Death In The Valley

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.

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4 Replies to “Death In The Valley”

  1. Truly excellent posting,well done,and spot-on.I was gobsmacked to see the televised pictures of these poor doomed cows being herded OUTSIDE (!!)to meet their inevitable executions.Excuse me,but doesn’t this virus carry on the air,in the wind??!! Then we saw the carcases being loaded into a tipper truck,using a tractor with a grab on the front.Again,potentially spreading the infection to the winds!
    An immediate ban on all cloven-hoofed animal movement was immediately imposed.The government at least learned that lesson from 2001(when it took them 3 days of subsequently disastrous dithering before they acted)but it would appear that Defra (Department for the elimination of farming in rural areas)still have not grasped the basic concept of non-exposure to the elements.
    Let’s all hope,for the animals sake if nothing else,that they follow European practise and VACCINATE. Your central point about the hypocrisy of manufacturing,but refusing to use,vaccination is well-made. How ironic that Defra refuse to accept this principle,widely used elsewhere throughout Europe,yet maniacally impose EVERY other stricture to emerge from the Council of Europe relating to farming and food,to the distinct disadvantage of British agriculture. As you may know,UK has recently been ‘fined’ £350,000,000 for cocking-up the lawful subsidies due to farmers,and this entire debacle is down to Defra.Farmers are STILL waiting for payments overdue in most cases by 2-3 YEARS!!
    £8,000,000,000 cost of the 2001 outbreak,all paid by us,the taxpayers.Please,non-supernatural god,not again.

  2. JPGR – your points are well made. Quite how any vaccination program would be funded, given Defra’s financial deficit after Becket’s RPA fiasco, would have to be debated. Cost always has been the major excuse, though vaccination does not provide 100% protection, given varying mutations in the virus. While the British are quick to slam French farmers, there is no doubt farming is taken seriously by the French government, which is more than can be said for the British.

  3. Just want to say, your description of the Banwy, Goat field and the stones is wonderful.

  4. Jim – thanks for that. Thankfully, the outbreak of 2007 was contained, so farmers in the Banwy Valley were saved further heartbreak.

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