Archive Article: 2001/10/12

12 October 2001

A rare and dying breed – the farmer

A recent edition of the BBCs Countryfile programme (Sept 30) prompted this letter. The programme reported that the government was trying to check the health of the countryside by looking at different types of birds, and how their numbers were affected by agriculture.

The programme went on to say that different organisations wanted mammals and butterflies to be added to the list of birds, as these too gave a good indication as to the health of the countryside. Unfortunately these groups, including DEFRA, failed to mention a rare and dying breed of mammal, whose numbers have been falling over recent years. This species is directly affected by all that goes on around it and could happily give a good indication to the health of the countryside. Yes, I mean the farmer.

The programme also gave a good reason for not using this species. Like the butterfly, their numbers have declined so much over the years that it would be hard, if not impossible, to reach government targets.

My only hope is that in the 2003 review farmers are added to the list of mammals to be monitored.

Bob Copeland

Agricultural student, Driffield, East Yorks.

Why cut prices to help Tesco?

I read with disbelief that Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy (News, Sept 28) has warned farmers to cut production costs even further otherwise Tesco will go out of business by 2070. It is obvious Mr Leahy is so far removed from the cost of production in this country to make such a statement.

If farmgate prices do not improve soon many farmers will be out of business by 2007. Where then will the likes of Tesco source its products? Relying on imports would be very foolish as it would only take one global catastrophe and the people of this country would be issued ration books.

I suggest Mr Leahy reduces his costs or charges the consumer more. British agriculture wont stand any more price cuts and should not be expected to subsidise the nations food in order to maintain Tescos profits.

Mr Graham McLeod

Duckslake Farm, Riverton, Swimbridge, Barnstaple, North Devon.

Killing farming is killing me…

Mr Blair should understand that farming is my job and farming is my life. If he kills farming he kills me. The farming industry employs many people like me. He should save country life and have a full public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Alistar Smith

56 Bird Hill Road, Woodhouse Eaves, Loughborough, Leics.

How can we go on with no aid?

Following Tesco chief executive Terry Leahys comment that farmers must produce cheaper food, could he give me some hints on how I can continue to produce food at below cost? Subsidies have enabled farmers to often sell their product for below the cost of production. That has had the effect of subsidising retailers profit margins.

With the imminent demise of subsidies, perhaps the cold wind of change blowing along farmings corridors might just send a chill into one or two corporate boardrooms. After all, not even our American cousins can compete at much vaulted global prices, without billions of dollars of aid in one guise or another. Answers on a postcard.

Matt Hobbs

Highcross farm, Elkstone, Cheltenham, Glos.

Farmers, fight for your rights

So all British sheep might be destroyed if BSE is found in one or more sheep? It appears there is a grand determination to find at least one sheep with BSE.

In farmers weekly some time ago, farmers complained that meat and bone meal was still being used unfairly by continental producers. But some wanted to start using MBM to level the playing field. FWs advice was to leave things as they were. Sound advice it turned out to be.

Are British government departments determined to destroy all our livestock industries? If so, let us have a truly level playing field. The public does not want to eat continental meat because BSE cases on the continental are rising. They too should have all the stock destroyed? Will they do that?

The only countries from which we should buy meat are those which do not have BSE, do not use hormones, do not have foot-and-mouth and do not vaccine against it. How many countries does that leave?

We customers have stood by and watched the decimation of our farming industry. The UK government is not the least interested in British farmers – only what is good for the whole of the EUs farming industry. And the farmers union appears not prepared to fight for its members.

Customers want a level playing field. We do not want to eat meat from countries that are second class to ours. Farmers should fight for their livelihoods, for their way of life. They should fight against the double standards, the cheaters, those who say one thing and mean another. They should fight for all of us.

Anne Palmer

115 Cannock Road, Westcroft, Wolverhampton.

Uniformity is impossible

After reading "In-fighting wont help our woes"

(Letters, Sept 14) I must explain that as cattle breeders we cannot produce animals of uniform conformation and fat grade when using the same bull. Admittedly, some offspring from close related bulls vary in their conformation.

We need the auctions where several buyers want different types of carcasses for their customers. At auctions buyers can bid for the animals most likely to kill out to the specification most suitable for these performance outlets.

Kathleen Wilson

Lodge Farm, Upper Heyford, Northampton.

Farmers need NFU support

Last week our local NFU secretary wrote in the local paper a front-page article on the increased price of bread. But there was no mention of the unworkable autumn movement licences. Isnt it time the NFU sent out a questionnaire to all livestock members on its handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis and how many members would renew their subscriptions?

