13 November 1998


Royal Navy awash with food imports

Recently I had the privilege of a private visit to one of our Royal Navy ships. After being fed and watered, I had a long talk with the supply officer. He informed me that all meat for the Navy comes from abroad.

That has been the policy for many years. Beef is supplied from Argentina (and was even during the Falklands war), lamb comes from New Zealand and pork from various countries. I find that an absolute disgrace. Should not the NFU, National Beef Association and others ensure that something is done to reverse this policy? A few thousand extra mouths eating British meat would surely go some way to helping our beleaguered livestock industry.

R Carmichael

Battles, Manuden, Essex.

Badger culls are meaningless

One claim that repeatedly appears during the course of the currently confused debate over the Bourne/Krebs new five-year "scientific" badger cull is that the four previous culls worked in reducing cattle TB. Sadly, they do not prove anything of the sort since the effects of simultaneous badger and cattle culls were inextricable.

Cattle culling alone brought TB down from 40% to under 1% before the first wild TB badger was found in 1971. Nil badger culls at Woodchester Park, Gloucester and in Ulster have made no difference to cattle TB.

To understand the four "proof" cases, it is necessary to rediscover the basics of cattle TB.

Cattle are infectious at any stage of the disease, from early microscopic lesions to the late gross visible lesion stage. TB spreads inexorably between herds in clusters, in part by passive spread in slurry on vehicles, in watercourses, or by rats.

Taking the four cases individually, the Dorset Steeple Leaze case was merely a cluster of chronic TB herds. It was solved by five to six tests a year instead of one, and taking out several hundred cattle including early cases and one-third with visible lesions. A later cull of a few dozen badgers was irrelevant.

Similarly, the Thornbury proof case, as described by MAFFs R Clifton-Hadley (Epid. Infect 114/179, Central Vet Labs), explicitly discounts such cattle TB sources as ongoing infection, contiguous spread, and the non-lesion cases. But at least 70% had been exposed to bovine TB.

Before I left the TB Panel, I suggested synchronised cattle testing over a wide area would be a good idea to minimise contiguous spread. "We tried that in the Hartland area," I was told. That is the third proof case.

The same cattle effect underlies the dramatic drop in cattle TB in Offaly, Ireland. The cull area only held 55,000 cattle, the control area three times that number.

Culling a few thousand badgers a year in Eire is irrelevant when about 30,000 TB cattle are missed annually over and above that number culled. Badger culls are costly and meaningless.

Martin Hancox

17 Nouncells Cross, Stroud, Glos.

How to stop spread of TB

Its interesting to note the capacity of TB to return to herds from its wildlife reservoirs. Since the disease seems to have emerged from the south-west in the past 30 years, more or less along the line of radon-emitting strata, it ought to be possible to correct aspects of the environment and agricultural practice that have allowed its spread.

C J Spicer

1 Old Whittington Road, Gobowen, Shropshire.

TB & trace element link?

I was pleased to read your leading article (Opinion, Oct 30) that you wish the relationship between TB and trace element deficiency to be investigated. From farming and personal experience, I have no doubt that a relationship exists between selenium deficiency and disease. The subject was discussed by C Reilly in his book Selenium in Food and Health.

MAFF does not wish this matter to be investigated because it fears the results would provide more evidence for the growing belief that nitrogenous fertilisers induce trace element disorders, and that its fertiliser recommendations have never been tested properly.

T Stockdale

21 Castle Douglas Road, Dumfries.

Change of heart due to price

I believe Asdas change in policy (Opinion, Oct 30) is driven purely by economics. When its commitment to buy British lamb was announced, English lamb was 2p/lb less than New Zealand lamb. That price difference subsequently dropped to 5p/lb.

In Oct 3, I went to Asda in Eastbourne to check and discovered that it had only Welsh lamb on sale and no legs. Lamb chops were offered at £7.25/kg (£3.29/lb). I sell only local Sussex lambs from either local farms or Hailsham cattle market and I have been charging £2.40/lb (£5.29/kg), with legs at only £1.80/lb.

Asda will change back to NZ lamb as soon as the price changes the other way. It will offer the old excuse that there was not enough lamb of the required grade and weight.

Farmers should help their local butchers, particularly the ones who buy at local markets, as they help keep free trade going and average stock prices up. Butchers also have more contact with customers, as they see them directly over the counter and know most of them by name.

