country, the culls apply to all sheep and pigs within two miles of an infection site.

Nearly a million animals have been put down, out of a total of nearly 1.4 million selected for slaughter.

``We do reluctantly have to accept that infected animals may have to be slaughtered, but it looks as though the government has taken a real gamble'' by not allowing vaccination, said Julie Briggs, of Compassion in World Farming, which is in Hampshire.

Even mainstream animal welfare groups that support the cull have called attention to problems with its implementation.

Emma Nutbrown, a spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said it was investigating many claims of inhumane slaughter practices. Press reports have said some animals take hours to die or are buried alive.

As a result of foot-and-mouth, animals have been restricted in their movement. In some cases, that means pregnant ewes are stranded far from farms, their newborn lambs suffering exposure in cold, muddy fields, Nutbrown said. In other cases, pigs are kept cooped up inside, where many are fighting because of overcrowding. On some farms, feed is running low because animals are not being let out to graze, she added.

``We've got to take responsibility for ensuring that animals reared in this country don't suffer, and at the moment they are,'' Briggs said. ``It's unfortunate that it takes a national crisis like this to (call attention to) welfare standards and how animals are actually farmed.''

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