Archive Article: 2001/11/16

16 November 2001

Inquiry was rightly in public view

The recent inquiry into the outbreak of foot-and-mouth in Devon shows how such a crisis can be fully investigated in public with integrity.

The three government inquiries must be held in public with full public participation so that everyone involved in this disaster can have confidence in the findings.

Graham Beeson

Beesons, 72 Railway Street, Hertford.

Closed doors never help

I must congratulate and thank Prof Ian Mercer and his colleagues for their report on the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Devon. Never have I heard so much common sense in such a short time, by people who are willing to listen to the people affected.

It is a great injustice that government cannot follow suit and have a full, public inquiry. Many farmers and stock keepers lost their lifes work, others have spent months under form D notices. They have been unable to sell stock, move them to shelter or buy fodder to feed them. That has put unbearable strains on thousands of people. When politicians say they understand what farmers are going through and give us sympathy and crocodile tears, it makes my blood boil.

What is the government hoping to achieve with three inquiries behind closed doors? They are designed to conceal and mislead in a surreptitious and shameful manner. The government will not address the proper policing of our ports. We need to outlaw personal imports of meat and dairy products, adopt stringent controls at the ports of entry, the same as we experience when entering other F&M free agricultural nations. To his credit Prof Mercer hit the nail squarely on the head.

He also mentioned the state veterinary service should be restored to a level which would enable it to respond to future outbreaks more effectively. From the start MAFF was overwhelmed, with too few vets to contain the disease.

Now the most arrogant of ministers Elliott Morley accuses farmers of being parochial and of transmitting the disease. He had his chance to speak his mind at the Devon inquiry but chickened out. If he cannot stand up to cross-examination about his actions, he should not lecture us. Churchill once remarked: "Some chicken, some neck." But in Mr Morleys case, its some neck, some chicken.

Alan Marshall

School Lane Farm, Chilsworthy, Holsworthy, Devon.

Not the F&M report, but OK

Having just read Private Eyes "Not the foot and mouth report" special edition, I could readily commend it to anyone. While in no way a substitute for the full public inquiry most of us seek, the report gives not only a concise chronicling of events, but perhaps more importantly outlines the agendas of those behind the actions.

Why, for example, has the government been so reluctant to reveal that decisions on the testing, culling, disposal and compensation of livestock have been largely driven by EU policy? Clearly someone with whom to share the blame would have been most welcome.

David Holman

Burton Overy Grange, Burton Overy, Leics.

British bacon that wasnt

While doing my weekly shopping I was pleased to find some British bacon on the shelf. It said British on the front of the packet, so into the basket it went.

To my horror, when I turned the packet over I read that it was packed in the UK and was the product of EU countries.

How misleading. After inspecting other meat products, I found that Aberdeen-Angus sausages produced in Scotland contained castings made from imported beef. I was under the impression that country of origin should be shown clearly on goods.

I try to do my bit by buying British and feel conned by this shops method of packaging. It would seem that what you see isnt necessarily what you get.

Deborah Hayes

Gardeners Cottage, Whatton Estate, Long Whatton, Loughborough.

French milk hard to swallow

I have not felt the need to write to your Letters Section before, even though we read them every week. But after my husband and some of his farming friends attended an NFU sponsored Health and Safety Event at Morton Morrell College I had to write on their behalf. At the refreshment interlude they were disgusted to see French milk and cream supplied to add to their tea or coffee.

Isnt farming in a bad enough state without French milk and cream being served at a function that should have supported British farming to the hilt, not insult them like this?

Sue Dowling

Napton Holt Farm, Welsh Road East, Southam, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

PM, you are weakest link…

The misconception that farmers produce beef adds confusion to the issue of livestock marketing. Farmers do not produce beef, they produce live cattle and the only marketing outlet farmers have is through a slaughterhouse.

Farmers have little opportunity to improve marketing as the price offered to farmers by different slaughterhouses can be measured in pence. The common denominator is that they all pay the farmer about half the true cost of production.

Supermarkets dominate about 70% of the meat market and concede that they attain a 3% return on meat sales. That sounds reasonable until you consider that meat sells on or before the day the supermarkets pays its suppliers. That represents an annual return of over 1000% on operational capital. Not a commonly accepted concept of a fair and reasonable return.

