Churches and related organizations are at the forefront of help for rural communities devastated by Britain's foot and mouth disease crisis.

Gordon Gatward, director of the church-backed Arthur Rank Center, a key support organization for farmers, says he has seen "grown men crying—they don't know where to turn."

Counseling telephone helplines run by the Samaritans, which has links to the Befrienders international movement, are receiving rising numbers of calls from farmers in despair or tempted to commit suicide. Even before the crisis, suicides among farmers in England and Wales averaged more than one a week, according to a Samaritans spokesperson.

Foot and mouth disease has already produced more than 600 outbreaks in the U.K., mainly among sheep but also affecting cattle and pigs. The crisis is not expected to peak until May. More than 600,000 animals have been condemned for slaughter. Many of them are healthy and are being culled in a bid to put "firebreaks" around diseased stock.

The disease is also prompting a growing political crisis in London, with accusations both here and abroad that Tony Blair's government has mishandled the situation. The government faces a general election within the next year, and reports that the prime minister wants polling day to be set for May 3, despite the foot and mouth crisis, are causing deep unease in some quarters. However, a number of influential newspapers are urging the prime minister to hold a May election.

Foot and mouth cases apparently connected to Britain have been reported in Ireland, France, and The Netherlands.

Thousands more animals in disease-free flocks and herds cannot be moved or sold, measures which in any case mean financial disaster for farmers. On the Duke of Westminster's ...

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