Cheap meat has a lot to answer for.jpg

Cheap meat has a lot to answer for

OVER THE centuries, livestock farming has suffered from occasional outbreaks of disease from which animals have died, their loss accepted as part of the outgoings. With an upsurge in world population and increased wealth among more advanced countries, the demand for cheap meat has resulted in lowered standards of husbandry.

‘Scrapie’ in sheep and goats, closely related to ‘Mad Cow Disease’ in cattle and transmittable to humans as Creutzfeld Jacob Disease, has been around for a long time as a fatal affliction of the central nervous system. Before this was confirmed, the connection between animal and human deaths, if suspected, was not made public.

When I worked on farms as a youngster, I came across cases of cows with ‘the staggers’ – their deaths attributed to an unknown cause that, today, would have been recognised for what it was. The feeding of Scrapie infected animal by-products to cattle, in an effort to speed up growth, resulted in the late 20th century outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease). The slaughter of thousands of cattle and a moratorium on the export of British beef crippled the farming industry, following as it did an earlier outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease.

Now, there is panic over Bird Flu and there is mass killing of healthy poultry in an effort to restrict its spread, in case the virus mutates and causes a human epidemic. The demand for cheap meat, no matter how produced, is at the root of these latter-day animal pandemics. Never mind pollution of the environment and the threat of nuclear fall-out, unless world powers look to the basics that sustain human life, these other dangers will cease to be a cause for concern.

It appears that the ostrich does not, nor ever has, buried its head in the sand, but, for some of us, it has become a way of life when viewing the alternatives. Being privileged to live in southern Portugal where time is still catching up, and despite the rising tide of concrete that never ebbs, it is still possible to live at peace, away from the coast at a time of life when daily demands are minimal and the sun continues to shine.

More rain is needed to ensure sufficient water is on tap for the anticipated hordes of holidaymakers, for whom rank upon rank of new apartments have been built in Lagos. Last week, we took a walk beside the Barragem da Bravura and found it well below full, despite assurances in the Portuguese press that water storage was up to speed.

A large white bird was riding the muddy waves directly below the dam. It looked like a gannet about the face and body, but a few long feathers trailed in wet strands from the upper back, reminiscent of an egret in breeding condition – perhaps it was a hungry migrant resting from the boisterous elements during its long journey.

There were Petticoat Narcissi in flower along the trackside and a few Cistus blossoms opened to the sun for a day before shedding their petals. A touch of spring in January goes a long way toward banishing the winter blues and, if the weather is foul, there is always the internet and the world at one’s fingertips.

As an armchair sailor I have been keeping tabs on the Volvo Ocean Race. This circumnavigation is three-quarters through the second leg with 1,600 nautical miles to Melbourne as of January 15. Six of the 70 foot monohulls were on iceberg watch in the southern ocean and several suffered structural damage in big seas and strong winds. Some repaired while continuing to race, but Brazil and the Ericsson team returned to Cape Town with only Brazil able to continue later. Both Pirates and Movistar, which returned to Portugal shortly after leaving Vigo on the first leg, have had further hydraulic keel failure and, with cracks appearing on deck, Pirates was shipping water but continuing to press forward.

With boats lightly constructed of carbon fibre, carrying a massive sail area and having high power to weight ratios, the men sailing them are in a similar position to Formula One drivers, with an overload of ‘vroom’ that has to be restrained rather than pushed to the limit. Crews are aware that sailing at maximum available speed will not win races – these 70 footers become airborne in a 40 knot wind with vertical seas, and the inflexibility of carbon fibre inflicts severe shocks to the whole vessel. The naval architects are breaking new ground with unknown limits and it seems the crews are having the adrenaline rush of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Pirates and Movistar suffered further damage just after rounding Eclipse Island off the west coast of Australia and, at the time of writing, are undergoing repairs in Port Albany.

While Lagos Marina is almost full and the pontoons lined with yachts that rarely go to sea at this time of year, it was a pleasant surprise to see a good turn out for Sunday’s race in the bay – a new venture in an effort to re-awaken the sailing fraternity from its long sleep. Perhaps these big boats will set an example to local dinghy sailors, who have drifted away over the last few years, leaving children under 15 to represent them in their little Optimist dinghies.