Foot and mouth slaughter toll hits a new high

Foot and mouth slaughter toll hits a new high

May 20, 2001 Sunday Times (London) by Jon Ungoed-Thomas

MORE animals are being culled now than at the height of the foot and mouth epidemic, new figures reveal.

On Thursday, with no new cases recorded, slaughtermen killed 79,000 livestock, most of them showing no signs of the disease. This compares with a daily average of 33,000 two months ago at the peak of the epidemic.

Campaigners say the cull has become a "mindless bloodbath", clearing vast swathes of the countryside of animals. John Gouriet, who has been fighting to halt the killing, said: "The government's attitude is that foot and mouth doesn't exist any more, but farms are still being taken out at a horrendous rate." The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) maintains that the slaughter is necessary to avoid any resurgence of the disease.

Concerns are growing about cruelty to animals. A dossier detailing appalling treatment is to be passed to the government by animal welfare investigators. Among the allegations are:

o Animals being buried alive after suffering hours of pain from bolts fired into their skulls.

o The slaughter of piglets and kids with soft-nosed dumdum bullets that explode on impact, shattering bone and shredding flesh.

o New-born piglets and calves being beaten to death with spades and iron staves.

o Marksmen firing from 60ft at trapped cattle fighting to escape from pens.

The RSPCA has 60 cases under investigation. It is to present its evidence to Maff within the next few weeks. It intends to prosecute slaughtermen over a case in Cumbria where six sheep which were supposedly culled were found to have survived the following day.

Simon Middle, a tenant farmer at Sandhurst, Gloucestershire, said he had been told his livestock would be sedated before being culled. "An idiot with a high-powered rifle turned up and just started shooting at my 87 cattle in one shed from up to 60ft," he said. "The cattle just went berserk, smashing the walls and trying to get out."

Slaughtermen at Knowstone, Devon, riddled five bullocks with 25 shots last week after they escaped from a cull. One animal was shot in the spine and writhed on the ground for five minutes before being killed.

In another case disclosed in a letter from an unidentified soldier taking part in a cull in Worcestershire, a colleague had to smash piglets with the back of a shovel. He said: "Worst of all are the cows that have been shot but not finished off by the slaughtermen. Some are still crawling around, others are clearly alive but unable to move. We have to beat them to death."

Maff officials said the vast majority of animals had been killed quickly and humanely. It was investigating 12 cases in which welfare guidelines had not been adhered to.

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