In a message sent out via his Diocesan website, the Anglican Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, has promised the support of the church to the farming communities involved in the latest outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
An instance of foot and mouth was discovered at a farm in Surrey last week, arousing fears among Britain’s farm workers and families of another crisis similar to that of 2001.
In the earlier outbreak of the deadly disease more than six million animals were slaughtered. The situation now is still not under control.
“Clearly the situation is evolving day by day but this is an alarming time for everyone who works the land on our behalf and I want to pledge the support, concern and prayers of the Church for everyone involved,” commented the bishop.
Church leaders and rural groups are saying that 2007 has been an especially difficult year for Britain’s farmers, many of whom are still recovering from severe flooding in June and July, while outbreaks of TB and bird flu remain additional concerns.
Commented Bishop Pritchard: "'How much more?' they must think. Much of our rural economy is quite fragile and the country cannot afford ... to see another tragedy unfold like last time. Lessons have been learned from the last foot and mouth epidemic, but that doesn’t remove the fear."
The Oxford church leader assured the farming community of the church’s continuing support. "Our churches belong to the fabric of the countryside just like the farms", he declared.
"Those churches and their communities of Christians will be agents of God’s loving concern, whatever the outcome of this current alarm."
The Arthur Rank Centre, a partnership between the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the national churches and the Rank Foundation, the churches rural resources unit is providing back up and help as needed.
During the national foot and mouth epidemic in 2001, the Centre set up the ARC-Addington Fund that distributed £10.3 million to farmers in 15 months.
“The Farming Help charities are providing support to the wider farming community across Britain for those anxious about the outbreak of foot and mouth,” said Dr Jill Hopkinson, the Church of England’s National Rural Officer.