Foot And Mouth Disease Outbreak Smear: 2001

Burning cattle in pyres across rural EnglandWhen Britain suffered a severe outbreak of FMD in 2001 and the countryside was full of burning pyres of animals as the New Labour government got it desperately wrong, the Chinese community found itself scapegoated for the outbreak in a lunatic briefing by a northern outpost of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to Valerie Elliott of The Times.

Such was the degree of the tragedy that farmers were committing suicide as livelihoods were lost, and the anger was beginning to be diverted away from the government and onto one of the minority communities. Broadsheets and tabloids alike carried lurid headlines such as, “Sheep and Sow Source”. The Independent was the only newspaper which looked askance at the notion of a Mr Big and his filthy foreign meat-smuggling operation as hinted at by the Press. Chinese were already being attacked in rural areas and it was only a matter of time before someone was badly hurt or killed.

I organised the press campaign, marshalling our scant forces across the media spectrum of radio, television, print media and the web with military precision, firefighting press attacks on us and keeping the media furnished with facts, at the same time as a handful of us held emergency meetings with the MAFF Minister, Nick Brown, and organised a demonstration. We closed down Chinatown on Sunday 8th April and a thousand Chinese marched on the MAFF HQ where a contrite Nick Brown faced us in front of banks of press cameras and issued a public apology and a vindication of our campaign.

This was an inspiring victory that demonstrated the strength inherent in any group that sticks together to fight for what is right.

You can read the Foot and Mouth thread on the British Born Chinese Forum which documents reactions and responses as they happened.

The Independent:debunking MAFF’s “Chinese restaurant theory” and the north-east’s Chinatown rises up

British Born Chinese Forum on “Casual racism at the Guardian“, a precursor to the Foot and Mouth smear.

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