9 October 1998


Thanks to all of you at Blackpool

I want to thank personally all the 10,000 farmers and their families who joined the farmers rally and march at Blackpool on Sunday, Sept 27 at the start of the Labour Party conference. Farmers arrived from all four corners of the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Following speeches from leaders of all the countrys farmers unions, agriculture minister Nick Brown spoke, offering farmers encouragement, co-operation and the promise of real help.

Can I thank all who came to Blackpool for their good humour and patience. Regrettably, the march was delayed several times by the police, principally because of the delayed Unison march on which an elderly lady had suffered a heart attack outside the Labour Party conference at the Winter Gardens.

I, and leaders from the other farmers unions, met Nick Brown on Sunday evening to lay before him farmers concerns, including the strength of sterling, high interest rates, unfair competition from abroad, agri-money compensation and the need to bring confidence and a floor to our markets. He promised to pursue these concerns immediately with colleagues in government and I am hopeful of tangible results in the near future.

Was the day a success? Unquestionably yes. That we achieved all of this was due entirely to all those who participated. Again, thank you.

Ben Gill

President, National Farmers Union, Agriculture House, 164 Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

Quality behind poor pork sales

Once again the pig industry is in the depths of despair with each pig sold for slaughter losing producers a considerable sum. The real problem is consumers reluctance to purchase pork due to its poor eating qualities. Consumer resistance is nothing to do with price and nothing to do with fat content.

On a visit to several supermarkets this week, I took special note of what meat customers were buying and the prices they were prepared to pay. Lamb chops were selling readily at £10.99/kg while at the same time pork chops were hanging fire at £2.99/kg. Bone-in leg of lamb was priced at £6.49/kg and boneless leg of pork at £2.55/kg.

Thats an indication that something is radically wrong with most of the "synthetic" pork produced today.

The British pig industry has been dominated for years by a few breeding companies which have aimed to breed pigs that cost less to produce and they achieved that. But their product is unacceptable to much of the meat-eating public.

Some of the breeding companies have deliberately used strains of pigs carrying the stress factor that is said to have improved the lean meat content (more muscle). But it is well known that pigs carrying the stress gene produce wet pork that is invariably tough and tasteless.

Industry observers estimate that as many as 33% of UK slaughtered pigs now carry the stress gene. So its no surprise that the eating quality of pig meat has deteriorated in recent years.

Fortunately, we have in the UK several of the old traditional breeds – Berkshire, Middle White, Tamworth, etc – that do produce pork of excellent quality. If more of our traditional British pig breeds were used in commercial pig breeding programmes, we would improve not only the eating qualities of pork but would attract many more customers.

Jack Howlett

6 Moatside, Anstey, Buntingford, Herts.

Labour doesnt want farmers

While sitting in my chair, waiting to go into hospital to have a hip operation, a friend gave me some farmers weeklys to read. Having been in farming since I left the Coldstream Guards in 1946, I have never known the industry in such a state.

The Labour government doesnt want farmers. And pig farmers might as well close their businesses. I used to have a large pig enterprise and as soon as we got some money we put it back into the business. My son is fed up because there seems to be nothing he can do to make any money.

Having retired after working for more than 50 years, and looking after the bit of money we managed to save, I wonder now what I have worked for. Perhaps things may change for the better by the year 2000.

J Quinney

Jubilee Bungalow, Burnthurst Lane, Princethorpe, Nr Rugby, Warks.

Farm Assured needs trademark

Budgens supermarket is selling "Quality Farm Assured Pork" imported from Belgium. I was told by a supermarket manager that it is reared outdoors without the use of meat and bone meal.

But many questions remain. Whos assurance scheme is it and what standards are employed? What is the definition of outdoor reared in Belgium? Is it not time that the term farm assured was trademarked so that it can be used only for UK produce? Why dont Budgens display clearly that it is imported either on the label or on the shelf?

Michael J Raw

All agriculture is unsustainable

Paul Farmer (Letters, Sept 18) asks: What is meant by sustainable? It is the returning of digestive wastes to the soil to compensate for the value of the plant food taken in order to maintain the balance of nature?

The principle of farming at all levels is to grow grasses for raising livestock and to grow crops. That is purely for the benefit of mankind and excludes other life forms which may impede that process.

