Why slaughter? The cultural dimensions of Britain's foot and mouth disease control policy, 1892–2001

  • Abigail Woods


In 1892, the British agricultural authorities introduced a policy of slaughtering animals infected with foot and mouth disease (FMD). This measure endured throughout the 20th century and formed a base line upon which officials superimposed the controversial "contiguous cull" policy during the devastating 2001 epidemic. Proponents of the slaughter frequently emphasized its capacity to eliminate FMD from Britain, and claimed that it was both cheaper and more effective than the alternative policies of isolation and vaccination. However, their discussions reveal that a less obvious but nonetheless important reason for maintaining the slaughter policy was the conviction that in its manner of operation and its outcomes, it benefited the state and status of the British nation. To its supporters, slaughter was far more than a method of disease control; it acted also as a moralizing and civilizing force, an indicator of veterinary ability and a "virility symbol" of British international leadership. This "cultural" rationale for FMD control by slaughter declined during the late 20th century and was wholly undermined by the 2001 epidemic, when extensive culling failed to convey the intended image of an organized, enlightened Britain.

agriculture contiguous cull foot and mouth disease history nationalism policy slaughter vaccination veterinary 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abigail Woods
    • 1
  1. 1.Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Centre for the History of Science Technology and MedicineUniversity of ManchesterUK)

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