When they got the results they might find it is time to support livestock farmers instead of DEFRA.

RB & RB Wingate

Manor Farm, Wilksby, Boston, Lincs.

Assurance is discrimination

Recent revelations in farmers weekly concerning the suspected abuse of assurance schemes by the trade come as no surprise to those of us who have campaigned against the imposition of these unnecessary and tiresome schemes.

That opposition began when the first scheme was created by that unholy alliance of the NFU hierarchy and the UK grain trade. The fact is that all imported grain and cereal substitutes arrive in this country with no assurance as to their method of production and are used by the trade to undercut and devalue home-produced cereals. The only real effect of these assurance schemes in the UK has been to enslave the British cereal producers for the commercial advantage of feeding stuff manufacturers and millers, by gaining absolute control over what was, in pre-assurance days, a free and fair market. Only British producers are subject to the grotesque indignity of having an outside body determine if they are capable or not of producing cereals to a nonsensical specification, which cannot be imposed on the huge amount of imported cereals.

The fact that British farmers are being discriminated against in this way is offensive. If those concerned think that this controversy will fade away they greatly underestimate the determination and doggedness of the freedom-loving British farmer.

Dick Lindley

Birkwood Farm, Altofts, Normanton, West Yorkshire.

Standards must be maintained

Thank you for your leading article (Opinion, Sept 28) emphasising the importance of everyone in the supply chain playing their part in ensuring the integrity and credibility of assurance.

Farmers have reacted to concerns over food safety and environmental and welfare issues by identifying and then producing what our customers want. Assurance schemes, with their verification procedures, ensure that a producer has met certain, agreed standards in this production system.

This gives our customers confidence in our products. Any attempt to present non-assured products as assured, for whatever reason, can only lead to a loss of that hard-won confidence which farmers have built up by joining assurance schemes. If cereals have not been produced to the standards which apply to UK cereal producers, and that includes independent verification, then they cannot be classed as assured.

I have met members of the trade and told them of farmers increasing concerns over some of the reports we are receiving and, through assured food standards, our commitment to whole chain assurance. Our customers, be they millers, maltsters, compounders or, increasingly, exporters, have told us they want assured grain. It is up to everybody to ensure that the standards demanded by the market and supplied by UK producers are maintained throughout the chain. Anything less is a betrayal of all the hard work put in by farmers to meet the standards our customers continually tell us they want.

A W D Pexton

Chairman, Assured Combinable Crops Scheme.

BSE in sheep most unlikely

The government has recently announced it may have to kill all Britains 40m sheep if the flock is found to contain BSE. Unlike cattle, sheep were fed only small quantities of potentially infected meat and bone meal which was banned over 10 years ago. It was unpalatable to them and it was mostly unnecessary to feed it to them in any quantity.

Furthermore, sheep have much shorter working life spans than cattle. So as BSE in cattle has now declined to lower levels than in other European states, it follows that infected sheep will have disappeared long ago.

If sheep are found to have BSE it would cast doubt over infected feed being the cause of BSE. Cattle also developed BSE at a time when farmers were forced to worm their cattle with an organophosphate wormer and to use an OP sheep dip. It is highly likely that the OPs would be the cause. After all, many countries such as the US still use MBM without a problem.

However, I feel sure the government would have discovered BSE in sheep at the height of the BSE crisis if it were present. If not, serious questions will have to be asked.

A Alderton

Flat 5, 87 Braunston Crescent, Leicester.

Scare tactics are hitting industry

A recent news programme stated that if BSE were found in sheep the whole of the national flock would be culled. Scientists have artificially infected sheep with BSE in the laboratory but they have never found it to occur naturally.

When is this government going to stop frightening the consumer from buying British meat by constantly undermining the British farming industry? It should promote British products instead of poisoning customers minds against home-produced meat and allowing substandard produce from abroad into our supermarkets.

We have suffered enough with foot-and-mouth. If this government had learnt the facts about vaccination we would have been saved from seven months of hell and hardship. The government should press for the removal of disease-free status from the EU. Then in any future outbreak we can vaccinate without losing the export market, if, that is, this government has no hidden agenda to eradicate sheep from Great Britain.

Pat Walker

Secretary of the North Yorkshire Smallholders Society, Littleacres, Pickhill, Thirsk, North Yorks.

So just how safe is safe?

It was interesting to read the comments in "Grain insecticide done and dusted" (Arable, Sept 21) and the concern expressed for farmers who are no longer able to use the chemical.

There have been many instances when these chemicals have been abused with stories of whole bags dropped into bulk stores and left there, gross over-applications and even attempts at accurate mixing using the buckets of bulk handlers.

