Kill or Cure

April 9, 2001 Newsweek by Malcolm Beith

Why are we killing all these cows? The British government and its farmers have allowed the slaughter of nearly 1 million animals potentially infected with foot-and-mouth disease so far this year. The disease poses no threat to humans [Common misconception--BSE coordinator]. And it's not even fatal for animals. Though highly infectious (for other animals), foot-and-mouth kills a tiny percentage of those infected. As Andrew Sullivan of The New Republic notes, "It's a cow flu with cold sores."

What it does, however, is make them produce less milk and meat. A more humane route might be to vaccinate all livestock. But that is expensive. British stock would no longer be deemed "pure," and other countries would refuse to import it. That's a loss of nearly $1 billion to the nation's economy. So, as in past outbreaks, the government slaughters by suspicion until the crisis gets totally out of hand. Then, and only then, does it propose vaccination. It almost proposed it in 1967. In 2001 the death toll hit the 500,000 mark before vaccination was seriously considered.

Britain has a sad history on this matter. During the 1940s and 1950s the disease struck the island three times; 70,000 livestock were slaughtered in 40 countries in 1960. Then came the 1967 crisis: 447,000 animals were butchered.

Like much of the left in Europe, Britain's New Labour Party spouts green rhetoric about the sanctity of nature and our role as its stewards. Apparently that includes trees but not cows.

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