The Prime Minister recognised that the supermarkets have an "arm lock" on farmers prices. He also misses few opportunities to assert that his government is honourable, fair and just, with ministries in place to accomplish these principles, including a Monopolies Commission, an Office of Fair Trading, a Food Standards Agency and even a Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Indefensibly there appears little evidence that any of them, individually or collectively, functions in a way that implements a just and fair return to farmers.

Prime Minister, your government ministers are the weakest link – goodbye!

P J Johnston

Tolmennor Farm, Breage, Helston, Cornwall.

Philistines try to sell heritage

We should all take heart from the latest political mini-fiasco concerning the proposed sale and subsequent withdrawal of some unappreciated national treasures publicised recently. We may take heart from this situation because the philistinism that has become such a feature of our ruling classes obviously manifests itself across a wider arc than mere agriculture alone.

The wholesale lack of appreciation for either our culture or heritage that is demonstrated by HM Treasury attempting to sell, as an "underperforming asset", a unique set of William 111 silver, originally commissioned by the Treasury in the late 17th century, was exposed by an outcry from the art fraternity.

Having belatedly been forced to wake up to this little piece of latter day vandalism, the Treasury sought to make amends by withdrawing the items from sale.

But because this was done very late in the day, the auctioneers levied their legitimate penalty fees, and this penalty has exceeded the sale price of the remaining items that were sold, leaving the nation the poorer, not better off.

As the young turks who organised this stunning piece of asset realisation raced for the emergency exit, they had another trick up their sleeve; they offered to sell the items to the museums instead. Here too, a banana skin awaited our unhappy administrative experts. Museums pointed out that it is not possible for them to use public assets to buy items already in public ownership. The resolution to this affair appears to be that the Treasury will now be gifting these heirlooms to the nation, but only after having been exposed as being somewhat lacking in grey matter.

Exactly what brains have scientists been erroneously examining for the past two years in their aborted BSE research, funded by £217,000 of government money? In the light of the above, are we quite sure we have yet been told the full truth?

A J T Carter

Kings Farm, Foxes Lane, West Wellow, Romsey, Hants.

CJD not caused by meat eating

It is time that the "experts" came clean and admitted that there has never been a case where a sufferer from CJD has contracted the disease through the consumption of either beef or sheep meat.

There is indisputable evidence that the incidence of CJD is caused by a genetic weakness in certain families. The fact that CJD has cropped up in certain communities suggests a relationship between the patients that only a DNA test would reveal.

Frank Homfray

Penllyn Estate Farm, Llwynhelig, Cowbridge, Vale of Glamorgan.

TB leaflet is a despairing read

Cattle farmers will have received recently from DEFRA revelations of unprecedented magnitude in its Action Leaflet TB In Cattle Reducing the Risk. On page 4, headed Spread from Wildlife, it is revealed that the latest scientific opinion is that while badgers are a source of TB infection in cattle, if the badgers in your area are not infected with TB, then they cannot pass TB on to your cattle.

That will be of great consolation to all of us who cannot sleep at night for fear of passing on all the contagious diseases we do not have on to our nearest and dearest. This government ministry is the outfit that will have the right to walk on our farms and wipe out our livestock without right of denial. Any more for the revolution?

Pat Rickett

The Juniper Herd, Wood Farm, Everdon, Daventry, Northants.

BS and Great Beet Robbery

Another problem with British Sugar. It expects 20% more beet for 20% less money. What does it think it is? Does it believe that we are miracle workers?

Why were those comments not made before Oct 15? They might have swayed people to sell more quotas, myself included. British Sugar keeps our money from April to November.

We missed out on our September bonus because the factory didnt open until October, meaning no payments until Nov 20. If they want rid of us why not say so and allow us to move on to something else.

As for leaving 20m undrilled headlands, it would spoil our rotation and spread beet all over. We need to pay 20% less for seed and get 20% more for A&B quota beet. If that is to be its attitude, we should pull the plug by not growing any more beet in another five years. Its better to be on the dole than allow them to rob us.

J Cook, North Yorks grower

Address supplied.

