Archive Article: 2002/03/29

29 March 2002

Failed to learn F&M lessons

When arriving recently in New Zealand all visitors were required to complete a declaration form indicating if they have been on farmland or following country pursuits. In the airport terminal building prominent signs indicated that, in order to keep the country free from transmissible diseases, it was a serious offence to enter that country with plant or animal materials.

Amnesty bins were available for visitors to dispose of any materials or foodstuffs. There followed an inspection by Ministry of Agriculture personnel and being British farmers, our luggage was inspected and our shoes were taken away for compulsory sterilisation. Finally, there was the usual customs inspection. The same procedure was experienced on entering the Cook Islands and the US during our return journey.

On arrival back at Heathrow I was appalled to discover that we were not required to complete any declaration form, there were no warning signs, no amnesty bins and no DEFRA procedures. On passing through the customs hall, there were no customs officers. There was, therefore, no barrier to prevent visitors entering this country with infected animal or plant material from anywhere in the world.

British consumers can be reassured to know that, in the wake of salmonella, BSE, and foot-and-mouth, Britains farmers have adopted the most stringent practices in the world to ensure that British food is second to none for food safety standards.

But all that seems pointless if the governments lax border controls continue to leave British livestock and consumers so carelessly exposed to the risk of imported diseases. Having failed to learn even the most basic lessons from the F&M tragedy this government is again displaying either gross incompetence, gross negligence or both.

Richard Ashworth

Mangerton House, Mangerton, Bridport, Dorset.

Ban hunting, ban choice

Congratulations on an excellent editorial (Opinion, Mar 15). I have never felt the urge to comment on anything printed in a magazine before. But I feel country dwellers are fast becoming the latest ethnic minority especially if they like to maintain countryside traditions.

I may not feel the urge to leap on my horse and follow hounds, but I would still like to be given the choice to do so if I wished. If the ban on hunting is brought in the countryside will be a much poorer place without it and its supporters.

Rosemarie Lewis

Talk to all not just our own

I support hunting but dismissing animal welfare concerns does not further anyones cause (Opinion, Mar 15). Fox hunting and hunting interests knew there would be this threat yet only preach to the converted. Do we see articles on hunting in womens magazines? No – they appear only in sympathetic magazines. How can we further our cause unless we talk to everyone on hunting?

The best argument is for people to realise that those who hunt are decent, caring individuals who have pet cats and dogs and do care for animal welfare. To alienate fox hunters from animal welfare issues is to play into the anti-hunt brigades hands.

Beatrix Potter was a realist. You have only to read about Jemima Puddle Duck and the Foxy Coloured Gentleman to know she understood that nature is red in tooth and claw.

Your comments about animal welfare are typical of the arguments that will cause fox hunting to be lost forever. Lets try talking to people and putting our case in a reasonable fashion.

Liz Wright

Address supplied.

Beatrix Potter is an example

Although I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments put across in your leading article (Opinion, Mar 15), I must take exception at your reference to Beatrix Potter.

As anyone who has read her childrens tales will verify, Beatrix Potter never shied away from the truth of rural living. Later in her life as Mrs Heelis, she farmed vast areas of the Lake District. She would be horrified to see how the governments handling of foot-and-mouth has ravaged her beloved Cumbria.

On her death she bequeathed over 4000 acres of Lakeland to the National Trust. Her interest in farming, understanding of the rural way of life, and her childrens stories bear more scrutiny than you have given. Her example is to be followed, not lumped together with "namby-pamby animal welfare."

Mrs Heidi Sands

Braehead, Elchies, Craigellachie, Aberlour, Moray.

Hunting vote in manifesto

I read with disbelief your criticism (Opinion, Mar 15) of the government regarding hunting. I am far from being a government supporter but fair is fair.

It was in Labours manifesto that hunting would be subject to legislation and the Labour government can hardly be criticised for carrying out a manifesto commitment. As far as freedom of choice is concerned, surely it is the essence of democracy that the minority abide by the wishes of the majority.

Many who have lived all their lives in the countryside including myself find hunting with hounds abhorrent.

Our grandchildren will probably look back and rank hunting alongside bear and bull baiting and wonder that it ever happened in a civilised society.