What is intriguing is that the pesticide has been in regular use since the mid-1970s and yet it is only now that we discover it would be "uneconomic" to generate the required safety data.

Surely that should have been done before marketing and even before approval? There are obviously problems with a large percentage of chemicals currently in use as it seems many will be withdrawn for similar reasons by 2003. But we have been reassured countless times that they were or indeed are safe.

In the same issue there is a report that, despite the concerns expressed about OP sheep dip, the supposedly "dangerous containers" can still be used providing skin contact with the chemicals is avoided. So the chemical isnt safe then?

The danger of repeated low dose exposures is questioned by those in authority and yet the act which recognises those risks became law in 1958 as the industrial Prescribed Disease C3. So far the authorities have refused to release the data upon which that was based. It seems relevant to the concerns over grain store use of organophosphates and other seemingly improperly tested pesticides and the failure of those responsible to fulfil their duty to protect us.

Richard Bruce

Hill Place Cottage, Thorley, Yarmouth, Isle Of Wight.

Better terms for scrapie plans

Breed societies need to re-negotiate terms with DEFRA. Pedigree breeders are in no position to absorb additional costs with the guts knocked out of this beleaguered sector. Theres little demand for breeding stock; in fact the national breeding stock is estimated at below 15m and still falling, compared with 21m in 1999.

DEFRAs comments about the national scrapie plan states it will fund the testing and typing for three years. Any rams not meeting the desired categories will have to be castrated or slaughtered without compensation for the breeder. The industrys view is that it will take at least 10 years for the scheme to have much effect. Therefore, breeders should refrain from committing themselves to the scheme until a satisfactory financial arrangement is reached.

The national scrapie plan acknowledges there is no urgency because scrapie has been shown not to threaten humans. DEFRA information reveals that scrapie levels within the national breeding flock are infinitesimal, with only 594 confirmed cases in Great Britain in 1999.

It suspects under-reporting and between 4000 and 10,000 cases/year are likely. The national breeding stock was about 21m sheep in 1999. If 1% contracted scrapie that would equal 210,000 sheep.

If DEFRAs worst case scenario of 10,000 cases was correct, that would mean only 0.047% of the national flock was infected. Hypothetically, had these figures been achieved after a major outbreak of scrapie had been brought under control, the epidemic would be considered to be over and the risk almost non-existent. More is being made of these miniscule figures than can be justified. The £8.3m budget would be better allocated to other animal welfare issues.

No doubt breeders are stuck with the national scrapie plan as it has been introduced to appease various agencies. So it is all the more important that favourable terms are agreed before committing to the scheme.

DR Jane

Broadwood Farmhouse, Holford, Bridgewater, Somerset.

The EU is past redemption

I have just finished reading The Death of British Agriculture, Dr Richard Norths latest book published September 2001. It exposes fiddling by bureaucrats, both here and in the EU, who want to feather their nests and unlevel the EU playing field. It makes particular reference to Britain and our national farm.

In one chapter he likens the EU to a politicians cocktail party. In the middle of the room is an elephant defecating on the carpet. The politicians "all act as if it was not there and step over the steaming piles without comment".

I would replace the image of the elephant with a tight inner circle of closet neo-Fascist power seekers engaged in the same anti-social behaviour. It is now a serious question as to whether there is any possible way ahead for UK Ltd, never mind British farming, in an EU dominated by France and Germany.

Both are European powers which were defeated in the last world war and have scores to settle under the table. I have always favoured a European Common market to level the playing field. But it has been hijacked and become an unlevelling agency, built on corruption and fraud.

I think the EU is past redemption and I would rather join the United States. But I do not believe that to be necessary.

Lord Walsingham

The Hassocks, Merton, Thetford, Norfolk.

Reservations on FAWC report

While we welcome the recent interim report from the Farm Animal Welfare Council on the animal welfare implications of farm assurance schemes (DEFRA, August 2001), we have a number of concerns.

Animal welfare, and the impact upon it of any scheme, cannot be considered in isolation. We are concerned that two crucial aspects should be reviewed in the final report. First, the financial implications to the producer of adopting the requirements of assurance schemes. Second, the extent to which producers are likely to adopt the requirements as a matter of principle rather than financial expediency. For an assurance scheme to work successfully, producers must not only be committed to the overall principles but must also be able to implement the requirements with enthusiasm, knowing they will be fairly rewarded for their efforts.

To have 314 separate standards to which to adhere, as with one scheme for egg production (page 42 of the report), is an insult to the concept and in our opinion is a guarantee of frustration and failure. The minutiae of too many schemes result in penalising producers with irrelevant and costly requirements.

