On July 4 news spread rapidly that several people had become infected by anthrax, which is called lépfene in Hungarian. “Fene” here most likely means something like “trouble” while “lép” means “spleen.” Apparently the spleens of infected people become enlarged.
Anthrax spores are formed by anthrax bacteria that occur naturally in the soil. These spores remain dormant for years until they find their way into a host: sheep, cattle, horses, and goats. Anthrax is rare in Canada and the United States but common in the developing world. Hungary had several outbreaks of anthrax over the last few years.
One can be affected by the anthrax bacteria by eating undercooked meat from an infected animal, by inhalation when one breathes in anthrax spores, or through the skin. Infection by inhalation is the most deadly way to contract the disease. That’s why we see pictures of health workers covered from head to toe while working at the scene where the infected animals were grazing or were slaughtered.
It seems that the owner of the cattle farm noticed as early as June 21 that something was wrong with some of his animals, and at least one had to be slaughtered due to severe illness. On July 1 there was another sick animal who had to be killed. No veterinarian saw them and no health official inspected the meat of the slaughtered animals.
Once the anthrax outbreak became public knowledge newspapermen invaded Tiszafüred where the first anthrax outbreak occurred. Tiszafüred is a favorite spot for vacationers who want to take advantage of Tisza tó, a large artificial lake second in size only to Lake Balaton. Very few people were ready to talk, but reporters eventually learned that the owner of City Farm in Kócsújfalu is new at animal husbandry. He purchased about 100 cows, a Hungarian variety called “magyar tarka,” only a few months ago. Where the cattle came from is not clear. Zoltán Gőgös, former MSZP undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture, seems to know that the Hungarian owner purchased the animals in Romania. He also claims to know that the owner, instead of immediately placing the sick animals in the compulsory three-month quarantine, immediately began slaughtering them.
The first five or six people who became ill were butchers who handled the meat. Later it turned out that the meat was sold to a company that supplies food to the municipality of Tiszafüred, which provides lunches for 88 needy children in town. Since then the town of Tiszafüred broke its contract with the company. Another purchaser was a restaurant called “Nemzeti Étterem,” whose owner, I assume, must be a great Fidesz supporter judging from the name of his restaurant.
News spread that the authorities actually kept the anthrax infection a secret for three or four days, something the Ministry of Agriculture hotly denied in a communiqué that appeared on the ministry’s website on July 4. In it Róbert Zsigó, former Fidesz spokesman and mayor of Baja, claims that as soon as the anthrax infection became known the authorities took all necessary steps. Since symptoms of anthrax infection appear about a week after the time of contact with the sick animal and it was on July 2 that anthrax was diagnosed in five patients, it is likely that the infection was spread by the animal that was slaughtered on the 21st of June.
The locals were not too communicative when journalists wanted to know more about the owner of City Farm. They did say, however, that the owner is a well-off man who lives in a big and expensive house. LMP politicians soon discovered that the owner of the herd of cattle is József Nagy, who just recently received 250 hectares from the Hungarian government to raise cattle. His case is similar to hundreds of others where people with good connections to party and government leaders received tracts of land without knowing the first thing about animal husbandry or agriculture.
Soon enough it became known who the “godfather” of József Nagy is: Sándor Fazekas, the minister of agriculture, himself. LMP was not alone in its detective work; Jobbik also looked into Nagy’s government connections. They discovered that Nagy’s other business venture also received government subsidies. Since then it became known that Nagy is on very friendly terms with Mihály Varga, minister of national economy.
Everywhere you look you find corruption. In most cases only the locals know all the details of suspicious land transactions. Only in glaring cases like this one does the news of corruption surface and spread nationwide.
Indeed, corruption is everywhere and on all levels. After following the trail of the infected meat, it turned out that it was not only József Nagy who was guilty of negligence but also the owner of the company that provided meat to the town of Tiszafüred. One corrupt businessman, Nagy, phoned the other corrupt one, Tamás Ábrahám, on June 23 and inquired whether he was interested in some beef at a bargain price. He was and purchased 100 kg of it on the very same day. Ábrahám apparently didn’t ask for the meat inspector’s certification but relied on Nagy’s verbal assurance that all was in order. Ábrahám and Nagy know each other through soccer. Ábrahám established a local soccer club and Nagy was one of its sponsors.
According to the latest intelligence József Nagy’s herd of cattle is shrinking in size. Lately apparently several animals had to be slaughtered, including the bull that was to assure the future of the cattle farm. He ended up in the carcass pit. His ear tag, which should have had the information that would have identified him, was missing. I wonder why.