John Gandy

The Paddocks, Alne, York.

Light lambs, heavy cost

I congratulate Frank Langrish for his eminently sensible letter (Mar 15) about live sheep exports. Mr Peter Stevenson, Compassion in World Farming, who wrote a letter for publication (Feb 22) could learn a lot from it.

Mr Stevenson claimed: "Last year UK supermarkets successfully sold the light lambs which are usually exported live to southern Europe, to UK consumers." That statement is misleading. It is well known that thousands of potential light lambs were destroyed along with their mothers in the foot-and-mouth cull and I am informed by the Intervention Board that 525,140 lambs were destroyed in the £10 a head Light Lamb Scheme.

Robert Savery,

Lincombe, Diptford, Totnes, Devon.

Optimism must be blinding us

After a week driving miles to collect cattle to re-start my pedigree herd, having lost all my stock to foot-and-mouth, I have paused to reflect that contrary to the perceived notion that farmers are pessimistic, we must be the most optimistic people around.

But it does not look promising with the news that DEFRAs interim contingency plan for dealing with a future F&M epidemic still insists that slaughter not vaccination will be the method of control. There is also the governments hastily concocted Animal Health Bill which gives DEFRA the power to enter any farm and slaughter all stock. And meat, both legally and illegally imported, still flows unimpeded into this country from areas of the world where F&M is endemic.

Add the disturbing thought that if another epidemic hit this country the same ignorant, yet arrogant, people who so mishandled the last epidemic both nationally and locally would be those in charge of operations again. Obviously we are letting optimism triumph over experience.

Carolyn Fletcher

Barwise Aberdeen Angus, CS Fletcher, Barwise Hall, Appleby-In-Westmorland.

F&M epidemic truth will out

So the courts have decided there is no need to hold a full public enquiry into the governments handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic. I think many of those involved felt this was a foregone conclusion. There have been too many mistakes made for the government to risk exposing the full scandal of its chaotic handling of the epidemic.

Thanks must go to Mr Persey and Burges Salmon and all those people who have tried so valiantly to get matters brought into the open. I have no doubt that the truth will come to light one day. Unfortunately, this is of little satisfaction to those of us who lost animals last year and who are still struggling to make a living.

Caroline Cooper

Interest groups not anti-NFU

I write to support Guy Smiths contention (Letters, Mar 8) that individual, single interest groups representing specific sectors of our industry are not necessarily a breakaway from, or an attack on, the NFU.

The National Sheep Association started life over 100 years ago, pre-dating the NFU, as a federation of sheep breed societies to represent them on matters of mutual interest. About 30 years ago its scope was widened to embrace the whole of the sheep industry by accepting individual membership from commercial sheep farmers.

Since then, although there have been some healthy debates at times with other organisations, including the NFU, the two organisations enjoy a cordial relationship. Last year we elected Lord Plumb as president of NSA, previously a highly successful NFU president.

I have been chairman of the NSAs council as well as holding NFU office at local level and found no conflict. At staff level, NSA chief executive, John Thorley, enjoys a friendly relationship with his opposite numbers in the NFU and other organisations which are invaluable in presenting properly thought through responses on behalf of all Britains sheep farmers.

A single interest group can act as a catalyst to get all interested parties together for mutual benefit. As a small, but fully focused organisation, the NSA has direct access to sheep farmers and can give informed responses to burning questions of the day at short notice if necessary. The cereal sector would surely benefit from a similar group.

John Brigg

Vice-president NSA.

Walston talks, the talk, but…

The reason Oliver Walston should be chucked out of the NFU (Letters, Mar 15) is because, in these difficult times, it cant afford to support dehydrated members. That is, those who say what they think without thinking what they say.

His 2000-acre farm is the same size as when he inherited it. So where would he be now, had it been 124 acres (the size of the average UK farm)? Either struggling to survive or probably bankrupt. What is certain, is that he would not be saying the silly things he does in public. He is sitting on £5.5m and only gets 2% return (not counting the EU hand outs). Like actors, magicians and sheepdogs, Oliver Walston is clever, but not intelligent, a facet which requires a good decision-making ability. What he is good at is talking, not doing.

