5 November 1999


Be safe and eat British foodstuffs

Now is the time to increase direct action on the French beef ban when the sewage sludge issues are prominent. Official action is too slow. I would like to suggest farmers and supporters make a placard saying, "Be safe eat British pork, lamb, eggs".

We could use the poster programme on our computers to make handouts with the message, "Eat British pork to be sure no sewage or waste was used in its production". Go to the nearest supermarket, walk around, talk to the customers, hand out leaflets and stay for as long as possible. Do this as and when you can. But it would be most effective if such action could be conducted at the same time everywhere.

F Henley

Protectionist traits to fore

The UK beef industry is being given the cruellest of backhanded complements by politicians and farm lobbyists in France and Germany.

The utter determination of Continental beef interests to continue to keep our superior product away from their markets highlights the fact that even in March 1996 trade protection was one of the major ingredients in the pie of selfish interests that produced the iniquitous world ban.

The others were a flawed perception of what was sensible public health protection and great willingness to give the Euro-sceptic Conservative government a good kicking.

Residues of the latter still persist but it is their overwhelming desire to keep UK beef away from their markets that now stands nakedly to the fore.

They understand, perhaps more than UK farmers do themselves, that our cross-bred steers and heifers produce a type of beef that in EU terms is unique and is superior to their own in taste and flavour too. Proof lies in their desperation to keep our special, premium-winning product out of the lucrative Italian and Spanish markets at all costs.

Back in 1992-93, they watched with amazement as Mediterranean consumers began to ditch cereal-fed dairy bull beef from Northern Europe in favour of newly arrived UK beef which was able to find a place on the market on the back of the unusually weak £.

Over 1994-95 this turned to anger because the market for beef from UK-style cattle continued to grow even though it had become more expensive as sterling began to strengthen. The March 1996 BSE crisis was all the excuse they needed. At a stroke they were presented with the opportunity to keep a threatening product out of their markets and restore Southern European sales for Northern European dairy bulls.

Now there is a chance of our beef at last being delivered again to eager customers, our EU rivals have seized every opportunity and argument they can to maintain their protectionist barricades.

They take advantage of the ECs ponderously democratic appeals procedure and produce mountains of flawed anti-BSE evidence that could take weeks or months to examine and refute. The delay is costly, irritating and profoundly against the principles of the EU single market itself.

The NBA thinks that amid this frustration it is important that UK farmers take on board the hopeful message that European farmers are as desperate to keep our special steer and heifer beef out as European consumers are to buy it again.

Robert Forster

National Beef Association, The Firs, Blackmore Park Road, Worcs.

French swear by traceability

The level of anger raised within the UK towards Frances unilateral ban of British beef imports is understandable following the considerable efforts and cost expended by British farmers and processors to improve the image of their beef. Whatever the result of this ban, British beef producers should not be deluded into thinking that re-exporting beef into France will be easy.

Conceived before the BSE crisis, and subsequently improved, is an effective level of traceability in France. It permits the consumer to identify easily not just the country of origin of all meat, but for all French product the name of the farm and producer, the race of the animal (ie either a beef, milk or mixte breed). The animals tag number, date of birth, date of slaughter, and that it was born, reared and slaughtered in France.

Restaurants, and soon hospitals and schools, are obliged to show similar meat origin details to their customers.

The typical French consumer can be relied upon to be sufficiently nationalistic to buy French produce, and more or less, only that. Therefore the lifting of this temporary ban, which was forced upon the government by the Food Safety Agency, will have little effect upon short, or long-term, UK beef imports into France.

The Belgian dioxin scare, though nothing to do with BSE or Britain, has reaffirmed to the French consumer the importance of traceability of all foodstuffs and consequently augmented this protectionist sentiment.

It is worth repeating to all EU members countries that the enemy is not from within, but external – hormone beef.

Unless the UK establishes a similar feeding/traceability policy towards all home-grown products, it will be this artificially-stimulated beef, if approved for unrestricted sale by the WTO, that undermines UK home and export beef sales.

David Wilson

Farming Projects, 17 rue General Sorbier, 58000 Nevers.

NFU needs to get tougher

I am writing to express my disbelief and despair at the way the NFU officials acted during the recent demonstration at Poole docks. As a local person, I only heard about the demonstration by chance on the local radio station, not through our local representative. We were manoeuvred into a protected area from where the lorries were supposed to exit.

