Foot-and-Mouth Disease: A Virus With Global Reach

You are here

Foot-and-Mouth Disease

A Virus With Global Reach

Login or Create an Account

With a account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up


A medieval horror story seems to be in the making. The foot-and-mouth epidemic that began in Britain has so far spread to the Irish Republic, France, the Netherlands and even Argentina.

The United States is on red alert as Department of Agriculture inspectors check passengers from France and Britain who might inadvertently carry the virus on their shoes or in other ways. Meat imports from Europe are banned from American shores.

The lesson

Time magazine accurately assessed the problem and inscribed a warning for future years. "The worldwide foot-and-mouth is a sobering demonstration of how quickly a single isolated infection can hop from farm to farm and continent to continent" (March 26, Atlantic edition).

Foot-and-mouth disease, also called hoof-and-mouth disease, is a contagious fever-inducing disorder especially of cloven-footed animals marked by blisters in the mouth, about the hooves and on the udder and teats.

Six days after a veterinarian discovered an infected sow in an Essex slaughterhouse, the countryside in Britain virtually came to standstill. "I had always hoped that I would never see the disease," said the vet, "but I was sure it was foot-and-mouth."

According to a feature article in The Independent on Sunday: "The type O strain of foot-and-mouth disease involved in the new British outbreak is the most virulent mutation of the virus yet known. First identified in India in 1990, it has penetrated countries untouched by the disease for decades. Last year it appeared in Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Mongolia and Russia. Its arrival in the UK belies the belief that foot-and-mouth had been eradicated in Western Europe" (Feb. 25).

When it did arrive in Britain and before the first visible symptoms appeared, "the virus was spreading to farms all across the country as animals were shipped to slaughterhouses hundreds of miles away" (Time).

Within a few weeks the first case had appeared in Northern Ireland and the disease had jumped the Channel to France. A possible cause for the rapid spreading of the epidemic over diverse geographical areas is some farmers' practice of moving sheep to take advantage of European Union agricultural subsidies.

The spreading spin-offs

The Good News magazine believes and teaches the principle that a cause exists for every effect. The effects in Britain have been sobering and immediate. The number of animals killed in a desperate effort to contain the disease has passed one million, not to mention more than 1,200 that have actually contracted foot-and-mouth. This has put additional strains on United Kingdom agribusiness, already damaged by winter flooding in certain areas, declining agricultural-market prices and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad-cow disease).

Many public footpaths in the countryside have been cordoned off, and the Forestry Commission has closed wooded areas to the public. Army training was virtually halted and helicopters grounded. Even horse racing was temporarily halted. National parks and zoos have been closed as well.

The tourist industry has been badly damaged, and thousands of small rural businesses face the possibility of bankruptcy. As The Economist pointed out: "Whereas agriculture earns revenues of about £9 billion [$13 billion] a year, tourism brings in £63 billion" (March 17). Perhaps £12 billion of that annual total finds its way to the countryside.

Understanding the biblical perspective

Some may find it strange that the Bible would have anything to say about the difficulties of life in our era. How could a collection of writings completed nearly 2,000 years ago apply to 21st-century situations-much less contain prophecies of specific modern-day events?

We dare not endanger our future by ignoring biblical truths and principles that govern what happens on planet earth. Even the first part of God's Word-the five books of Moses-has a great deal to say in principle about the current foot-and-mouth crisis. One particular chapter is especially significant.

Most of the book of Deuteronomy is a series of discourses by Moses directed initially to the Israelites of old, but it also applies to the ages that would follow-especially to events that would mark what the Bible calls the time of the end.

This is especially true of the 28th chapter, which mentions benefits for obedience to God's law and, alternatively, curses for disobedience to His way of life (verses 1-2). Blessings and cursings: Do they apply?

The following words, written by the hand of Moses, are preserved for us: "... All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God: Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks" (verses 2-4).

This chapter also says that, if Israel persistently refused to obey God's commandments, many curses would plague the nation (verse 15). "Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country ... Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks" (verses 16-18).

How do we apply the principle of these biblical passages? However horrific and widespread the current foot-and-mouth crisis turns out to be, it will probably end sometime this year. Warm weather tends to suppress the virus. Of course, the economic repercussions will last much longer. In any event we should consider the current difficulties as a warning for the future.

A call to wake up

No one knows how many animals will contract the disease or how many eventually will have to be slaughtered, burned and buried to prevent the disease's spread. Neither do we know the final bill for the outbreak, now estimated at £570 million ($798 million).

We do know that the disease will bring much suffering to an important minority of the population. Regrettably, in a situation like this the innocent may pay a heavy price for the actions of a few.

Many farmers-bystanders in a situation over which they have no control-have been forced to slaughter breeding stock that has been in their families for generations. They aren't the only ones hurt. As a result of the outbreak, small businesses suffer enormously from the loss of tourist trade, essential to the well-being of the rural economy.

Regardless of how we view the outbreak, we should consider it a wake-up call to examine our way of life before our Maker. For instance, do we feed our livestock in the most appropriate manner? As British columnist and radio personality Libby Purves correctly pointed out: "It is perfectly possible to respect and care for a beast you must eventually kill" (The Times, Feb. 27). Some 3,000 years ago King Solomon observed that "a righteous man regards the life of his animal" (Proverbs 12:10).

Libby Purves, the wife of a farmer, also wrote: "Where land and animals are concerned we need feelings, ethics and philosophy as well as science and business."

We could also do with more common sense and less greed. The infamous mad-cow disease-a fatal malady that can spread to humans who eat infected beef-apparently originated when unscrupulous businessmen began adding ground-up animal parts to cattle feed to lower costs and increase profits.

The cows were transformed from the herbivores God had designed them to be to unwitting carnivores-and somewhere along the way a new, always-fatal disease was born. Confirmed cases have now been found in cattle in more than a dozen countries.

Shortsightedness brings suffering

Through such shortsightedness we can easily and unknowingly bring unnecessary grief on ourselves.

Is transporting animals from farm to farm in a quest for greater profits wise in terms of the biblical principles concerning quarantine found in the law of Moses?

Many are ignorant of the laws of animal husbandry to be found in the Bible. Sometimes we suffer unnecessarily because we simply don't know about them. (One particular set of laws governs the type of animal flesh that human beings should eat. Please request a copy of our free booklet "What Does the Bible Teach About Clean and Unclean Meats?")

Aside from obtaining original breeding stock, my father, a South Texas farmer, would never allow livestock from another farm on our property. The only time we transported our animals elsewhere was to the local auction, where the animals were sold and taken directly to a slaughterhouse. But that was a half century ago.

Everything we do and say ought to be governed by principles from the Bible. It is the handbook that the Creator gave mankind to show us not only how to live but how to treat His creation. Are you familiar with its lessons, and do you conduct yourself according to its laws and principles? GN