In 2001, a British-Chinese protest against virus-related racism

In 2001, foot-and-mouth disease tore through the United Kingdom, from Scotland to Cornwall, devastating British industries and costing the country billions of pounds.

In the eyes of some Britons, certain sections of the media and reportedly the government, it was the Chinese who were to blame.

The outbreak almost 20 years ago led to the slaughter of millions of farm animals and the loss of livelihoods for many in the agricultural sector.

The exact origin of the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak remains unclear to this day, but there is certainly no consensus that the epidemic was caused by the actions of Chinese businesses in the UK.

An abattoir in Essex, southern England, reported the first cases among pigs, but the infection was believed to have been brought there from a farm in Northumberland, in the north, where pigs had been infected for some time before.

On March 27, 2001, UK media said the government was investigating reports that illegally imported meat served in Chinese restaurants was the likely source of the disease – prompting condemnation from Chinese catering associations.

At the time, equal rights campaigner Jabez Lam was supporting Chinese victims of hate crimes and started receiving reports of more cases.

Verbal and physical abuse was rising in the streets, and at Chinese restaurants and takeaways.

“I received many calls about incidents where people weren’t coming in as customers but coming in to play football and, while they’re doing that, shouting racist abuse,” Lam told Al Jazeera. “Plenty of criminal damage. People throwing glass at the shop front. There were incidents of graffiti.”

Chinese restaurants across the country reported a 40 percent downturn in trade, with some businesses not receiving a single customer after the rumour broke.

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