A Whitear

Family Butchers, Southdown House, Lewes Rd, Cross-in-Hands, E Sussex.

Asda does not deserve thanks

Asda deserves a big thank-you (Opinion, Oct 23)? I think not. Are the supermarkets showing their true colours yet again? It would be nice to think they had conceded New Zealand lamb contracts in preference for home produced quality and consistency or even as a sign of their commitment to British agriculture.

But the fact that prime British lamb has dropped to 65.2p/kg lw will have been the main reason for this decision. Perhaps New Zealand lamb is a little too expensive at present.

P Bashford

Stolford Farm, Brendon Hill, Watchet, Somerset.

Company pig trials for real

FW is right to question the value of pig research presented to the industry without back-up data from hard-nosed commercial trials (Opinion and Livestock, Oct 30).

For too long, so-called breakthrough research has been offered to producers based on small-scale trials, conducted on small groups of pigs, only in a research-based environment. Small-scale is valuable to test theories; we invest heavily in such research on our feed development unit at Barhill with 130 sows.

However, before launching new developments, products and feed strategies we ensure results are repeatable in the commercial environment first. Anything else is tantamount to practising on the customers.

Our creep feed and grower feeds are continually tested in 7-32kg nursery units on more than 40,000 pigs a month, as are the finishing feeds and feed strategies when those same pigs go through our partners contract finishing units. Recent developments in gilt rearing and sow feeding strategy were thoroughly tested over full lifetime parities.

Large-scale proving trials add value to our pig industry and perhaps questions the value of producers cash being spent on small-scale production research. Perhaps the money would be better spent on marketing and consumer research.

That would leave the industrys commercial companies, which have to prove success on a daily basis under commercial conditions, to conduct development work.

Terry Sugg

Market manager, Pig Feed, BOCM Pauls, PO Box 39, 47 Key Street, Ipswich.

Whos profiting from pigs?

There cannot be many farmers still fattening pigs today who remember keeping pigs in the late 1940s. I was working with my late father in those days fattening pigs up to 104kg.

We fed them mainly on swill because feedstuffs were still rationed. We were paid a fixed price of £2 10 shillings by the Ministry of Food. Pigmens wages were about £5 a week and fuel, repairs to buildings and rent were all in the same proportion.

Fifty years later, what has happened to inflation and the £? But pig prices have changed little.

The pig price quoted for Sept 25 was 35.8p/kg lw, which for a 104kg pig gives a price of £37.24

The price quoted at Salisbury market on the following Tues was 17.4p which gives £18.09. So the price of 104kg bacon pigs has dropped to 1950s levels.

We all know that farmers are making a great loss on each pig sold. But how do retail prices compare with those far off days? Something must be wrong somewhere. Who is making the profit?

Bert Houghton

Stable Cottage, Red Farm, Long Lane, Shaw Newbury, Berks.

Indifference as ragwort spreads

As a countryman and animal lover, particularly of horses, it alarms me to see the spread of ragwort throughout the countryside.

I am retired and enjoy walking the footpaths. I know of a piece of pasture which is infested with the weed and many broad-leaved docks. Both are covered by the Weeds Act of 1974.

In the summer, when these weeds were coming into flower, trying to be helpful, I rang my local MAFF office to inform them. The reply was, "Well, we cant do anything about it. You will have to find the owner and ask him if he is aware that he is breaking the law. Perhaps, the council or the Department of Environment might do something about it."

After ringing both bodies I was met with the same answer: No one was remotely interested, and if anything was to be done, I had to do it.

It is dreadful that careless landowners can put animals at risk, when a concerted campaign, involving the public, would go a long way towards eradicating this weed.

T Lambert

37 Russell Drive, Wollaton, Nottingham.

Official scheme for assurance?

I would like to ask David Richardson – if assurance schemes are required as much as he would like us to believe, why hasnt MAFF introduced an official scheme?

Such a scheme would have several benefits; not least no subscription to pay. Or did MAFF think it best to let sleeping dogs lie? If so the NFU, Mr Richardson and the schemes enthusiasts have opened a large can of worms. It will have serious repercussions for young farmers such as myself for many decades to come.

Readers will no doubt understand why I am leaving David off my Christmas card list again this year.

