Letter from Prague

Over the past few weeks, it has been impossible to ignore the horror of TV news shots of hundreds of thousands of animals being burnt in a grey and dismal countryside, hung over by a pall of dense smoke. Pictures reminiscent of the Middle Ages and ones which I would not have believed I would witness in the third millennium. Vaccines could have prevented that, but in terms of profit it would have made little difference. Farmers will get compensation and of course the animals would have been killed anyway.

Photo: Radio Prague
It is not often that I stop to think about the fate of farm animals, although I did cringe at the thought of how little concern I feel in everyday life about the conditions in which they are raised and the manner in which they are put down.

Merely because I do not see it happen and pick the chicken breasts or steaks neatly packaged off a supermarket shelf. I never stop to think about the fact that this was a pig or chicken. Along with 95 percent of the population, I regard it as just food. In the case of BSE, things are much the same. The operational words are safety and profit. However, the reality did not cushion the distaste I felt in the face of an ad that made use of this tragedy to raise a certain firm's profit margins. Courtesy of a firm advertising the energy drink Semtex, Prague is now covered with posters of a dead cow and another happily levitating above it with wings. BSE will knock you dead, but Semtex will give you wings, it says. It is not a poster that anyone is likely to miss -and ethical values be damned.

Czech advertisers never let things like ethics interfere with profit -and even if the ad is later banned by the Ethics Commission, it will have done the job. Many a foreigner has remarked that the kind of ads on display here would never be allowed to see the light of day in their homeland. However, I was somewhat mollified by a news story the media covered just a few days after I saw the offensive billboard. A Czech family has set up a farm for extremely aged horses, which their owners would have sold to the slaughterhouse just for the price of the meat.

The family is collecting funds where it can and every old horse saved is a major victory. Most of them are used for therapeutic sessions with disabled or blind children - but the idea is just to let them live out their lives in peace. A drop of compassion in a sea of profit that is a very welcome ray of light indeed.