10 August 2001

The second Battle of Britain…

What would have happened to Britain if Winston Churchill had called a halt to the Battle of Britain because of the cost? This is the second Battle of Britain and the farming community can win it.

If you cant help, dont hinder Mr Blair, just go on another holiday. If every household in the UK was offered quarter of a lamb for the freezer the problem of what to do with 1m surplus lambs would be solved. Would we have refused an offer of meat during wartime rationing?

Moira Starkey

Emberton, Storridge, Malvern, Worcs.

Expert advice was ignored

The reason why the government cant put more money into the cherished causes of health and education is because it has just blown £2,500m and rising on the worst epidemic of foot-and-mouth the world has ever known.

The governments mishandling of the crisis must rank as the greatest act of misadministration perpetrated by a modern government and probably the most costly. All because it was doggedly following rules laid down by the EU and to please the NFUs Ben Gill and a few multi-national food conglomerates to protect an export market worth £570m.

Why did the government ignore the advice of almost every F&M expert in the world to switch from mass slaughter to mass vaccination as soon as it was obvious the epidemic was out of control?

We have already lost our export status. F&M is endemic in sheep and almost certainly in the wild animal population too. That will no doubt be confirmed by blood testing in the coming weeks. The obvious thing to do is leave the sheep alone and vaccinate cattle and pigs. Let the tourist industry get back to normal in what is left of the season. But above all, lets put a stop to this senseless slaughter of healthy animals.

John S. Pearson

Adderstone Mains, Belford, Northumberland.

Forget nothing, learn nothing

When will the NFU leadership understand that this is not 1967? Why is it so adamantly opposed to vaccination? We have heard the case against vaccination reiterated ad nauseum by the leadership. But never do we hear of the benefits that vaccination could bring. Like the Bourbons of old they forget nothing and learn nothing. They have led us like lambs to the slaughter.

For the past five months in this area we have suffered with the threat and the limitations imposed by the outbreak. Many neighbours have been devastated. Others, with animals not yet affected by the virus, have been unable to move or sell their animals or even shear their sheep without licences and problems. Everyone has suffered from a complete curtailment of village social life.

Local businesses are facing disaster. Friends have been discouraged from visiting, and we dare not visit many of our own friends. It is like living under an army of occupation.

If vaccination had been tried all this might have been avoided. We do not know because we have not tried. Had it been tried and failed, then we would accept the inevitable. But we feel we have been sacrificed on the altar of the beef barons anxious to safeguard their exports in a market which, in any event, has completely disappeared. We are told that the epidemic is abating; yet the re-occurrence in a previously infected area in Wales gives rise to fears that the disease may now be endemic in the country.

Vaccination may be the only answer. We cannot continue in this hell for another year and face a new outbreak in 2002.

C Smith

Howe Wath, Danby, Whitby.

Slaughter gains nothing at all

The foot-and-mouth epidemic has run for 25 weeks. Millions of animals have been slaughtered and thousands upon thousands of businesses have been decimated. And what has this policy of slaughter achieved?

There are two theories as to the control of F&M disease – one is clinical and the other is economic.

Can F&M be controlled by clinical means? Yes. It will take perhaps two weeks to complete. Holland and Taiwan have proved that theory as have the World Health Organisation and other health organisations throughout the world. F&M is a viral disease and vaccines are available to control its spread. All other arguments are spurious.

Despite proof of how to control this disease the government pursues its ideology of slaughter; a policy introduced 250 years ago when we did not have vaccines. They are advised and supported by a chief veterinary officer who has no idea of the economic problems associated with this theory. And by a farmers representative body, the NFU, which is supported by perhaps 30% of farmers. Arable farmers account for a large proportion of the total.

They seem to have no idea of how clinically to control a viral disease. Neither do they understand the distress their actions cause the vast majority of remaining farmers.

F Wakefield

Parlour Farm, Bisley, Stroud, Glos.

Nasty smell not just rotting flesh

There is a nasty smell surrounding this foot-and-mouth epidemic. It is not solely the aroma of rotting carcasses or burning flesh but also the smell of miss-information, mistakes and downright lies. Everyone is being blamed but the government.

We were told that the only good thing about this virus was that it was relatively easy to kill. So why the intensive level of the clean-up operation with reports of electric wiring being stripped out floors and milking parlours being taken apart? Thats something DEFRA is now questioning the cost of doing.

As for the missing phial of virus from Porton Down, the government has given neither a denial nor an explanation. As far as I know, no investigation has been held. Perhaps the government knows where it went?

