Animal activists' silence on the lambs is inexcusable

By Alice Thomson

News: Foot and mouth 'has cost 20bn in lost business'. WHERE are the animal rights activists? More than one million animals have been slaughtered, innocent lambs have been caught in the crossfire and are floundering in the mud. The countryside is empty. Old women leave wreathes at mass graves. A small child writes in her diary that her pregnant cow has been slaughtered and rings the tear-stains on the page.

This should be the activists' war. It is what they have been training for all their lives. Pet goats are being massacred - in peacetime, the RSPCA would prosecute. We're not talking about a few hundred hunted foxes or thousands of mice and monkeys with shampoo in their eyes, but the sudden death of millions of cows and sheep that depend on us for survival.

Humans are botching it up. We have let the disease spread. Masai elders are praying for the souls of our cows. Animal rights activists should be fighting to save animals' lives and halt the disease. They should be manning disinfectant points, calling for vaccination, or helping with the cull. They should be picketing Maff until officials get their act together. It is outrageous that ewes and lambs are allowed to die in the mud because it takes 10 days for a Maff movement licence to come through. They should be leading the debate on the future of animal husbandry; this is their chance to call for an end to battery chickens.

They would have the support of millions of animal lovers - thousands of people are switching from BLTs to tofu sandwiches, put off barbecues for life. The fanatics can finally throw off their balaclavas, defuse their bombs and become mainstream. They could send out leaflets on vegetarianism, rather than letter-bombs. They could be counselling distressed farmers, rather than sending a bomb to a pest-control agent, which was then opened by his six-year-old daughter. They could take in the border collies that have lost their jobs.

Where is Brigitte Bardot? Four years ago, pro-animal organisations picketed ports to stop the cross-border trade of live animals: what has happened to the women who manned the fences? Six weeks ago, the animal revolutionaries made an appearance at Huntingdon Life Sciences with baseball bats, and attacked the managing director for drug-testing animals in the name of research. Their reasoning: "If the death of one rat could cure all human disease, it would still not be worthwhile."

But they have ignored the mass cull going on under their noses. The Animal Liberation Front says animal life is more precious than human life. I wouldn't nasty bug. The Army, the slaughtermen, the vets, the farmers and vicars have all shown more compassion for our condemned herds than these activists.

The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty website suggests that the virus is predominantly an economic rather than an animal welfare problem. The activists point out that these animals would be killed by "cruel carnivores anyway", so why bother? Because trying to kill more than a million animals quickly and cleanly is a nasty business. Slaughtermen become exhausted and miss their targets. Animals have been buried alive in the rush, carcasses fall off the back of lorries, spring lambs are left rotting in piles. And all for nothing. They aren't being killed to find a cure for cancer. They aren't even going into the food chain.

The activists should be doing their best to help fight this enemy of animals: the pan-asiatic virus type O. Instead Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, speaking in America last week, said she hoped the virus would cross the Atlantic, because "it will bring economic harm only to those who profit from giving animals a concentration camp-like existence".

Labour MPs who are obsessed with banning hunting because of the "distress" it causes foxes have said nothing about the slaughter methods now being used. One told me: "We don't want to rock the boat if we can get the ban on hunting through." By doing nothing, animal rights activists have exposed themselves for what they really are: terrorists without a cause. They have proved that they don't care about animals; they just want to promote mindless class warfare against toffs and drugs conglomerates.

The other person exposed as a fraud by foot and mouth is Tony Blair. The Prime Minister has made it clear he doesn't like leading. But what is the point of being Prime Minister if he doesn't want to take charge? He has got to make up his mind: does he want to vaccinate or not? The farmers are split, the vets divided, the scientists can't make up their mind. That's why we have a Prime Minister, to decide.

Margaret Thatcher this week accused Mr Blair of having no interest in farmers. Neither did she. She would psyche herself up every morning listening to farmers pleading for more money on the BBC's Farming Today. Their whingeing always made her cross. She didn't much like the countryside, but she loved taking control. She would have adored this battle on English soil, striding around in her wellies.

She would have marshalled her troops - the generals, the scientists, the vets - and all the evidence from the various interest groups: tourism, farmers and special breed owners. She would have bossed them around mercilessly. Then she would have made her decision on how to tackle the enemy and ignored all complaints. She might have got it wrong. But at least she would have taken responsibility and had a crack at it.

No wonder the farmers won't vaccinate. Mr Blair hasn't given them the confidence to believe in his latest proposal. It is now two months since foot and mouth was first discovered in a pig in Essex and he has U-turned more times than a tractor at a ploughing competition. Both the animal rights activists and Mr Blair have now been exposed. Their rhetoric is as empty as the fields of Britain. (Daily Telegraph, 20. April 2001)

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