Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

We are paying now for the lack of a single, comprehensive inquiry into the great foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001. We were unprepared. Although foot-and-mouth information notices were first posted on 4 July, there was confusion when the Surrey outbreak was confirmed on Friday afternoon last week. People did not know how to operate the national ban on the movement of livestock. Some environmental health offices, closed for the weekend, did not open. The police had instructions to stop all movements (sensible) and impound all livestock that were moving (impossible). No one seemed to know about the EU directive on immediate ring vaccination. Once upon a time, though, there was a proper inquiry. After the previous big outbreak, which began on a farm at Nantmawr, near Oswestry on 25 October 1967, the Northumberland report identified the source, reviewed the handling and made recommendations. It emphasised the fact that the virus is carried through the air, and therefore a breathing, infected cow is deadly -- slaughter should take place straightaway.

Footpaths and roads should be closed at once.

Because of the risk in the air, burial, Northumberland said, was much safer than burning. The report calculated that it takes four hours to dig a grave big enough for a hundred cattle: slaughter and burial could and should be carried out within 24 hours of diagnosis. In 2001, delay meant that the wind carried the disease, rendering the vast, horrifying contiguous cull largely ineffective since more than a quarter of outbreaks took place more than three kilometres from the source. This time, the slaughter waited a whole day, and burial was not allowed. The carcases were taken off on a lorry to Somerset, risking further spread. Footpaths were not closed. A notable piece of stupidity was the decision by the television channels to fly a helicopter above the infected cattle. The whirring blades will have blown the problem round Surrey -- the oxygen of publicity.

The more one learns about the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, one of the two suspected causes of the outbreak, the more one wonders why it is where it is. In the United States, the equivalent organisation lives on Plum Island in Long Island Sound, and the security is so tight that even many leading vets are refused clearance to go there.

After the conviction of Chris Langham for downloading child porn on the internet, Max Clifford, the publicist, said that his career was finished. It would have been easier for Langham to find work again, he said, if he had committed murder. Clifford has a feel, unfortunately, for the temper of our times, and I fear he is right. People really do seem to think that murder is less bad than anything -- even 'just looking' -- connected with paedophilia. The question is, why? Obviously consent in anything sexual is very important, and since children cannot, in a true sense, give consent, the evil is great. But in practice the line between 'normal' pornography and child pornography is often very thin, as is the line between illegal sex and the sort of 'romps' (favoured word) with teenage girls which many newspapers and celebrity magazines adulate. My suspicion is that many of the great anti-paedophile crusaders get a thrill by thinking about the subject, and so do many readers of the publications concerned. …

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