The Foot-and-Mouth Epidemic of 2001.
Some comments on Judgement Day in Northumbria, 30th May 2002.

Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive ...

(1) Guilty by Proxy?

On Thursday 30th May 2002, former pig farmer Raymond Eve was found guilty at Hexham Crown Court of the following:-

He was cleared of:-

The charge of failing to keep livestock movements records was dropped during the trial.

Throughout the hearing, Mr Eve maintained his innocence, asserting that he was unaware of Foot-and-Mouth Disease being present on the farm. When examined on this point, he insisted that Ministry officials brought the infection onto his premises. According to one newspaper report, Mr Eve claimed that his pigs were healthy until the inspection on 22nd February 2001, but two days later, their condition had deteriorated gravely.

"Scenes of horror at the farm of filth" (Northumbrian Echo, 31st May 2002) was no exaggeration. The video taken by Trading Standards officers on 22nd February 2001 showing conditions at Hotshill Farm, Ryton-on-Tyne left very little to the imagination and shocked those present at Hexham Crown Court.

The Judge remarked that although he accepted Mr Eve's difficulty in spotting Foot-and Mouth symptoms due to the farm's dirty state plus existing normal instances of lameness and lesions, the number of ailing pigs showing signs should have led him to suspect a vasicular disease.

Mr Eve will be sentenced at the end of June 2002.

I must point out that, unlike other matters relating to last year's Foot-and-Mouth Disease (henceforth abbreviated to FMD), I am not privy to information directly concerning Mr Eve and his trial. Therefore, my comments are conjecture, especially in attempting to profile the farmer's intellectual ability which, in my view, is crucial to understanding the sequence of events.

(2) A Brief Chronology of Events.

22nd December 2000.
Hotshill Farm visited by MAFF Inspectors and a Government Veterinary Officer following complaints from the RSPCA over animal welfare concerns. No evidence of disease was found, although misgivings were expressed about the condition of two pigs. According to one newspaper report, an argument had arisen over whether to prosecute Mr Eve on this matter.

24th January 2001.
MAFF and Trading Standards Officials visited the farm and noticed an improvement in conditions, the two pigs having been penned on their own.

16th February 2001.
Pigs from Hotshill Farm were sent to East Beale abattoir in Essex.

19th February 2001.
East Beale abattoir contacted Mr Eve informing him that a notifiable disease was suspected.

21st February 2001.
The disease was confirmed as FMD Type O.

22nd February 2001.
MAFF and Trading Standards Officials revisited Hotshill Farm and found that ninety-per-cent of Mr Eve's pigs had FMD symptoms, some lesions being approximately twelve days old.

(3) Preordained: Into the Long Dark Night for Mr Eve.

It is likely that FMD was introduced to the farm anytime between 9th and 12th February 2001 if the assumption of twelve-day-old lesions - mentioned in press reports covering the inspection on 22nd February - is correct. I have taken into account the time required for initial symptoms to appear, although it is impossible to be precise on this point. Bearing in mind that, with the exception of a FMD outbreak on the Isle of Wight during 1981, Britain having been disease-free since 1967, would Mr Eve have KNOWN what the earliest signs looked like?

MAFF would have sent circulars to all livestock farmers informing them of FMD and what precautions to take. I believe a letter of this nature was sent to Mr Eve during September 1998 in the wake of fears arising from a new strain of the virus affecting Asia and South-East Europe.

However, given the plethora of forms and other bureaucratic impediments arriving through farm letterboxes with regular monotony, FMD would NOT have been uppermost in his mind - until mid-February 2001.

Hotshill Farm was operated in a slovenly manner, with scant regard for livestock welfare. Without wishing to denigrate Mr Eve, I suspect he would not be eligible to join the ranks of MENSA. Newspaper reports describe him as being phlegmatic. I will be bold and assert that the word "simple" is more apt.

The image is forming in my mind of a man with less than average intelligence struggling to contain an unfolding disaster in the most disorganised of manners. Mr Eve failed to realise that his pigs were succumbing to FMD until the symptoms were rampant. By then, it was too late. Already under pressure from the authorities to improve animal welfare standards, he initially went into a state of denial and then, as each day passed with the situation ever-worsening, became overwhelmed with feelings of utter helplessness.

The "scenes of horror at the farm of filth" which greeted the inspection team on 22nd February were a preordained inevitability: a far remove from the improved conditions noted on 24th January.

(4) Opportunity Knocks!

News, especially that of an unsavoury nature, travels fast in rural areas. Ryton-on-Tyne is no exception to this rule. Conditions on Hotshill Farm and Mr Eve's poor animal husbandry methods were well-known to the local authorities, the RSPCA and MAFF officials. To the latter organisation's top "special advisers," here was an opportunity too good to miss. On NO account must the farm be closed down - yet!

It may never be established whether FMD Type O was already lurking in the hills and dales of Northumbria due to errors in a vaccination experiment carried out under Official Secrets Act regulations or as a result of environmental terrorism - which may have involved state collusion.

I opt for the former hypothesis but, in any event, it presented Westminster/Whitehall with a dilemma: allow the situation to continue until every livestock area in Britain was infected or act quickly by ensuring that FMD was brought out into the open and dealt with. It would be preferable to cull up to a million animals soon than face the prospect of an even greater holocaust and long-term loss of disease-free status in two to three years time.

