Magazine article The Spectator

Shambo's Revenge: This Is What Happens When You Mess with the Gods

Magazine article The Spectator

Shambo's Revenge: This Is What Happens When You Mess with the Gods

Article excerpt

Ittook some of our farmers less than 24 hours after the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) last week to demand an immediate and comprehensive culling of Britain's ramblers, dogs, badgers, Defra vets, tourists, van drivers, biochemists, etc etc. It is not enough that we should subsidise our farmers once over; when misfortune occurs we should then further compensate them -- and suffer in silence as they demand that footpaths be closed, wildlife exterminated and so on. They have not yet gathered, or do not care, that the meat industry is of minuscule importance to the economy compared to the tourism and leisure sectors; still less that the land upon which they rear their cattle is heavily supported by the taxpayer. You will remember those tricoteuse Welsh farmers howling for the slaughter of Shambo, the divine Hindu bull which, ten days ago, was indeed executed by lethal injection at their insistence because it suffered from bovine tuberculosis (though posed no threat whatsoever to commercial livestock). Well, you mess with the gods at your peril. The score now stands at about Krishna 150-Farmers 1, after extra time, and Krishna may not have finished yet. My guess is Shambo was promptly reincarnated -- as the gently enraged worshippers at Skanda Vale proclaimed he would be -- as an infected cow, somewhere in the Guildford area. 'This'll teach the bastards, ' he is probably sniggering to himself, before being slaughtered and reincarnated again, maybe as Ben Bradshaw. We can only hope that one of those scary Hindu smallpox deities doesn't attempt to wreak revenge on the NFU as well, out of solidarity.

The last FMD outbreak, back in 2001, ended up costing us (rather than the farmers) some £8 billion, excluding revenues lost through damage to our tourism industry. As European Union officials pointed out rather drily, while steadfastly refusing to chip in with 60 per cent of the cost, the government and the taxpayer were taken for a ride by both the farmers and the contractors (who dispatched seven million animals at often extortionate cost). Did any farmer end up out of business or even out of pocket after the 2001 debacle -- a debacle, it is worth reiterating, that was brought on farmers by, er, farmers? This time around, the farmers were quick to blame the government for having not 'learnt the lessons' of 2001. But an Audit Commission report in 2005 suggested that enormous progress had been made by Defra, although a promised new computer system was not yet in place.

Meanwhile, the Commission maintained, the farmers were still cheerfully purchasing illegal meat supplies from the Continent for cattle feed, the precise cause of the previous outbreak. So who, exactly, has failed to 'learn the lesson'?

The present outbreak may indeed be the result of escaped contaminants from the Pirbright Institute for Animal Health laboratory, just three miles from the farm where the first outbreak occurred. Or, far more likely, from the adjacent Merial site where there's been plenty of work on FMD in the last year or so. It is suspected that the unusual strain of FMD is the same as that being investigated at the company's lab. Merial is a perfectly reputable private firm, a French-US agglomerate created by the merger of Merck Inc and Rhone-Poulenc a few years back, its spiritual home in Lyon but its worldwide headquarters in Essex. …

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