A NEW unknown disease was stretching its tentacles around the world from the Far East this week, a form of pneumonia that does not respond to antibiotics.
Do you know where it comes from?
Thought to have originated in Vietnam, it has claimed victims throughout South East Asia, Europe, North America - and as close to the Yorkshire Dales as Manchester - in a matter of a few weeks.
Such is the density of international travel these days that diseases which once upon would never have escaped the kampong can now attack the West in days - and that, of course, goes for animal diseases too.
It is widely believed that the disastrous foot and mouth outbreak two years ago came from untreated leftovers from Chinese restaurants fed to pigs. This has never been proved - and has caused widespread anger amongst our Chinese population - but the question remains:
Where did it come from? It is a disease which must be transmitted from one animal, or part of an animal, to another. It simply cannot appear out of nowhere.
During that outbreak, it emerged that thousands of tons of food were coming into Britain every year from dodgy sources. In particular, there were mountains of beef being imported from South America and even southern Africa, where FMD is endemic.
But these imports were at least legal, and as such were subject to at least peremptory inspection by public health officials. Now, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency estimates that the amount of illegal meat coming into the UK every year is nearly 7,500 tonnes, three per cent of total meat imports.
This week, the Government promised a £6 million campaign to halt illegal imports, which will mean handing over the fight to hard-nosed Customs and Excise squads trained in the war against drugs.
The NFU said this was "excellent news" - but questioned whether £6 million was adequate for a proper job (See News, March 27).
But imagine this: had the disease that invaded out countryside with such horrific effects two years ago attacked humans rather than animals? There could have been no culls then, no burning carcasses, but our hospitals would have been totally unable to cope.
This is the nightmare scenario which the Government should be facing - and after the FMD shambles, should be making proper plans. I, too, doubt whether £6 million is enough for the job.
But is there anything we country folk can do? Not a lot - but the Eat the View campaign might at least help. It means shopping or eating out at establishments which supply local produce and know where it comes from. Not only is that safer - but it also helps the people who look after our countryside to stay in business.