Damaging Freedom

2 May 2001

People who have engaged in international air travel know that if you enter Australia or New Zealand, before landing the cabin of the aeroplane is sprayed with an insecticide. After you leave the plane, before passport and customs control, there are bins where you have to drop whatever foodstuff you carry. You are warned that it is an offence to introduce animals and plants into the country. Health authorities carefully check the questionnaire you have filled out, and if they suspect that you have arrived from or have travelled to a country with health hazards, you are searched, your suitcase is unpacked and repacked piece by piece. If you are carrying what are considered risky items such as hides and skins, these are impounded and destroyed or disinfected. I once bought a wooden boomerang in Sydney, travelled to Auckland and on my return to Brisbane a week later, the boomerang that stated 'Souvenir from Sydney' was impounded. If you state upon entry in Oceania that you have visited an overseas abattoir, it is likely that your shoes will be impounded and put into quarantine. When you reach India from Europe, your plane interior is sprayed. The US and Canada will allow no plants, animals or unsealed food products to be introduced, and if the inspector of the Department of Agriculture catches you with a banned item, you risk being arrested, handcuffed and led before a judge. When you arrive in Europe from whatever part of the world, even from places with known and notorious problems, you find virtually no controls in place. It seems, however, that the more restrictive policy pays, because we haven't been advised that North America, Australia or New Zealand have had major problems such as those that Europe has witnessed these past few years. So why does Europe pay so little attention to keeping itself as free as possible from animal and/or plant illnesses? This puny amount of attention to what we now realise are huge problems, is costing the various related industries, ours included, as well as the taxpayers and consumers, unimaginable sums of money. Until about ten years ago livestock in Europe was vaccinated, but the procedure was largely abandoned because of its cost and we see the results now, far more costly than a vaccination campaign. Penny wise dollar foolish. By now we all know why some British and European cattle, mostly cows of 30/+ months have developed Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. I believe that BSE will continue to create problems in Europe as it is extremely difficult to control each and every farm and feedlot. Greed for the quick extra buck will always attract the less scrupulous in the future as it does now, or did in the recent past, and if the international community does not come up with severe penalties for transgressors, and continuous independent monitoring, we will have to live with this spectre that is haunting Europe now. If greed did not pay a role then, after the British experience, BSE would not have surfaced on the Continent. Some farmers are said to have presented 4-5 year old cows for slaughter with false documents, in an attempt to pass them off as under 30 months animals to avoid BSE testing which is now mandatory for all 30/+ months old animals, just in case. The succession of events indicate, but don't prove, that the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak originated in England, and has probably been spread over to the Continent by live animals that are continuously traded all over Europe. Anyone who read last month's Lime blast dealing with false certificates can imagine how vitally important proper control and plain honesty is in the agricultural industries, particularly when events like the present are developing. It would be unfair to accuse Britain of being careless, even if a few question marks are warranted, until the real origin of the outbreak has been found. British farmers say that this episode of foot-and-mouth disease arrived from non-EU imports, so I wonder why Britain (which has not adhered to the Schengen treaty because it did not trust its European partners to curb illegal immigration) has not set-up severe controls to check if imported food is safe. The notorious 1967 outbreak in fact was eventually traced to imported Argentine frozen lamb. One would expect that authorities should have learned from past experiences. I believe that until now, no one has as yet any idea where the present outbreak actually originated. Due to almost unlimited travel inside the EU and particularly between the Schengen countries, it is very difficult to close the door of the barn before all the contaminated cows, sheep or pigs have escaped. While BSE is a disease that is practically man-made, foot-and-mouth disease is the result of a highly contagious virus, which can be carried by the most innocent people from one place to another. The only defence is close control, and vaccination. The sad result, however, is that due to the major problems in the European farm industry, our industry all over the world is facing a shortage of hides and skins, and is forced to pay inflated prices for their supply. Only last year were we able to pull ourselves out of the quicksands of a long crisis and this year we were almost enjoying the start of what we hoped was the promised and deserved seven years of good luck. And now we are being cruelly kicked back to square one, because order books are not mouth watering and, with ever rising prices, we run the risk that cheaper materials will be scouted and used by the fashion industries. It seems the tables have been turned on us too quickly. Sam Setter Sam_Setter@yahoo.com

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