The valley of the Banwy, in Great Britain, is probably one of the most beautiful areas of mid-Wales. Lying between the market town of Welshpool and extending high up and through the village of Llanfair Caereinion (pronounced clan-vie kie-ren-ee-on) some seven miles distant, the green hills rise sharply on either side and are dotted by small dairy and beef farms, the main industry of the area.
Clear, cool, air with just a hint of raindrop, clarifies a vista of emerald silk, scattered against an azure-blue backcloth patched by fluffy, scudding, cumulus. Through it all flows the clean, chuckling, waters of the Banwy River, and a narrow gauge, miniature steam railway that huffs and puffs its meandering track four times daily between Llanfair and Welshpool.
It is indeed a scene of idyllic beauty. Yet, back in 2001, that jewel of a valley was ravaged by the throat-choking, eye-watering, stench of burning flesh. For week after week, thick, black, smoke drifted between the hillsides blotting out the landscape, tainting the clear air with its foulness. The grim shadow of death had come to the Banwy Valley, and hundreds of corpses were burning in funeral pyres that pock-marked the surrounding fields.
Foot and Mouth Disease, the outbreak of 2001, ravished not only the Banwy Valley, but most of England and Wales. Eventually, around seven million sheep and cattle were slaughtered as a preventative measure to stop the virus from spreading. Many carcases were burned in the open, before burial in huge pits dug on the very fields the animals had grazed only a short time before. It was a heart-rending period, most especially for the farmers who watched their animals and their livelihoods going up in flames.
No one can be certain, but there is evidence to suggest the outbreak of 2001 may have been started deliberately. A phial of the virus was stolen from the government’s research station at Porton Down in the English county of Wiltshire just two months before the outbreak was confirmed.
On Friday, August 3rd 2007, it was announced that Foot and Mouth Disease had again been discovered in British cattle. This time the strain has been identified as one kept by the government’s Institute for Animal Health, a research establishment at Pirbright in the English county of Surrey. The Institute’s buildings also house Merial UK, an international animal pharmaceutical company presently researching vaccines against Foot and Mouth, and also holding quantities of the strain identified as causing this latest outbreak.
Given that the site is only two and a half miles from where the outbreak occurred, and the strain of virus is identical with that isolated from the infected cattle, it would seem fairly obvious where it came from.
The British government has always maintained vaccination of cattle and sheep against the disease is neither effective nor economical. This surely raises the question as to why then it is considered necessary to allow research into a Foot and Mouth vaccine on British soil. Particularly when it seems likely both the outbreaks of 2001 and 2007 directly resulted from these activities. Or, is the combination of Merial UK and a government research station in one facility, yet another blatant example of public/private enterprise in the UK going horribly wrong? Has profit once again sacrificed security?
Whether this latest outbreak is eventually discovered to be another deliberate infestation, or just a criminal act of carelessness, farmers in the Banwy Valley, and throughout Britain, will be holding their breaths and praying that this time the shadow of death passes them by.
Filed under: Who dun it?