A refusal to hold a full public enquiry would be tantamount to an admission by Tony Blair that the first real challenge his government has faced since taking power has been a fiasco. It would also question the governments ability to deal with crises of state in the future.

If telling lies is the same as perjury and covering-up the truth and silencing potential witnesses with the Official Secrets Act is the same as perverting the course of justice, then perhaps Tony Blair, Nick Brown and most of the top people from MAFF or DEFRA should be keeping Lord Archer company for the next few years?

M W Fisher

Ivy House Farm, High Street, Stoke Golding, Nuneaton,Warks.

Plenty of birds on my farm

Being a reader of the daily newspapers, I am well aware that British farmers and their methods of farming are fully responsible for the eradication of all songbirds, global warming, the G8 riots and the China/Taiwan tensions. Therefore, could I apologise to all farmers, as I have to report that while ploughing my set-aside recently I saw: One little owl, four lapwings, three buzzards (not kestrels and, yes, I do know the difference) and seven hares, all in 40 acres. Obviously, that conflicts with the public image that portrays us as being responsible for most things. Pardon me if I cut this letter short so that I can hurry to fill my sprayer with some cocktail of deadly chemicals to spray in my ditches.

Steven Smith

Address supplied.

Contrast Kiwi disease checks

Having been involved in the farming industry for 20 years, I have been deeply saddened by foot-and-mouth. After a recent visit to New Zealand, it is interesting to compare the attitude of governments and individuals to this awful disease.

As we approached Christchurch, we were shown a video about the ravages of F&M and warned of the penalties for bringing meat or dairy products, seeds or vegetable products into the country. Indeed, we were warned to leave leftovers from the in-flight meal on the plane. The penalty for failing to comply is a $20,000 fine and a years imprisonment.

At NZ immigration, I declared my occupation as farm machinery sales. I was led to the red channel where my bags were ex-rayed, opened and inspected and I was questioned thoroughly about my movements in the previous 60 days. Much to my embarrassment, soil was found in the treads of my shoes. They were cleaned, disinfected and returned in a direct and courteous manner.

On my return to the UK via Heathrow airport, what measures were in place to stem the flow of disease? None. We filed past a customs official who cast a weary eye over our passports. I then read that the government has decided to suspend the clean-up operation pending an investigation into spiralling costs.

On my travels, I see tired mats of straw where the active disinfectant has long evaporated and the straw blows in the wind. I learn of people, such as Caroline Cooper (Letters, July 27) at the sharp end of this disease moaning that increased biosecurity measures cost extra time and money. We can sit back, watch and do nothing, but at what price? We need to pull together and stop all the back-biting and hit this disease hard.

As an old, wise Kiwi advised me: "We need to wake up and smell the coffee."

Mark Daniel

Shrewsbury, Shropshire.Dantheman@minsterley.fsnet.co.uk

Herbal remedy may cure it

In light of the culling of animals in the foot-and-mouth outbreak, I note the following found in the book Herbal Simples published in 1898.

Taken from the section headed Comfrey or Consound is the comment: "About a century ago prickly comfrey, a variety of our consound, was naturalised in this country from the Caucasus. It has since proved itself amazingly productive to farmers as when cultivated it will grow six crops in a year and the plant is both a preventive and curative of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle". (I have used it with success for leg ulcers).

E J Crossland

15 Machine Drive, Upper Haugh, Rotherham, Yorks.

Diversification plans blocked

For more than 30 years we have run a 60-acre mixed farm. Since BSE, we have tried to diversify into livery horses. Then foot-and-mouth came and we lost over half our business overnight, resulting in our two sons being made redundant.

We decided to follow government guidelines by developing our redundant cattle buildings and applied for planning permission from our local Thurrock Council. Although planning officers were supportive and recommended approval, councillors decided to refuse it, making us to go a public inquiry in September. That will cost thousands which we will find difficult to finance because of our declining income over the past six months.

Tony Blairs government says farmers should diversify but when we try, there is no financial or planning support.

We have had a livery for more than 14 years. Is there anyone who can help us?

Mr C Roe

Green Trees Farm, Old Hill Avenue, Langdon Hills, Essex.

Soil fertility confusion

Mr Dowding should study soils a little more before he makes such sweeping statements on the subject (Letters, Jul 6) and derides Charlie Flindts comments (Letters, June 15). Such misleading scare remarks are common in the environmental press and do not help when repeated by those in farming.

