Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall

It was reported in the media that the source of the outbreak may have been infected meat fed in swill to pigs at Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-wall in Northumberland (99, 100). The farmer at this facility, Bobby Waugh, failed to report a problem and the outbreak was first identified in Essex, at Cheale Meats at Little Warley, where his animals were sent to slaughter.

The government’s Chief Veterinarian stated at the time (101):

This is a notifiable disease, yet this farm did not notify anyone. From the experts that have looked at the ill animals, it is quite clear they have been showing signs of clinical disease for two weeks, the blisters have already broken and healed. With incubation this disease could have been present for 28 days, much longer, and a far worse situation than we thought at the beginning of the week”.

Vets declared that Waugh’s farm was the perfect breeding ground for foot and mouth (102):

“Rotting pig carcases had been left with live pigs. Pieces of raw meat were left lying about the farm. The sows gave birth among other pigs and grown pigs were eating piglets”.

Viva!’s footage shows similar obscenities in other pig units across Britain. At most farms, dead pigs were either left with cell mates, strewn in gangways with rats running around, in containers filled with thousands of maggots, or in various stages of decomposition in open pits. Sows have been filmed giving birth into faeces; mother sows covered in flies with dead piglets by their side; a mother sow haemorrhaging into the gangway which was filled with blood; and dirty yards and filthy sheds that had not been cleaned in years.

In 2002, Waugh was found guilty of nine animal health and cruelty charges, including two counts of causing unnecessary suffering to pigs. During the trial the judge was shown a video which depicted some of Waugh's 527 pigs huddled together - some of them lying twitching on the floor. The prosecution said the farmer should have spotted symptoms of the disease in his animals (103). It was also claimed he routinely fed his stock untreated catering waste from local schools and restaurants.

In 2003, it was reported in the media that Waugh had paid only £60 of the £10,000 legal costs imposed on him in June 2002 when he was convicted (104). He was also banned from keeping animals for 15 years. The animals on his farm were clearly not being regularly checked properly, yet by law, farmers are supposed to check the animals daily. And yet the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which later became part of Defra, had visited the farm only one month before the outbreak and given it a clean bill of health. Viva! is not surprised by this as Defra frequently takes no action on the back of serious farmed animal welfare complaints.

It is clear that a combination of animal neglect, poor regulation relating to the transportation of farmed animals, and the disease-friendly environment of the market system all contributed to the rapid spread of foot and mouth disease.

The disease spread from that first farm to a nearby farm, probably by wind. From there, 40 sheep were among the 3,500 sold at Hexham Market. The buyer shipped the sheep to a holding centre in Carlisle, and from there the animals were transported to a farm in Devon. Some sheep from this farm were sent to a slaughterhouse in Wiltshire, where they developed foot and mouth. Other sheep were sold to a farm in Herefordshire and an auction in Northampton. Three hundred and forty eight more sheep from the same farms were sent overseas to Germany via Dover. Many thousands of UK-raised sheep were consequentially slaughtered in countries such as Germany, France and Spain.

The spread of this disease has highlighted well the fact that live farmed animals are subjected to transport over hundreds of miles within the UK, and for thousands of miles outside of it. All part of industrialised agriculture. Despite the fact that most people in Britain want live exports banned – the trade in misery continues unabated. So long as it does, diseases will be transmitted freely and quickly across the globe.

The policy to control foot and mouth is slaughter-all. During the major outbreak across the UK, dead bodies were piled onto huge bonfires which took several days to burn, or they were buried in mass graves. The British army was drafted in, and their involvement in the rapid killing meant animals may well have been buried alive. In fact, it was reported that animals were shot with stun guns, and thus recovered consciousness before dying on piles of others bodies. Animals were drenched with disinfectant whilst still alive. Baby animals unable to be shot in the skull with captive bolts were injected directly into the heart. A more recent outbreak in South Korea in 2011 led to 1.4 million pigs being buried alive in mass graves (105).

This gruesome mass slaughter-all policy was purely for commercial reasons. There are nastier diseases than foot and mouth running rife through industrial pig farms, yet there is no national outcry. This, Viva! holds, is because the animals are left to suffer and die on farms. Behind closed doors. There are no exports affected.

It is important to remember that all the breeding ‘stock’ that farmers weep over losing over diseases such as foot and mouth are destined for the slaughterhouse. When their breeding output drops below an ‘efficient’ level, sows (and other animals) are sold for low-grade meat products. The intensive farmer’s tears are over feared economic loss, rather than any concern for animal welfare.

Of course the National Farmers Union (NFU) fully backs the slaughter policy, as do the farmers. It aims to preserve the myth of cheap food, and to protect an elite of large-scale farmers. Smaller farmers also have no incentive to keep the animals alive. Their profit margins are low, and they do not want thinner and less-productive animals. Not when they receive compensation from the taxpayer.

There have been vaccines available for over 50 years; however, because there are around 80 strains of foot and mouth, they are only partially effective. In fact, the only way of eradicating these diseases is by ending factory farming, live exports and slaughter.

Rather than the immense animal suffering and loss of life, the media predictably focused on the financial loss to farmers, and the ‘foot and mouth millionaires’ who sprung up on the back of the outbreak. It was reported that £8.3 million of British taxpayer’s money was handed out to three farmers during the foot-and-mouth crisis (106). Yet the farmer who received the largest payout, said to be £4 million, was reported to have ‘cried his eyes out’ after watching his cows and sheep – who were destined for the slaughterhouse – killed (107).