Even at its most primitive level, agriculture is unsustainable because it destroys the balance of nature. In the west, it is much more unsustainable because little human waste gets put back in the soil. But it is not unsustainable agriculture that is the major problem, or even BSE, CJD, E-coli or salmonella. They and farmers are easy targets. In total, annual farm-related deaths nowhere near match those caused by road traffic, from smoking or from overeating.

The unsustainable aspect that single-issue protesters should concentrate on in the developed world is the using up of limited natural resources. In the third world, it is over-population.

George Scales

Cobblers Pieces, Abbess Roding, Ongar, Essex.

Land husbandry based on science

Following your correspondence from Mr Crisp (Letters, Aug 28), I should like to point out that scientific criteria are always applied to our investigations and debates on sustainable farming. Students are encouraged to critically evaluate all information, whatever the source.

There is good evidence, though, for both hedgerow loss and decline of farmland breeding birds, based on surveys by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology and the British Trust for Ornithology, respectively.

Soil organic matter certainly declines and reaches an equilibrium value following a change to arable management. For the past 20 years, however, researchers have reported adverse effects on soil stability and other physical properties when this equilibrium level is too low.

It is also true that excessive nitrogen applications, whether in organic or inorganic form, will encourage leaching. An adequate level of relatively stable humus, however, can on the contrary stabilise granular structure, improve water holding capacity, promote vigorous rooting and increase efficiency of nutrient uptake and minimise leaching loss. It can also protect against a major threat to productivity – soil erosion.

Big yield increases since 1945 have resulted mainly from improved crop varieties and increased fertiliser inputs. Thats an undoubted success story for Western technology and the farmers who apply it. Such methods will not sustain yields world wide, however, unless the soil erosion threat is tackled. Evidence is accumulating from all over the world, even including the UK, of serious erosion problems.

Farmers are in the forefront of finding a way to maintain soil and water quality, prevent soil erosion, encourage natural pest control, and sustain crop yields. LEAF farmers, ESA farmers, Countryside Stewardship farmers, Tir Cymen farmers, organic farmers, Conservation Grade farmers and many others are in their varied way pioneering improved land husbandry. There are no perfect answers, but it would be foolhardy to pretend that there are no problems.

Geoff Ramshaw

Hartpury College, Hartpury, Glos.

Sustainable milk prices?

Some milk producers are getting 29p/litre for milk, using sustainable methods, so they say. At that price it must be sustainable in any language but if the price is not sustained the system will be no more sustainable than the present situation. Mr Farmer (Letters, Sept 18) and I are at cross purposes; if he is in favour of cutting inputs to a minimum I am with him all the way.

But surely integrated systems are unsustainable by definition, since chemicals are used?

G G A Crisp

Le Mesnil de Benneville, Cahagnes, 14240 France.

Rights of way dont stand up

Your correspondent Clive Bostle (Letters, Sept 18) must lead a sheltered life if he believes inspectors are impartial and objective.

Mr P Dansfield is 100% correct. I know of three cases that would not stand close investigation. One right of way was put on the definitive map without being gazetted or advertised. Another appeared in a report as a footpath because the tithe maps and records showed it so, but it was switched to a bridleway by the inspector using a report which had been rewritten, but kept from the landholder.

Third, when it was never possible for other than walkers to use it, as they still do. Nevertheless an inspector called it a bridleway and by ambiguous wording attempted to override the 1980 Highway Act S31 by giving riders an 800m detour in the opposite direction while walkers and ramblers still used the footpath.

The case was taken to the High Court, but because of bad legal advice was taken under section 54 instead of 53, as the learned judge said he could not quash it. But he did prevent the overriding of the 1980 Highway Act by confining them to the definitive line. He also denied the county council their costs.

The council then issued an order to me to build two horse bridges (costing thousands of £) within 14 days. Bear in mind no horse has ever been able to use this right of way, even to this day. My letter to the council asking which law compels landholders to build horse bridges for commercial bodies on a route that has never been used by a horse remains unanswered.

&#42 R Parry

Hope Valley, Minsterley, Shropshire.

Evidence proves inspector views

Thank you for printing the letter (Sept 18) from Clive Bostle criticising my views (Letters, Jul 31) about the integrity of inspectors. Mr Bostle should have asked to see the evidence. Others have and are satisfied I am right.

It may interest readers to know that the Countryside Commission has decided to tell parliament that local councils are to have the final say in all S53 and S54 cases. My view is that all these cases must be heard in the local county court, by the judge in open court, as matters of law without costs to any party.

