Holy Cow

Thousands of cows and buffaloes pour into Kerala illegally every day. They are being smuggled out of Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. They are killed in the most terrible ways possible in 900 slaughterhouses. These are animals that have been overloaded into trucks for days – the law allows 6 only. These trucks carry more than 80 animals crammed together with chillies in their eyes so that their pain keeps them still, broken legs, and cramps. Some fall off the trucks and die hanging by their ropes, on the side of the truck. Others are trampled on and die. Dead or alive they are brought to these slaughterhouses. Then they are given chemical injections to make their kidneys fail so that the water they drink remains inside and they seem heavier when they are weighed by the butchers. They are given injections to freeze the blood so that it doesn’t fall everywhere when they are being cut. They are killed in a way that is neither jhatka nor halal - hammered repeatedly till they fall then stabbed in the throat with sharpened rods that are twisted till the blood spurts out onto the floor and then hacked with knives till they finally die.


None of this will give safe meat to beef eaters. The animals will be full of acid and adrenalin from the stress and pain, the meat is full of gangrene because the limbs have been broken for several days and rot has set in, the chemicals of the injections will affect human blood and kidneys, the filth of the hammers and the knives can give tetanus.


But added to all this is another danger: foot and mouth disease (FMD). Most cattle being shipped to Kerala are being sold because they have FMD. This is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep. India, specially Tamil Nadu and Orissa, has an epidemic of FMD. Cattle on these terrible illegal trucks, that have been rescued by animal activists in Tamil Nadu, have been tested for Foot and Mouth disease. All of them have it.


The symptoms are a high fever for some days , shivering, followed by huge and painful blisters on the tongue, nose and mouth that lead to excessive secretion of stringy or foamy saliva drooling from the mouth. The boils on the legs and feet rupture and cause permanent severe lameness. Infected animals sway from one foot to the other due to tenderness of the feet. Adult animals suffer weight loss for months. Male testicles swell and female milk production declines significantly and permanently. Blisters form on the teats and burst. Through ruptured blisters, the animal is at risk from secondary bacterial infections. Though some animals eventually recover, the disease can lead to inflammation of the heart muscle. Some animals have no symptoms but are carriers of the FMD virus. There is no cure. 5% die. The rest recover gradually. Most will be sterile and will never recover their milk giving capacity.


FMD is extremely infectious. The virus spreads through contact with contaminated farming equipment, vehicles, clothing or feed. Vaccines are rarely effective because the virus mutates quickly. This means FMD vaccines must be specific to the strain involved. Even then vaccination only provides temporary immunity that lasts months. The only answer is isolation which has to be immediate and severe. Here, in India, the animal welfare department has few people on the ground and it does nothing. The owner of the cow or buffalo sells the animal to the butcher as soon as he sees the symptoms, because the animal will always be weak and prone to other infections, the milk is going to be less and the animal is too lame to do any field work.


What do other countries do? Because the virus is spread so easily, countries with the disease are banned from exporting animals and their products. Sick animals cannot be legally sold. Protection and surveillance zones are set up. The movement of animals, animal products, feed and bedding are prohibited. Public rights of way are closed to prevent the disease spreading. Disinfectant is used on footwear, clothing and vehicles. Infected animals are destroyed. The sale of meat and milk from infected areas is forbidden as the virus can survive in smoked and cured meats and insufficiently pasteurized milk. Farmers are not allowed to take animals to slaughter or market. Export health certificates for animals and animal products are withdrawn.


Most countries live in fear of Foot and Mouth Disease and have extremely strict controls to prevent it from coming in. America, Australia and most of Europe are FMD free but if a single case is suspected the entire herd is killed. in 2001, an outbreak of FMD in Britain resulted in the slaughter of many animals, the postponing of the general election for a month, and the cancellation of many sporting events and leisure activities. In 2010, 3 cows tested positive in Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan. 270,000 cattle were slaughtered. Taiwan was among the top 15 pork producers in the world in 1996. During the outbreak, over 3.8 million swine were destroyed and the export market finished. By 2007, Taiwan was considered free of FMD, but was still conducting a vaccination program, which restricts its export of meat. In 2011, South Korea found 100 pigs with FMD. Three million pigs and 107,000 cattle were killed to halt the outbreak.


The World Organisation for Animal Health recognizes India as an FMD country. We do nothing about it because the countries that import our meat are happy to eat cheap contaminated beef. Any country that gives vaccinations also has restrictions on the export of meat because the vaccination itself is a contaminant. But the people of Kerala eat beef happily and export it even more happily.


By law, no one in any country is allowed to sell an FMD affected animal, and all animal selling fairs are to be cancelled . In India these laws exist, but no one, least of all the government inspectors, respect them. Diseased animals are sold freely, taken to fairs and sold at discounts. Their owners roam around spreading the virus without a care in the world, their hands, clothes and vehicles full of virus. A truck that has carried FMD diseased cattle will give it to every single animal that is unlucky enough to be pushed onto it. Trucks, market places, and loading ramps need to be disinfected. Is a truck in India that has carried animals to slaughter ever cleaned? In the last month alone, over 10,000 cattle in Tamil Nadu have been reported as having FMD. It has made no difference to anyone. The state animal welfare department claims it has contained the epidemic by giving vaccinations. The farmers of Tamil Nadu are simply sending their animals to Kerala for killing.


Kerala send thousands of tonnes of beef to the Middle East. All of it is infected with FMD. Normally the government should put an export ban. But no one wants to stand in the way of people who earn money even if we are poisoning the rest of the world and ourselves.


While FMD is rare in humans it is certainly zoonotic. Humans can be infected with foot-and-mouth disease through contact with infected animals. The virus that causes FMD spreads in the human mouth before the meat is swallowed. Cases of FMD afflicted humans have been reported in the UK, Europe, Africa and South America – before the strict control measures came in. In India FMD is not even taught to doctors, so it is un-diagnosable. Technically, the symptoms of FMD in humans include malaise, fever, vomiting, sore throats, swollen testicles, red ulcerative lesions in the mouth and blisters of the skin and feet. But anyone going to a doctor would probably be diagnosed with some other disease.


China and India are the Rogue Nations.


China regularly reports outbreaks of FMD but no one knows what they do to the infected animals. They hide their outbreaks by changing the name of the disease -Chinese domestic media reports often use a euphemism "Disease Number Five" so that exports are not affected. In March 2010, Southern Rural News, in an article "Breaking the Hoof and Mouth Disease Taboo", revealed that FMD has long been covered up in China by also referring to it as canker, mouth ulcers, or hoof jaundice .


India and China both obey no international bans and nor do the Middle East countries that import our meat.


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi


Pl. add: To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*