21 May 1999

IN BRIEF

&#8226 IN the 12 months to May 7 this year, 3801 cases of BSE were reported in Britain. According to figures given in a parliamentary written answer by junior farm minister Lord Donoughue, the number of cases is falling, now averaging about 50 a week.

&#8226 UPDATED guides giving details of more than 1500 farm walks have been published by MAFF. County-by-county listings of walks, in the form of individual county registers, were launched this week by junior farm minister Elliot Morley at the start of National Farm Walk Week.

&#8226 PROPOSALS to make food-related education in schools compulsory to the age of 14 have been applauded by Don Curry, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission.

"There is no doubt in our minds, or that of the food industry, that the teaching of food-related subjects in schools is absolutely vital for the future," he said.

&#8226 BRITISH Meat Federation is the new name adopted by the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers. Andrew Chitty, newly elected president of the organisation, which represents the interests of red meat processors in England and Wales, said: "The change of name to include British confirms the role of our members as meat marketeers in the domestic and increasingly global market."

Two classes of five to seven year olds from Haylett Grange School, Merlins Bridge, Pembrokeshire, were the latest group to visit a potato growing farm in the country as part of a food and farming project. Sponsored by the marketing group Puffin Produce and Tesco, the scheme encourages children to learn about every aspect of producing the crop. During the visit to Treleddin, St Davids, they tried their hand at picking Minerva first earlies before following the crop through the packing station to Tescos Haverfordwest store.

Scots delight at

arbiter decision

By Allan Wright

SCOTTISH farmers are to get an independent arbiter to rule on disputes between them and the Scottish Office.

The remit will be wide and will include all EU and national subsidy claims and the issue of separate businesses for IACS purposes.

The announcement was included in the manifesto announced by the joint Labour/Liberal Democrat administration in the new Scottish parliament. It was greeted with delight by Scottish NFU president Jim Walker, who said it would mean an end to the Scottish Office acting as judge, jury, and executioner on the interpretation of European and national rules.

"There had to be some appeal system for the farmer who made a genuine mistake in form filling. There had to be a distinction between him and the person who set out to cheat the system. There also had to be common interpretation of rules across Scotland and that was not always happening," he said.

The hand of Mr Walkers predecessor George Lyon can be seen in the move. Mr Lyon, now a Lib-Dem MSP, demanded such action in the unions own election wish list last December.

Mr Lyons other hobbyhorse, getting all farm levies paid in Scotland to be retained and controlled from Scotland, has also taken a step forward. The manifesto included a commitment to improve the promotion of Scottish produce.

Mr Walker is still striving to reach an industry compromise on the levy issue to avoid the need for legislation. He had further talks with Meat and Livestock Commission chairman Don Curry on Wednesday but is thought to be increasingly disenchanted with MLC excesses, including the use of a highly paid TV celebrity chef to host the forthcoming meat awards dinner in London.

"The future prosperity of our food production industry depends on professional marketing and promotion. We are deeply involved in discussions with other industry bodies on how that can best be delivered. But it could be that it is the Scottish parliament which takes the initiative," said Mr Walker.

He will be asking the new minister to take the lead on milk promotion. "We want to Scottish Office to commission a poll of producers which would allow generic advertising of milk. We think there is 90% support for such advertising."

Export trial adjourned

A PRIVATE prosecution brought against a live animal export company has been adjourned after one of the magistrates said he knew one of the prosecution.

Malcolm Conyers, a merchant navy captain with 15 years experience, was bringing the prosecution against Brindie Ltd, the company bought last year by Farmers Ferry.

Mr Conyers alleges that Brindie caused a cargo of sheep to suffer unnecessarily on a sailing between Dover and Dunkirk on 19 January, 1998.

He claims that the company breached the Welfare of Animals During Transport Order by sailing in gale force winds and rough seas.

But the case was adjourned after one of the magistrates sitting at Ashford Magistrates Court on Monday (May 17) revealed that Mr Conyers was a family friend.

The case will now be heard at Folkestone Magistrates Court on Jul 12-14.

Why Welsh vegetarian wont quit

CHRISTINE Gwyther, the vegetarian minister responsible for agriculture and rural affairs at the Welsh Assembly, will not quit.

Despite 200 delegates at the Farmers Union of Wales annual meeting voting unanimously to demand her resignation, Ms Gwyther insists she will not go.

She said that not eating meat for 20 years did not prejudice her ability to deal with farming issues. She confirmed that Welsh Assembly leader Alun Michael was fully aware of her eating habits when he gave her the job, and that she was aware of the need to find solutions to the serious problems faced by Welsh livestock farmers.

But her appointment was described as insensitive and divisive by other parties in the assembly. One of the strongest attacks came from Anglesey farmer Peter Rogers, a regional Conservative member.

He described the decision to place a vegetarian in such a key assembly post as an insult to every farmer in Wales, and he demanded her immediate resignation.

Mr Parry used his presidential address to the FUWs annual meeting on Wed to pour scorn on a decision that had made so many farmers extremely angry.

Taken seriously?

"Many people are asking how the new Welsh Food Strategy can be taken seriously when the secretary in charge refuses to eat most of the food produced in Wales," Mr Parry said.

He claimed that at every livestock mart in Wales angry producers were complaining bitterly that a vegetarian was effectively in control of the meat industry. The FUW must work with her, but Mr Parry warned that members expected Ms Gwyther to give nothing less than 100% to promoting the best interests of Welsh agriculture.

NFU Cymru-Wales spokesman Keith Jones said most members were prepared to give Ms Gwyther the chance to prove that she was not biased against livestock producers.