Darren Tebbitt

26 Hill Row, Haddenham, Ely, Cambs.

OP views need to be known

I am disappointed that the BSE Inquiry has not been able to highlight the views of those who believe BSE arises from organophosphate poisoning. I understand that it intends to publish everything in time but time is not on farmers side.

Few people understand chemical poisonings, of which there are thousands. But the medical profession should consider the similarities between nvCJD and pyrethroid poisoning. And farmers should consider carefully whether they want to use pyrethroids. There is treatment for pyrethroid poisoning if it is recognised.

The treatment is set out in the following paper A systemic reaction following exposure to a Pyrethroid Insecticide by S A Box and M A Lee published 1996 in Human and Experimental Toxicology. Surely any treatment for CJD victims is better than none?

Many people are still struggling to get a proper diagnosis for OP poisoning. The medical notes on diagnosis on this subject have recently been made available. Anyone who wants a copy should send me a large SAE.

Brenda Sutcliffe

Sheep Bank Farm, Littleborough, Lancs OL15 OLH.

Cheap thatch spray appeal

Years ago, when I was a lad and when haystacks were high tech, I believe one of our larger chemical firms toyed with a spray which would shed water off the stack thereby producing cheap thatching. Have any of your readers any recollection of that?

I have some big bales out in this filthy weather; hence my appeal.

J R Catlin

Bleng Garth, Wellington, Seascale, Cumbria.

Tares ideal for choking couch

In the 1960s we always grew a small acreage of tares (vetch) followed by winter wheat. On our heavy holderness clay, they acted as an ideal smothering crop for couch infestations before modern herbicides appeared.

Being leguminous, they contributed to nitrogen levels and soil fertility. I understand that the main use for them was in the manufacture of nitroglycerine. After an alternative was discovered, their popularity waned.

They thrive on the poorest and heaviest soils where other crops would fail. They have been grown since biblical times, and are an excellent stock feed.

Perhaps, there is still a place for them where couch is a problem. Does anyone still grow them? Why not grow them on set-aside?

Robin Graham

Ivyhouse, Hollym, Withernsea, East Yorks.

Slug pellets big danger to dogs

My labrador bitch ate slug pellets from an unopened bag. Due to the prompt action from my vet, assisted by the company which made the pellets, the bitch has survived.

Take heed: Store your slug pellets well away from your animals.

Oxford farmer

Name and address supplied.

Time the MLC was wound up

I read with disgust that the MLC have been using our hard pressed money to promote foreign meat (News, Oct 23).

Isnt it time that this organisation is wound up because it does nothing to help our industry? We recently sold 24-old-ewes in a fatstock market. They sold for £5 each, one third of last years price.

The MLC took £14.88 out of the cheque; nearly three ewes and for what?

D Glyn Morgan

Pantyfallen Farm, Felindre, Swansea.

Right image for customers

It is an unwelcome sign of the times that FW published two gloomly articles (Sept 18) from David Richardson and Henry Fell (Talking Point). At least, Henry managed to end on the positive note that we must help ourselves.

To do that, we need to avoid the trap of being too busy to take time to think. How much do you know about your end customer? Other industries spend millions on gaining this knowledge.

Why not visit a city and do a weekly supermarket shop? Talk to your customers about their view of British agriculture. Their responses will range from indifference to distrust and hostility; based on the belief that agribusiness is cruel and uncaring to animals and poisons soil and crops with chemicals used only to satisfy farmers greed for greater profits.

As a former ADAS research director, I have spent years leading researchers, promoting the need for research, winning the funding and, with other researchers, establishing how to use modern technology profitably and responsibly.

That work, paid for by government and farmers, is now starting to bear fruit. We are among the world leaders in research into safe and responsible use of agricultural technology and in putting those results into practice. Many farmers accept the discipline of assurance schemes that offer a formal seal of approval for their produce.

It is no use producing the best in the world if the customer thinks otherwise. Our challenge is to establish a mind-set in our customers that recognises farmers do everything to ensure that when they buy British they get the best.

David Hughes

Troed yr Aur, Queens Avenue, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion.

Beef profit? You must be joking

I have just read the latest booklet from the Meat and Livestock Commission, entitled How to make money from beef. Is there any truth in the rumour that its next publication is to be called How to juggle soot?

Tim Allen

Secretary, Gascon Cattle Society, Orchard House, 226 Longridge Road, Grimsargh, Preston, Lancs.

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