George Scales

Scales Farms, Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Scummy foam but not a NVZ

Alan Monckton (Talking Point, Mar 1) claims that government ministers refused to designate the River Ythan as a nitrate vulnerable zone "because it was not eutrophic". I would be interested to know how the government ministers reached their decision.

Every time I visit the estuary, in an otherwise beautiful area, there is scummy brown foam washing into the sea. Eutrophication is an excess of any nutrient, not just phosphate. Research on the Ythan has shown that total oxidised nitrogen in the estuary has increased fivefold since the 1960s (see: Long term nutrient enrichment of an estuarine system – Ythan, Scotland 1958-1993, PW MacDonald, A Pugh and K Edwards, AC Environmental Pollution).

It is hard to believe that this has not had an effect on the local ecosystem.

Ian Sanders

3 Elmbank Road, Aberdeen.

NVZ grant aid explanation

I should be grateful for the opportunity to clarify a point made in your article Manures will have to be stored until its safe to spread (Livestock, Mar 1).

The article says: "Applications (for grant aid under the Farm Waste Grant Scheme, on manure storage facilities) can also be made retrospectively." We believe your contributor meant to suggest that farmers who are in the existing Nitrate Vulnerable Zones may still make claims for grant aid under the scheme. That is correct as regards eligible works carried out by farmers from Apr 17, 1996, the date of designation of the existing zones.

Farmers should also be aware that all applications must be made retrospectively. DEFRA cannot provide grant aid in advance of expenditure on eligible works.

Farmers should obtain a copy of the explanatory booklet on the scheme which will provide more advice and help to ensure any expenditure commited meets the schemes eligibility criteria.

The scheme cannot grant aid expenditure incurred, or committed to, before a farm business is in a designated NVZ. We, therefore, advise farmers who think their farm may in due course fall within the extended NVZ, and become eligible for grant, to obtain a copy of the booklet and, for now, just plan ahead.

The booklet is titled NVZ 1 – Farm Waste Grant Scheme. It is coded PB 2529 and is available free from DEFRA Publications, Admail 6000, London, SW1A 2XX (0845-955 6000).

Caron Britton

Pollution Minimisation and Business Advice Branch, Land Management Improvement Division, DEFRA, Area 4/D Ergon House, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London.

BS closing its plants anyway

I refer to Andrew Stodarts suggestion (Letters, Mar 15) that growers should not plant sugar beet this year and push British Sugar into receivership allowing growers to buy the factories at knock down values. Although most growers will share his feelings of frustration at the arrogant attitude of BS during the past campaign, his suggestion is impractical.

First, growers are contracted to grow the crop many months before planting time. Second, most factories stand on land which if closed could be redeveloped for industrial use or even residential development.

In my view, no doubt shared by many others, BS has already embarked on the closure programme of all beet processing factories in the UK. If the company continues to operate in the UK or EU, it will be to refine cane sugar imported to a big new refinery built at one of the large ports. More likely, it will relocate its operations to cane producing countries, where labour and other costs are much lower.

Once the current sugar regime ends and the Anything but Arms policy is adopted in the EU in three years time, beet growing will become even more uneconomic.

Witness, the fiasco of incompetent management at most beet factories this last processing campaign. Even after nearly 100 years of UK beet processing, BS has tried to persuade growers that processing problems resulted from a sudden change in the constitution of beet.

Most growers realise these facts and that growing beet in increasingly wet climate, for a monopoly company, will shortly become unviable.

In that situation growers or contractors would be mad to invest in any harvesting or equipment solely for beet.

J Wright

Riverview, Toad Row, Henstead, Beccles.

What about our profits?

As we know, British Sugar is closing factories and extending the length of its processing campaign to increase its own efficiency and profitability.

As a result the grower now has to start harvesting beet earlier, while crops are still growing. They are also forced to store more of the crop for considerably longer directly reducing efficiency.

Can the NFU explain why it has agreed to these plans which result in a real increase in our costs and reduction in our profitability only to increase further the profits of British Sugar?

A J W Ryman

The Manor Farm, Wall, Lichfield, Staffs.

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