The union would have preferred to deal with a minister who was already up to speed on farming and rural affairs. "But we will work with anyone who is prepared to listen and act in the best interests of everyone who makes a living in the countryside," he said.

Two Powys farmers will shadow Ms Gwyther from the opposition benches. Tory Glyn Davies and Lib Dem Mick Bates, who farm only a few miles apart near Welshpool, have been made their parties farming spokesmen.

Now Gill wont rule out demos as skies darken

By Jonathan Riley

NFU president Ben Gill has hinted that large-scale protests and demonstrations could be made as agriculture "plunges deeper into an economic mire".

Speaking at the launch of a report – A Barometer of the Rural Economy – issued by the agricultural and allied industries, following last weeks rural summit, Mr Gill said: "I never thought that one year on from the first summit the situation could be any more grave.

"But the last 12 months have seen agriculture and the vital rural industries which it supports all fighting to stay alive.

"We must enlist public support and I cannot rule out demonstrations like the successful one held in Blackpool [at the Labour Party conference] last year."

He added that he would meet the Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, next Monday to highlight farmings plight and discuss options for reducing interest payments, which the report identifies as a major factor in the industrys struggle.

"These rates are more than double European rates and mean UK farmers paid £200m more in interest last year when compared with their European counterparts.

"This adds to the effect on businesses that have had to increase borrowings, such as the pig industry where borrowing has increased by 70%," said Mr Gill.

The report added that the strength of sterling, which was at its highest since the early 1990s, had encouraged buyers to opt for cheaper imports, undermining prices and jobs.

That had added to a 75% decline in farm incomes over the past two years and caused three sectors – pigs and poultry, mixed farms and lowland cattle and sheep – to go into the red for the first time. That, the report said, was having a knock-on effect on allied industries.

Almost 90% of rural industries had been forced to lay off staff in the past 12 months as their own businesses continue to decline.

Eddie Harper, chairman of the Road Haulage Association, said hauliers were facing higher road tax and diesel costs than their continental counterparts which was hitting competitiveness.

And Jake Vowles, director general of the Agricultural Engineers Association, said exports of agricultural machinery, which were a major contributor to the UKs balance of trade, had been hit hard.

"In 1998 the agricultural engineering industry had a balance of trade surplus of £1bn and was the fifth largest contributor to the UK balance of trade. This has already fallen by £100m in the last four months," he reported.

BSE never a human threat?

THE government has commissioned new research that could prove that BSE has never been a danger to human health and that British beef is, and always has been, safe.

MAFF has confirmed that it has awarded £230,000 to two scientists who claim that BSE is caused by the bodys own response to bacteria commonly found in soil and muddy water. If they are right, they say that it is also possible that variant Creuztfeld Jakob Disease (vCJD) is caused by the bacteria and not from eating beef.

Alan Ebringer, professor of immunology at Kings College, London, and John Pirt, a leading authority on the role bacteria play in diseases, claim that the traditional theory that BSE is caused by a rogue prion protein, which can also lead to vCJD in humans, is nonsense.

They argue that BSE is actually an auto-immune disease, triggered by a type of bacteria known as acinetobactor. And genetically susceptible people or animals fall victim to disease because their bodys immune systems produce antibodies to the acinetobactor which also attack healthy brain tissue.

The scientists hope to prove their theory by testing serum from known BSE cases to see if they contain high levels of the attacking antibodies. The work will take two years to complete. Preliminary research on 29 samples from BSE infected cattle has already found the antibodies present in every case. And there was no sign of them in 76 controls.

"If our work shows that BSE is an auto-immune disease then it will prove that even BSE-infected meat would be safe to eat," said Prof Ebringer.

And scientists would then have to consider the real possibility that vCJD is also caused by acinetobactor, he added.

Prof Ebringer admits that getting people to accept his theory has, at times, been a struggle.

MAFF has denied accusations that the research shows a fundamental change in policy. A spokeswoman said: "This is a tiny proportion of the total research budget. We are not excluding alternative theories as they come up."

NFU West Midlands and Virgin Trains joined forces to promote British Sandwich Week. The special "seasonal sarnie" they developed was packed with English cheddar and Old English chutney. Bob Forster, NFU West Midlands regional director, (second left) said: "We are pleased to link up with Virgin Trains who have made a commitment to back British farmers and have already taken the first step by using only British pork in their sandwiches."

Beef-on-bone ban must end in Wales?

FUWpresident Bob Parry has insisted that the Welsh assembly honour the pre-electionpledges to end the beef-on-bone ban in the principality…page 16

Sheep alarm

Increasing numbers of sheep are being infected with caseous lymphadenitis, an abscess-causing infection and one of the worlds most troublesome flock diseases…………………….page 41

Not if but when

Its no longer a question of whether there is a total ban on antibiotics in pig production but when…full report from the Pig and Poultry Fair starts on……………………………page 46

Taxing times

Hefty pesticide taxation remains a threat, so argue and lobby why crop protection products are a necessity, urges the British Agrochemicals Association……………….page 61

Mosaic lore…

Soil-borne mosaic virus, recently spotted in two fields on a Wilts farm, has been confimed in three more …………….page 62

Nozzle nous

Nozzle selection can double blight fungicide coverage of potato plants in early growth and boost deposits on lower and middle leaves…………….page 68

Quads in…

A new bike that discards many conventions of ATVdesign is causing a big stir in American quad circles……………..page 75

War wounds?

Having your products featured in the media daily from the Yugoslav war zone could be good publicity…but its a mixed blessing, says a tractor importer………………….page 76

Gripping story…

Tyres…little moves without them. Goodyear believes tractors will move more easily with its new range. Report from the companys development site in Luxembourg……………..page 80