Germ warfare and the foot and mouth crisis

(based on The Editorial, New Scientist, 21 April 2001)

The foot and mouth crisis has demonstrated a significant fact. A national economy can be disrupted by the outbreak of a disease starting from one point of infection. From simple bad practice on one farm in Northumberland England, cattle, pigs and sheep across the UK have had to be destroyed. Many caught the disease, many were culled because they were in a high risk area.

(Totals look up MAFF site for infected farms and culled animals)

number of animals infected = not identified - sites are identified, slaughter figure includes apparently healthy animals in category of risk of exposure, and therefore of developing the disease.

  22.04.01 = 42,000
  15.04.01 = 61,000
  08.04.01 = 62,000
  01.04.01 = 53,000
  25.03.01 = 34,000
  18.03.01 = 20,000

Data from UK Government Animal Health and Disease Site

There was no attempt to spread the disease, the business practices of farming community allowed the transmission of the disease. Not only was the farming community affected, but dependent industries were affected as well. Manufacturing companies, feedstock businesses, hotels, guest houses, tourist resources within infected areas have all been affected. Some business have closed down, livelihoods seriously affected.

The same effect could have been caused by simply infecting a dishcloth and dropping at a farm or market in the area were feet (human and animal) could move it about - for example in a toilet block.
The effect of the outbreak of the disease is just simply to show how vulnerable we all are not to accidental infection but to a determined attempt by a terrorist organisation or determined enemy. The means of infection could be apparently innocuous. A determined attempt would involve the infection of multiple sites. And the result would be even more catastrophic.

Suggested courses of action:

A verification protocol for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention... This is supposed to be in place for November 2001 however the negotiations are bogged down by the new administration of President Bush. Previous administrations have rejected the stringent inspections wanted by Europe and other countries because it might jeopardise the commercial secrets and interests of American biotech firms.

Look up position of British Labour Government.