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Army Gets Foot and Mouth Call
- Snipers may go in, despite fall in rate of new cases reported

A WARNING to all our animal readers: Some of you are getting ready to celebrate this week as the House of Lords debates a bill to ban hunting for sport. But this is no time to relax, for the government are set to send in army snipers to kill any of you daft enough to go lolloping around the open countryside.

Agriculture Minister Baroness Hayman has sent a formal request to the Ministry of Defence to use snipers to shoot animals thought to be at risk of carrying foot and mouth disease. At first the snipers are expected to be sent to open country in East Anglia and the West Country, but some experts are already calling for troops to be sent in to individual farms all over Britain to help wipe away the cull backlog.

In the last big foot and mouth outbreak, in 1967, troops were used in such a fashion but ended up horrifying hardened farmers with their often brutal and unprofessional methods.

Some Tory MPs and elements of the agricultural lobby are also calling for the army to be used to set up road blocks to prevent the free movement of people and their cars outside of major urban areas.

To put it bluntly, this is a huge over reaction. Despite headlines and soundbites calling the foot and mouth outbreak a 'crisis' that is 'spiralling out of control' a simple look at the official statistics and a recollection of secondary school maths, suggests otherwise. Yesterday there were 18 new outbreaks of the disease reported, out a total of 183, the day before 25. A week and more ago new cases were running at about a dozen a day, but out of obviously smaller overall totals. Therefore, the rate of increase is on a quite steep decline. Further, so far, every single new case can be traced back to the first outbreak in Northumberland nearly three weeks ago.

While it is easy to understand the frustration faced by farmers, it is nevertheless important to get the disease in some perspective and not to create an atmosphere from which the imposition of a partial police state could grow inexorably.

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