P Dransfield

North Yorkshire House, Main Street, Great Heck, Nr Goole.

BSE science far from impartial

The sheep scare has resurrected the issues outstanding with BSE in a manner which should prove salutary. Conspiracy theories abound but it is common sense to take them with a pinch of salt.

Only one response is apposite.

We should get the science right and dispose of the junk science Ms MacDonald (Letters, Sept 25) complains of.

A scientific theory and the evidence for it remain anecdotal and are therefore disregarded by scientists until backed by experimental results.

But these experiments are controlled by the funded governmental and commercial bodies with proper laboratory facilities and staff. All are clearly subject to lobbying. It is worth repeating yet again that the experiments relied on to implicate meat and bone meal and beef as infective have been shown to be flawed. They all used infected raw whole brain homogenate to challenge transgenic mice. Their aim was merely to establish that the disorder could cross the inter species boundary.

But that disqualifies the results as evidence for the infective MBM (prion) theory because the homogenate will have contained the hormones and enzymes as well as any prions present. So the results in fact equally well support the artificial hormone (OP) theory. The science behind the prion theory is also problematic. Yet it is these results the Royal Society still rely on to this day as overwhelming evidence for the infectivity of prions. You can also use the epidemiology – the incidence of BSE – which matches the warble fly douching of cattle better than it does eating MBM, to put the OP theory ahead.

The clincher would be to challenge the transgenic mice with infected rendered MBM instead of the raw whole brain homogenate.

Such tests in the USA are reported to have proved negative. Mark Purdey has also drawn attention to wild species in Canada with the TSE after forests were sprayed with OPs. They were fed no MBMs.

The All Party Parliamentary Group chaired by Paul Tyler is to inject some practical policy into the debate in the House of Commons by underlining the need for these crucial experiments and calling for their funding. What is at stake is whether youngsters continue to die horribly because the cause of their disorder is identified wrongly.

Lord Walsingham

The Hassocks, Merton, Thetford, Norfolk.

TV adverts can boost milk price

I keep reading in farmers weekly about the Milk Development Councils views about producing more milk on our farms. But it neglects the sales of milk. Its well known that if any commodity is over-produced the price drops.

Why doesnt it spend more time and cash advertising milk on TV to increase prices.

Farmers are well educated in milk production. Because its their living, they study proteins whether bought or grown, for cheaper milk production.

It costs £30,000 per minute to advertise on TV so I think many five second adverts could be afforded easily bearing in mind the million £s it was given six months ago.

What would sell more bottled milk would be different adverts each day along the lines of: Milk is the only bottled drink which has calcium, necessary for growing strong bones.

A Charman

Great House Farm, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex.

NDC doesnt do research

In response to M V L Pearces letter (Sept 11), I should like to point out that the National Dairy Council has not spent £60,000 of farmers money researching whether cows give more milk if you talk to them.

Mr Pearce is obviously confused by the acronyms of the Milk Development Council (MDC) and the National Dairy Council (NDC).

The Milk Development Council is the organisation responsible for funding research in aspects of dairy farming. The National Dairy Councils role is to maintain the positive image of milk and dairy products by providing information on the dairy industry to schools, and health professionals as well as handling issues on behalf of the industry.

The National Dairy Council has recently been successful in attracting just over £1m from Brussels to undertake generic marketing for milk.

These moneys will be spent on advertorials in womens magazines, emphasising the important contribution which milk makes to the diet. It will also be used for the sponsorship of the junior section of the Triathlon to highlight the link between diet and exercise in maintaining good health, especially for young children.

I hope this clarifies the different roles of the two councils.

David Balfour

General manager, National Diary Council, 5-7 John Princes Street, London.

Dont invest in log mushrooms

We have been growing Shiitake mushrooms (Farmlife, Aug 14) commercially on logs since 1987. And we are probably the only commercial UK Shiitake log operation with about 20,000 logs at any one time.

Our experience has been disappointing with prices having more than halved in recent years. Factory grown Shiitake, from Asia, France, Mexico and Holland, has flooded the market. Chefs in most cases are not prepared to pay extra for the much better flavoured outdoor log grown and organic Shiitake. They do not understand that this is a semi-wild mushroom, subject to wind, rain and sun.

Fruiting is unpredictable and the intensive manual labour is heavy and continual.

So keep your savings away from Shiitake mushrooms.

B Ginsberg

Earlstone Mushrooms, Burghclere, Newbury, Berks.

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