There were enormous advantages in early intervention. Firstly, it would force rationalisation of the farming industry, thereby strengthening demands to reform the European Union Common Agricultural Policy. Secondly, grazing lands of animals due for extermination could be used in a variety of new schemes, examples being GM crops, forestry and wind-turbine installations. The residue of the U.K's livestock would be strictly regulated and eventually absorbed by the multi-national food processing corporations, whose philosophies are not based on green and pleasant lands.

Lastly, The Countryside Alliance and affiliated organisations - Millbank's great enemy - would have its influence eroded beyond repair. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that New Labour intended to neutralise what one of its spokespersons sneeringly referred to as "the rural nutters' cartel."

Raymond Eve and his "farm of filth" provided MAFF's puppet-masters with an ideal alibi. He would shoulder the blame for initiating the dispersal of FMD. Psychological profiling probably drew similar assumptions to mine: a man of limited intellect whose responses would be cumbersome, slow and ill-considered. Here was the archetypal "fall guy" ready to be framed in a way designed to discredit the livestock sector of farming.

(5) The Real "Garbagegate!"

"Uncooked swill from Chinese restaurants."
"Unprocessed catering waste from schools, hotels and restaurants."
"Feeding unprocessed swill to animals."
"Waste food contaminated with the virus and brought to the farm."

These four newspaper extracts refer to the diet of Mr Eve's pigs, the last offering an explanation of how FMD arrived at Hotshill Farm. The adjectives "uncooked" and "unprocessed," as applied to food leftovers, need clarification, with regard to microorganism survival and propagation. Firstly, I will deal with matter destined for human consumption.

During the last decade, regulations governing preparation, processing and packaging food have been tightened, resulting in Britain possessing the strictest codes of practice in Europe. Occasionally, poisoning outbreaks occur but these are effectively traced to their source and remedied - sometimes involving closure of the supplier, wholesaler and/or restaurant.

Foodstuffs purchased by hotels, schools, hospitals - and Chinese restaurants - have, in general, been pre-processed and packaged. For example, meat would have been de-boned, with much of the fatty tissue and offal excised. Then, the residue will have been cooked under stringent guidelines concerning temperature and length of time. Regulations affecting preparation of dairy produce, grain, vegetables and fruit are equally prescriptive. Extra care would be taken with salads, where some fruit and vegetables are eaten raw.

It would be at least a million-to-one chance that the FMD virus could survive such treatment.

Any illegally imported foodstuffs, in order to avoid discovery as such, would undergo the same degree of meticulous preparation afforded to authorised edible imports. No criminal network operating a racket of this nature would tolerate lapses which, for example, could lead to food poisoning and its consequences. The notion of meat oozing pestilence and decay entering the U.K. is nothing less than media exaggeration as well as an insult to the smugglers' well-organised methodology. Therefore, the likelihood of FMD being introduced to Britain via clandestine routes and remaining extant is an improbability unworthy of serious consideration.

Secondly, I will attempt to clarify the distinction between "processed" and "unprocessed" swill.

Processing such matter involves re-heating and puréeing in order to kill pathogens accumulated between leaving the restaurant kitchen and arrival at a designated swill production unit. Waste which has NOT undergone such treatment can be classified as "unprocessed," bearing in mind that the food would have ALREADY been subjected to rigorous preparation beforehand.

The notion of a super-virus surviving a voyage of up to several thousand miles, being washed, fried in oil for several minutes or roasted in an oven for much longer, then, finally, to become part of a slurry and re-heated is derisive, even if the last stage of this incredible journey was omitted!

Thirdly, it is necessary to sort out the confusion and obfuscation regarding Mr Eve's pig-swill.

Two newspaper reports refer to uncooked and unprocessed matter, yet he was cleared in court of bringing this onto his farm. Another press item mentioned a video made by Trading Standards Officers during 22nd February 2001 showing .."metal drums being hauled from under a trailer and emptied. They contained bones, semi-liquified flesh and other waste." (Northumbrian Echo, 31st May 2002). Mr Eve was unable to account for these.

In fact, the pig-swill came from neighbouring Wylam House Farm, Ryton-on-Tyne, owned by a Mr John Whyte. This establishment was not only another piggery but also a waste food processing unit.

Mr Eve was only licensed to feed such matter to his herd. Since he was exonerated of bringing unprocessed swill onto Hotshill Farm, the presence of these metal drums and their foul contents remains a mystery. It is most unlikely that they were connected with Wylam House Farm.

It would be logical to assume that Messrs Eve and Whyte fed their pigs the same processed matter, this having undergone EXACTLY THE SAME preparation regime! The differences were location and circumstance: Wylam House Farm was not descending into an orchestrated chaos during the week leading up to 22nd February because, as far as I can ascertain, there was no manifestation of FMD. However, I expect Mr Whyte's herd was subsequently culled on the grounds of being in "dangerous contact."

(6) My Conclusions.

To clarify the murky issue of pig-swill, the following can be dismissed as pure nonsense:-

The virus could ONLY have been introduced to Hotshill Farm once the processed swill left Mr Whyte's premises, if the FMD contaminated foodstuff theory is correct. The aforementioned metal canisters were probably planted later to further the impression of decay and filth, thereby reinforcing a very negative image of farming practice.

Thus, the fourth quote prefacing Section (5) is wrought with irony:-

"Waste food contaminated with the virus and brought to the farm."

Names of locations and persona have been changed. I have no further comment to make.

Mark Brook, Weymouth, Dorset.
6th June 2002.

Mark Brook Index

Phundria Main Index