Soil fertility should not be defined as capability to yield a crop. Soil fertility is defined as: "The capacity of the soil to support the crop being grown" by Prof Alan Wild, the retired professor of soil science at Reading University in his book Soils and the Environment.

Soil fertility depends on many factors, chemical, physical and biological.

Mr Dowding confuses the physical, of which soil structure is one, with the chemical (nutrients). Organic matter levels have declined on the more intensive arable land that does not receive manures and on ploughed out grassland. But this is not causing serious problems of soil structure as evidenced by the large increase in yields over the same period. Fertilisers cannot make up for poor soil structure. Fertilisers are needed to maintain the chemical fertility of the soil, or soil nutrient levels, by replacing the nutrients removed in crops, and supply nitrogen for optimum crop growth.

Although we need to practice good soil husbandry to preserve soil fertility for the future, there is no crisis. For further information consult: The draft soil strategy for England published by MAFF and DETR in March 2001

George Wadsworth

Consultant soil scientist, Fieldfare Associates, Beechwood, South Stoke Road, Woodcote, Reading.

Exploited by the abattoirs

I recently sent 92 cull ewes to Hereford Collection Centre. A fortnight later I received the kill sheet and cheque and was amazed to see the total stoppages amounted to £336.20 including VAT for an average price per ewe of just short of £20 each.

On contacting the auctioneers I was told the haulage and disinfection charge of £146.50 was for the lorry from the market to the abattoir. How can that be right? Before foot-and-mouth when we sold livestock by auction, the cost of transport from the market is always borne by the purchaser.

All firms of auctioneers should get together and make sure that cost is not passed back to the producer. It is scandalous that they are allowed to do so.

Another case of abattoir exploitation I heard about recently concerned a farmer I know in the Talgarth area who recently sold some top quality Charollais lambs deadweight.

Over recent years this farmer always presented lambs through Talgarth Auction Market in the weight range of 40-44kg and I have heard many farmers commenting on the quality of these lambs.

When his kill sheet came back some of these lambs killed out at 16kg. Need I say more?

When things get back to normal, farmers will flock back to the live auction system. At least with the live auction if you do not like the price you can take them home.

P Evans

Whitelow Farm, Talgarth, Brecon, Powys.

TB herds could be doubled

As a former member of the government Badgers and Bovine TB panel, I was sad to see the recent warnings over TB from George Richardson of the National Beef Association and others including the NFU and vet organisations.

There are about 940 herds under TB restrictions, even though there have been no routine TB testing since foot-and-mouth started. So the actual number of herds could be double that infected. But these herds will be cleared of TB by test.

TB will persist in the herds unless cattle cases are removed. But ending the moratorium on badger culls will not cure these herds. The Krebs/Bourne badger cull has also been suspended but was supposed to reveal whether badger culling does any good.

Sadly, as with F&M, BSE and swine fever, MAFF/DEFRA seems to operate Alice-in-Wonderland pseudo-science. It has concentrated on the cheapest short-term option, and no lessons have been learnt from previous bunglings.

It is obvious that badgers are not the answer for anyone willing to look at unbiased MAFF data.

Each TB badger culled so far in the Bourne trial has cost £35,000. That merely proves the finding of the 1986 Dunnet Review that culls were a waste of money because they dont work. Prof McInerney of Exeter University noted then that ending culls was a purely political decision.

Since he is part of the Bourne team, perhaps Mrs Beckett or Tony Blair ought to ask him to reaffirm that simple truth. Also isnt it high time pseudo-scientists stopped playing politics?

M Hancox

54 Nouncells Cross, Stroud, Glos.

Pretty girl ads – yes, indeed

I write in reply to the letter (Jul 27) from Charlie Flindt inquiring if sugar beet growers choose varieties on the basis of adverts featuring pretty girls. The answer is yes.

James Ringer

South Cottage, West Rudham, Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

French prosper with super-rats

When I was on holiday in France recently, I talked to a French farmer who spoke very good English. I was amazed at their apparent high level of prosperity, which was based on fairly small enterprises. They appeared to have access to cheap money and they had no complaints with their supermarkets.

He told me one story about how somebody had released a few rats in a supermarket car park which then ran along the wall and into the supermarket. The supermarket had to be closed down with much of the food having to be destroyed.

I understand that whenever French farmers feel aggrieved, they mention the word rat and the supermarket sees the error of its ways.

Obviously we Brits we would not contemplate such a thing. But perhaps we can see why French farmers are so prosperous.

Robert Persey

Upcott Farm, Broadhembury, Honiton, Devon.