Foot in mouth disease

Only a sea change in farming techniques will help save the European agricultural sector from disasters like the foot-and-mouth disease

Published: Saturday 31 March 2001

It was Henry Ford who invented the assembly line system of manufacturing automobiles and today the car is a victim of its own success. Therefore it is not surprising that Europe is stricken by a crisis, which is the result of the factory-like food production techniques adopted in the Continent today. Has the European agricultural machine run out of steam?

Tens of thousands of farm animals are being destroyed in mainland Europe and England as fears mount that the foot-and-mouth disease (fmd), that is wreaking havoc in the British countryside may spread to the continent. There is reason for panic in Europe. Five sheep imported from the uk have been found to have antibodies against fmd . Such outbreaks have become all too frequent in Europe. In July 2000, when fmd was diagnosed in Greece, the 1,400 potentially exposed animals were destroyed within 24 hours. A total of 7,360 had been destroyed by August. In 1993 pigs that fell foul of the virus were destroyed within hours.

The speed at which these infections spread goes to show that agricultural reforms should embrace agricultural production techniques as well. At present there is no vaccination against the disease as the European Union stopped the practice 10 years ago. Vaccination also leaves fmd proteins in meat making it indistinguishable from infected meat and thus it cannot be sold in countries like the us . Europe has just recovered from the bse crisis, which shook up the farm sector. The foot-and-mouth disease has come in the wake of this with the first case being detected on February 19 in Britain. It is no wonder that farmers are thinking of going organic in the West. Something that is practised in Asia and Africa even today. India for example is learning from the follies of its Green Revolution, which have poisoned the fertile plains of Punjab. Perhaps it is time Europe thought in terms of decentralised food production and took a lesson from the benefits of traditional farming techniques practiced by Asian and African farmers. It is better to grow diverse crops in one area rather than produce in farm factories and then transport the produce and several infections over large areas. Monoculture whether it is in the form of livestock or crop production is always more vulnerable to pests and pestilence than diversity.

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