17 August 2001

ANOTHER ANTI-FARMING SMEAR TAKES SPOTLIGHT OFF F&MMISHANDLING

Another week another muddle. Last week the UK farming industry was reeling from allegations that farmers spread foot-and-mouth deliberately in order to claim compensation payments.

The week before it was Tony Blairs decision to call a halt to clean-up operations on the grounds of cost. This week it is the allegedly exorbitant compensation payments made to about 40 farmers out of a total of about 10,000 who are entitled to recompense for the compulsory purchase of their stock.

The relentless drip feed of smear stories in the national media makes it easy to conclude that some individuals are trying to discredit British farming.

Government ministers protest that they have not briefed against British farmers. But who gains by fuelling anti-farming rumours? It certainly helps to deflect attention from the governments lack-lustre performance in controlling F&M. It also diverts attention from the fact that DEFRA minister Margaret Beckett prefers caravaning to concentrating efforts to stamp out F&M.

Meanwhile, some of the headline-hungry media have relied on one-sided, anti-farming prejudice in reporting of compensation claims. There has been little explanation about the capital intensive nature of livestock farming, the need for large sums to re-stock and the lack of recompense for consequential losses.

Worst of all, there has been the glib assertion that money alone, provided the cheque is fat enough, can redeem any trauma, resolve any problem, erase any suffering. Such reports reveal more about the values of the people purveying them than the farmers their comments concern.

What money could compensate for a lifetimes breeding achievement brought to a bloody end?

Farmers deserve fair compensation; not just for their own sakes, but the sake of rural businesses, communities and employment.

In failing to point that out, farmings critics have allowed the government to divert attention away from its own incompetence in handling F&M.

What more muddles has the government in store? for the UK farming?