The FAWC report welcomes the perceived ability of food retailers to change the requirements of their assurance schemes in response to new information on animal welfare (page 28). While recognising the positive implications of this flexibility, resulting changes can also be driven by the desire for a competitive marketing edge. Animal welfare is then regrettably subsumed by marketing ambition to the detriment of both the animal and the producer.

All assurance schemes must encompass the ethical principles of stockmanship which underpin livestock production. These must be a clearly detailed by the FAWC in the final report.

Dr Mike Wilkinson

School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds.Rev Dr Gordon GatwardArthur Rank Centre, NAC, Stoneleigh, Warwks.

Grim prospects for family farms

I welcome the policy commission taking a long, constructive look at the future of farming and food and reporting to the government by Dec 31. But I fear the prospects for small and medium family farms are at best grim.

That is evident by the members of the commission. Two out of 10 are farmers and one is an organic producer representing a tiny percentage of UK farmers and food production. Nevertheless, he is a thousand times more qualified than the chairman of the telecommunications company. And why the RSPBs presence is required when organisations such as the NFU have no seat is beyond me.

The commission also includes food retailers who Mr Blair said have British agriculture in an arm lock. Have these people the best interest of English farming at heart? They do not even have the sustainability of English food production at heart.

Their remit is "to advise the government on how we can create a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector which contributes to a thriving and sustainable rural economy, advances environmental, economic, health and animal welfare goals and is consistent with governments aims for CAP reform, enlargement of the EU and increased trade liberalisation".

We already have a diverse farming and food sector, which contributes to a thriving and sustainable rural economy. Our environmental credentials could do with improvement but we have the highest animal welfare standards in Europe, if not the world. So the first part of the sentence is rhetoric to mask the last part, which is the death knell for small and medium family farmers.

Government aims for CAP reform. It does need reform but not to disadvantage English farmers even more. Mrs Beckett has called for the abolition of milk quotas, an end to compulsory set-aside, combined with a downward adjustment of cereal prices. It would benefit food production but have big ramifications for farmers incomes.

The enlargement of the EU, with increased trade liberalisation, is a thinly coded message. It tells UK farmers we are going to make you redundant, because your produce is too expensive. We can easily import it from the heavily subsidised new entrants to the EU from eastern Europe.

That scenario will come to pass in the next decade. Should I emigrate now or have I made a monumental error of judgement?

Alan Marshall

School Lane Farm, Chilsworthy, Holsworthy, Devon.

Why is hunting not resuming?

People with dogs and horses can come from anywhere in the country to use the rights of way which cross our land. Although they may have come from a foot-and-mouth infected area and they may be passing through fields in which there is stock, we farmers have no control over the situation.

We are not, however, permitted to decide to allow hunting to resume on our land. Despite the fact that this could be regulated and restricted to local people, to date no indication has been given as to when we will be free to choose whether we request this service or not.

Can the DEFRA ministers, who by coincidence, I am sure, oppose hunting, explain this?

Mrs J Lovelace

Honeypuddle, Piddlehinton, Dorchester, Dorset.

Inquire before more slaughter

I note from a recent FWi newsletter the information: "Animals from the Beef Assurance Scheme herds are accepted as carrying less risk of BSE than other cattle, because they were not given the sort of feed thought to have caused the BSE epidemic."

Perhaps the science is wrong and Mr Purdey and his OP/mineral theory should be investigated further. His website can be found at http://www.purdeyenvironment.comThe investigation should take place before the decision is taken to slaughter many more millions of sheep on a whim.

Joyce Ross

27, Locheport, Isle of North Uist, Scotland.

BCMS needs biology lessons

I read with great interest Mr Gordon Capsticks article (Livestock, Sept 28) about his late-calving suckler cows, taking the bull early and gaining precious time.

I have experienced this wonder of nature and have had cows take the bull within 30 days of calving. But how joy can turn into disappointment when applying for a passport!

Perhaps a quick lesson on the bodily functions of a cow should be offered in the Cumbrian office of the British Cattle Movement Service.

A &#42 Grant & Sons

Warren Hill Farm, Hotham, York.

Are Norwegians cracking up?

On a recent visit to Norway, I was interested to see in the countryside many small fields over which were scattered large cylindrical bales of hay wrapped in white plastic sheeting. I have, of course, seen the same thing here in the UK. But I was amused when my Norwegian colleagues who work with me in the marine industry told me that in Norway they call them tractor eggs.

Tony Harris

European manager, Liferaft Systems Australia.

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