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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 08:42 GMT
One year on: 'I saw a lot of hard men cry'
Licensed slaughter men at work
Licensed slaughter men at work
This week we are hearing how the impact of foot-and-mouth lives on. Here abattoir owner Mark Duerden recalls his 25 straight weeks slaughtering livestock in Cumbria.

I lost two stone through lack of food, lack of sleep and a lot of work. I saw a lot of hard men cry, and let's say I sat down on a bale of hay once or twice with my head in my hands.

In 25 weeks I had just one day not slaughtering. My team was averaging 18 to 20 hour days, seven days a week. A lot of times I never went to bed.

The farmer's wife was crying with sadness when we arrived

I had to shut my abattoir for six months when the disease hit. Out of 33 staff, I kept two office staff on and nine slaughter men to cull infected animals.

We slaughtered the first cases in Cumbria and I really got a buzz because I thought we were fighting the disease. I thought we'd be going out to slaughter half a dozen cases on half a dozen farms, that we'd get on top of it and would be back to work within a month.

Seven weeks and quite a few hundred farms in, I remember thinking: 'Are we ever going to get on top of it?'

Tired and emotional

One young farming couple had been going for four or five years and had just got nicely built up with a nice little herd of cattle, nice little flock of sheep and a few pedigree Highland cattle.

Dead sheep
Cumbria was particularly hard hit
When they went down with foot-and-mouth, we had the horrible task of slaughtering their stock. They did insist on helping us even though they were very upset.

And afterwards they insisted that we go into the kitchen for a glass of beer and a sandwich. By 11 o'clock at night, everybody was half-cut and singing hunting songs.

The farmer's wife said to me she was crying with sadness when we arrived and crying with laughter when we left. I really felt that we'd done more good at that farm than anybody could.

Overly cautious

Things are now looking like getting back to some sort of normality. I went to my first livestock market in 12 months and it took me that long to get through all the bio-security measures I wish I hadn't bothered.

Sheep going to market
A day at the market signals business as usual
But it does seem strange that we're still fighting with bio-security when we're disease free. For a member of the public looking in, it looks as though either our stock or our farmers are diseased when in fact they aren't.

With the livestock markets so recently re-opened, it probably needs to be done for a few weeks but it just doesn't seem quite right.

One year on, send us your memories of foot-and-mouth, and tell us how it's impact is still being felt. Here are some of your comments so far:

I don't know if illegally imported meat is the problem or whether the inattention of customs and quarantine staff might not have some role to play. I recently returned from a trip to Botswana (a hot zone for foot-and-mouth). On arrival at Heathrow I expected to be searched - but not a word was said. For all they knew my shoes could have been encrusted with disease-laden mud, I could have been bringing back leather products.
Lyn Thomas, Australia

The slow reaction to the crisis and the mass slaughter policy look risible in comparison to the swift and sensible containment policies applied in France, Holland and elsewhere, especially the use of vaccination firewalls. The meat export market "protected" by such barbarism is worth far less than the costs incurred to farmers, taxpayers, the tourist industry etc.
David Makinson, UK

It has dramatically affected all levels of the agricultural industry and young and old are continuing to lose jobs. British educated people are leaving the country for work - I am one of them. If anyone wants to help - buy British food. Without our farmers, the beautiful British landscape will look quite a different place.

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Mark Duerden
"They insisted on helping us even though they were very upset"
See also:

12 Feb 02 | England
Livestock market back in business
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