Early in February 2001 a young vet, examining animals at an Essex abattoir, discovered a case of foot and mouth disease. His discovery was to lead on to the biggest epidemic of the disease the world has ever seen, the slaughter (at the last count) of nearly four million animals, the virtual closure of the countryside, major pollution of the environment from pyres and burial pits, the abolition of a whole government department and the postponement of a General Election. At the time of writing (summer 2001), it is not over yet. The worst case, the nightmare scenario, suggests it could continue well into next year. The Year of The Pyres follows the story of the epidemic from day one until the present. It documents how mistake after mistake was made initially, thus helping the disease to spread; how, for weeks, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) kept on telling the country that everything was under control - until the water closed over their heads and they lost the plot. The policy of mass slaughter, promoted by government scientists and statisticians, has been described by many colleagues as 'mediaeval'.
Strong pressure to vaccinate was rejected by the government, heavily influenced by the National Farmers' Union. The book covers the cases for and against vaccination, along with many personal, and often tragic, stories. It also includes input from a variety of experts on the subject. It ends with the questions that need to be asked and suggestions as to where we go from here to ensure the tragedy never happens again.
Judith Cook is a celebrated writer and is the author of several highly successful political investigative books and the biographies Daphne du Maurier, J.B. Priestly and To Brave Every Danger. She has also written a series of crime novels. Judith lives in Cornwall.