GM blockers hit EUs reputation

I would like to clarify the remarks attributed to me in the article "EUs GM crop licensing ban looks likely to stay" (Business, Nov 2). There is considerable resentment among many EU organisations and in the UK at the continued refusal of six member states to withdraw their "illegal" ban on all biotech approvals.

That resentment has understandably triggered calls from some groups for legal action either to the European Court of Justice or the World Trade Organisation. Indeed, legal action is just as likely to come from the European Commission as from any outside organisation or company.

Environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom has made little secret of her impatience with the member states concerned and reiterated more than once that there is no legal justification for the ban. The approach of the American Soybean Association, its chief executive officer and its office here in Brussels on this issue is to urge constructive and open dialog which is the antithesis of some of the more bellicose voices heard on both sides of the continent.

The plans put forward by the Commission to bring in the new authorisation rules agreed by the EU council and parliament under the existing authorisation directive are workable and practical. The arbitrary rejection by the blocking member states of a sensible solution to this issue shows a marked lack of consideration of the damage being done to the EUs reputation for conciliation and the rule of the law.

Hans J Hoyer

On course for rural leadership

I was interested to read your article (News, Oct 26) in which Lord Haskins warned that conflict between farmers and environmentalists threatens the future of the countryside.

Heated but professional discourse with pressure groups such as Compassion in World Farming, GMO and organic protagonists, and media training are all part of the Leadership course held annually at the

University of Plymouth – Seale-Hayne campus.

The course, sponsored by the London Livery Company – the Worshipful Company of Farmers, includes a series of controversial sections including the role of acting, supermarkets and co-operation in strategic rural leadership.

We are preparing to welcome farmers, farm managers and those in allied industries on to the sixth Challenge of Rural Leadership course held at the University of Plymouth – Seale-Hayne campus.

The comment that "It was appalling that farmers were not taught media skills and courses should be introduced…" is also highly relevant. We have taken this seriously, public relations experts and national media editors, including FWs Stephen Howe, are regular contributors to the programme. Also incorporated are the skills of speaking to an autocue and taking part in Paxman-style TV interviews in a professional TV studio and outside broadcast interviews.

Overseas enquiries this year have also risen showing the international extent of the problem and we welcome participants from the Czech Republic and Germany in a few weeks time.

We understand Lord Haskins comments and will continue to try to help create further understanding between the farming community and others with a stake in the countryside.

Richard Soffe

Course director, The Challenge of Rural Leadership, University of Plymouth, Seale-Hayne campus, Devon.

Soissons is ideal for late sowing

I note from your recent article "Feed wheats being the best bet for late sowing" (Arable, Oct 12) that NIABs Richard Fenwick is quoted as saying that he would "avoid Hereward, Soissons and Paragon as they havent performed in late drilled trials".

We would strongly disagree with this and believe that Soissons, with its low vernalisation and very quick early spring growth, is an ideal variety for late sowing. Where a farmer is growing both feed and milling wheats, it is usually better to sow the milling wheats later when overall yield potential is lower. Therefore the yield difference between feed and milling varieties is smaller and the premium on milling wheats becomes more valuable.

RH Miles

Elsoms Seeds, Spalding, Lincs.

We all rely on supermarkets

I hear on BBC Radio Four that Patrick Holden is disappointed with the returns organic growers receive from supermarkets and how it is impossible to produce goods at below production costs. Welcome to the real world Patrick; we conventional growers have been at it for years.

Like organic growers, we embraced supermarkets as our salvation. Once they had us hooked, and after we neglected our traditional outlets, they turned the screw. Like us, you will learn to live with them. Although hard taskmasters, supermarkets will allow you to make a profit provided you supply what they want.

Organic growers are at a disadvantage because the only marketing tool they have is the organic name. Despite what Patrick says, price is a big issue for the organic movement because consumers will not pay a large premium for organic produce.

Neither is taste an issue. Taste varies with varieties; not with the way they are produced and that has been proved often in experiments. I wish him well negotiating with the supermarkets. If he is successful I shall be hanging on his coat-tail for an improved slice of the cake.

Paul Drinkwater

Farm manager, Worlick Farm, The Estate Office, Grange Farm, Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon, Cambs.

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