We moved ourselves to another entrance where on a previous demonstration a lorry had managed to come out, only to be told to go back. Why was the demonstration at the Labour Party conference timed for midday when it must have been obvious that everyone was going to be out to lunch? Was it so that our efforts would have minimum impact?

Why is the NFU not supporting and listening to us? Why are they pandering to the government and the Press? Are the farmers in Britain banging their heads against a brick wall? Will the government ever listen to the polite and non-assertive NFU? What actions do we need to take to make anyone sit up and take notice?

Mr B R Tuck

Lower Stockley Farm, Bere Heath, Wareham, Dorset.

Producers will not see ad cash

Generic advertising may increase milk sales but there is little chance of producers seeing any of the revenue. The end seller or processor has already had roughly 7.5p off the milk producers bottom line since Milk Marque was set up. The possible £7m that might be raised is a similar amount to the advertising budget for Walkers crisps but they do not expect contributions from potato producers.

Mr WM Rapson

Carnebone, Helston, Cornwall.

This crisis is worse than 30s

Some believe the present farming crisis is as bad as the 1930s. In my view it is worse. The seriousness of the situation is not confined to Britain it is worldwide.

Two things are destroying farming. Technology which causes over-production and the attitudes of the younger generation.

Ten years ago in Australia we had 190m sheep. The numbers are now down under 90m and still falling. Wool, once one of our main exports, is nearly worthless. Carpets and cloths are made with synthetic fibre. In desperation farmers are crossing sheep with blackface rams to produce fat lambs, but the young of today are hostile and do not know how to cook meat and seem to think that the killing of any animal is a sin.

I was taught that 10lb of cereal produced 1lb of meat. With the demise of sheep and cattle this will leave vast acres of land to produce even more cereals, which is what is happening. Butchers shops have all but disappeared and supermarkets shelves are contracting.

Many are alienated from reality. Most have never lived through a war or been hungry. Here lies the problem.

One wonders where we are all heading. No doubt farming is caught up in a world revolutionary change.

G Chapman

Box 1075, Perth, West Australia.

Pay a little extra for best

I very much agree with the letter (Oct 1) from Hugh Sheldon and only wish that I had a few acres to live off. I have two allotments and am saving hard to buy some land, not to become a full-time farmer, because I would be no good at that, but to be able to live off the land and provide as much as possible for myself and my family. I enjoy reading your magazine. I know that the beef industry has had a bad few years and was pleased to hear that the ban had been lifted. Then the French decide that this is still not good enough.

I, for one, do not buy French produce and never will. Hopefully, there are more people out there who are willing to pay a little extra for British food and who know that they are safe in the knowledge that we are able to produce the best.

I even managed to stop my nan buying French apples one week, which was a first.

Ms S Jones

43 New Fosseway Road, Hengrove, Bristol.

Blame beef ills on slow inquiry

I refer to several points raised by Geoffrey Hollis (Talking Point, Oct 22). Many farmers, and others connected with the beef industry, are concerned by the time it has taken to hold the BSE Inquiry. The long drawn out and time-wasting inquiry is the last thing we need. We would not have the problem of beef exports to France and boycotting of French goods if only the inquiry had reported within reasonable time. The chairman in his opening statement said the inquiry had three objectives: To understand the facts, to establish whether the action that was taken was adequate, and to see what lessons could be learnt.

It is unlikely that any of these objectives will be achieved when the final report is published well on into the next millennium. The cost is already over £30m, money which would have been better spent supporting beef farmers to bring about renewed confidence in the industry.

I am also concerned about the basic science of BSE and the link with nvCJD. While there is now considerable substantiation of the OP mutagenesis theory, there is a lack of evidence which supports the official line in favour of the BSE/nvCJD via feed consumption.

Although it has not been possible to link beef consumption with many of the victims of nvCJD, many of those with CJD had been treated medically with human grown hormone treatments when they were afflicted by stunted early growth.

It will be a great pity if a once proud British beef industry has been sacrificed because of the BSE crisis, when the reality is that there is no proven scientific connection between BSE in cattle and nvCJD in people.

