Greed, globalisation and disease

Finland has not experienced foot and mouth disease since the 1950s if not longer. One of the reasons for this is — and this is true in Sweden and Norway as well — that animals are raised on farms from where they are taken directly to a slaughterhouse. In Central Europe, on the other hand, animals are being taken to large livestock markets and they frequently change owners.

Finnish vet Inna Ilivitzky says that the risk of foot and mouth disease spreading to Finland is made more likely because people move around much more than 50 years ago. In an interview in the newspaper Kansan Uutiset (23 March 2001), Ilivitzky says that because international agricultural fairs draw people from all over the world, diseases can spread widely, carried on meat products or on shoes. The greatest source of infection, however, is contact between animals.

In Central and Eastern Europe the risk of diseases spreading is greater because fields, animals and people live in close proximity. Mice, rats and birds move easily between farms, Ilivitzky points out.

She admits that Finnish farming has been moving towards more intensive forms of production. However, farms remain relatively small and they have a lot of space around them.

In Ilivitzky's view, there are three main reasons for the spread of animal diseases. They are globalisation, greed and chance.

"Globalisation is a cause in the sense that humankind systematically choses solutions which increase speed and volume in agriculture. As a consequence of globalisation, animals, people and food products move freely, especially within the EU. Even a small mistake at the lower end of the food chain can cause a massive chain reaction."

Greed, according to Ilivitzky, manifests itself in two ways. First, people want cheap food which is made possible by intensive production. Second, the food production regulations are being violated, not only because of carelessness but also to maximise profits. BSE is another example where attemps to save money led to dangerous feeding habits — then combined with reduced care in preparing fodder in a safe way.

Ilivitzky is especially critical of the British animal raising industry. She thinks carelessness there had reached alarming proportions. She points out that the cases of foot and mouth diaseases were only first noticed when slaughterhouses started receiving seriously sick pigs whose trotters were missing.

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