Arnold Pennant

Nant Gwilym, Tremeirchion, St Asaph.

Question mark over quotations

The tenant farmer who provided the recent Talking Point (Oct 15) has got his quotations mixed. The consultants his bank has foisted on him may be, among their other faults, cynics. Oscar Wilde defined a cynic as "a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing". However, remember George Bernard Shaws maxim "he who can does, he who cannot teaches." Often that is misquoted as "he who can does, he who cannot criticises or teaches." It would seem apt in this case and may be the one your correspondent was looking for.

John Tuck

Highgate Farm, Wootton Bassett, Swindon, Wilts.

Strengthen school links

How pleased I was to read (Opinon, Oct 8) that a conference for teachers was being staged to highlight the source of the food chain for humans. As I farm in an urban area, my children are constantly being teased at school because they live on a farm.

The perpetrators, not realising how critical farming is to their daily bread, think supermarkets are the source of their food supply.

To counteract this, I have been doing my bit by encouraging local schools to visit and emphasising the connection between the crops grown and the end product.

Good luck and success to the conference in highlighting our role in food production.

Alan Dimbleby

No cash benefit in ACCS outlay

Many farmers are considering renewing their ACCS membership (Opinion, Oct 22) all of whom presumably spent some money, even if only the membership fee, to have it confirmed that they produce food to ACCS standards.

At present, that does not appear to make commercial sense because money has been invested for no real financial reward. That may or may not alter in future.

Now that these farmers have proved their ability to produce food to these standards, for some hard-pressed business, allowing the renewal to lapse may not be a bad business decision.

Although producing to ACCS standard and getting a sticker costs £500 a year, I receive no financial benefit.

If I produce food in exactly the same way, but do not apply to get a sticker my food must still be as acceptable as before and I am in credit by £500.

If and when there is a financial difference between assured and non assured grain, I could rejoin the scheme. Meantime, I will still produce food to the same standard as before.

Ultimately, each farming business will have to take a view on what they perceive to be the future of the scheme and I am sure there will be 100 good reasons put forward by ACCS as to why the above should not be considered, but it is perhaps food for thought.

C P Goodall

John &#42 Pickup & Co, 46 Netherhall Road, Doncaster, South Yorks.

Streamlining the pig sector

Although I read your opinion (Oct 1)on the labelling of pigmeat, with interest, I was concerned by your reference to a "plethora of assurance schemes" in the pig sector. ABM, the independent farm-to-plate assurance scheme, recently announced an agreement which will help to unify meat safety assurance throughout the pig sector.

The agreement brokered by ABM means that the existing Malton Code Certification Scheme, the Northern Ireland Pig Assurance Scheme and the ABM/FABPigs schemes will be replaced by a new single assurance scheme, namely "Assured British Pigs". The new scheme means that about 90% of the UKs pigs will be reared to the standards of a single national scheme.

ABM is engaged in discussions with niche market assurance schemes to encourage them to participate in this core certification scheme.

That should help to reduce the administration and inspection components of the assurance cost, while still allowing market place differentiation of niche products.

Farm industry leaders have welcomed this agreement as an important step forward in helping the pig industry to deal with the considerable challenges that it faces on many fronts.

Marcus Wood

Scheme manager, Assured British Pigs, Assured British Meat, Kings Scholars House, 230 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London.

Solution sought to starling curse

Advice is needed urgently for a problem which is already big and seems to be getting bigger. I am talking about starlings.

We farm 500 acres and have a dairy herd of 120 British Friesians on the north Cornish coast. We feed the cows with a mixer wagon so their food is always there day or night.

The problem with this is that from mid-October to March we are infested with thousands of starlings eating the concentrates from the silage.

We have asked other farmers who use mixer wagons and they all have the same problem but no solution.

It is not just that they are eating the feed but these disgusting birds mess in it, on the cows, on and in the cubicle house and there seems to be no way of keeping them away.

Methods we have tried are: Bird scarers, shooting them, putting a mesh around building entrances, using birds of prey.

All of these have kept them away for a few days, but they return unaffected.

Surely, this is an incredible health risk to the cattle that must be affecting thousands of farmers. Could you please ask your readers if they have a solution to keep these pests away?

Henry Crocker

Trevigue Farm, Crackington Haven, Bude, Cornwall.

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