16 March 2001


Put block on unsafe meat imports

When will this government ban all meat and livestock products from any country that does not impose restrictions as rigorous as ours? I read recently we imported 300,000t of beef and pork from countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and South Africa.

I believe we produce the safest and best meat in the world and I hope when this terrible foot-and-mouth tragedy ends all British products will be clearly marked, so we know exactly where it was produced.

At present, it is almost impossible to tell where it came from. If the British public want cheap, imported meat is should be clearly labelled, so we all know what we are buying and where it originated.

Pamela Waterhouse

Essex farmer, address supplied.

Cheap food is real culprit

The foot-and-mouth crisis highlights the need for a new attitude and direction by government and consumers towards British agriculture and food production. The obsession by government for cheap food has been the precursor of this catastrophe. British agriculture has been loaded with red tape and a host of other additional costs and regulations to justify a Food Standards Agency. But it deliberately follows a policy which keeps the £ high and therefore allows food into this country from all over the world which doesnt come anywhere near our own high standards.

The FSA is no more than a paper tiger as far as imports are concerned because it hasnt even got the guts to ban these imports despite the fact that they pose a possible health hazard to British consumers. But it does not hesitate to clobber British farmers if they infringe these regulations.

The sooner governments begin to encourage and support home agriculture and food production instead of trying to turn our green and pleasant land into one big playground for the urban population, the sooner these disasters will be minimised and consumers will benefit from the best of British.

The spread of these cases of foot-and-mouth is also an indication of the way ruinous slaughterhouse costs have seen the closure of many local abattoirs.

P G Hutchinson

Westwick Hall, Roecliffe, Nr Boroughbridge, N Yorks.

Abattoirs in steep decline

Much has been said about the closure of abattoirs and the need for stock to travel vast distances for slaughter during the foot-and-mouth crisis. The blame for the closures has been placed on the previous government.

That is an injustice. The blame lies fairly and squarely on the Meat and Livestock Commission and also the European Commission. The MLC has for years said there is an over-capacity in the slaughtering industry and abattoirs should close. What nonsense. Did it not realise that less competition would reduce prices? Unfortunately, it was able to persuade both Conservative and Labour governments to listen and, as a result, abattoirs in Britain have reduced from more than 1000 in recent years to about 340 today. Stock has to travel much further to slaughter, sometimes being held over for days in lairage. That causes extra stress, more expense and weight loss. Competition in the markets has declined with producers receiving much lower prices and causing depression in the farm industry.

The other reason for the closures is the EUs demand that abattoirs be upgraded and improved at considerable, and often unnecessary, expense. Furthermore, it demanded more stringent, costly and unnecessary meat inspection. The previous system we had was excellent and certainly during my lifetime was perfectly satisfactory.

Our governments meekly obey the EU, in contrast to other European countries. Abattoirs here have closed on a wholesale scale. This government promised to reduce these exorbitant inspection charges, but now appears to renege on the promise made.

I have been a livestock auctioneer for over 46 years and when I started there were over 4000 abattoirs in this country. I have seen the recent abattoir closures result in the number of cattle buyers around the ring fall from 20 to 25 to about half. Stock prices have declined sharply with the main beneficiaries being the supermarkets buying much cheaper meat to the detriment and poverty of the farmer producers.

R G Williams

Hill Farm, Marstow, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire.

Extend OTMS by three months

How about someone suggests that the OTMS scheme is extended to say a OTTMS – say over 33 months scheme. The extension could run from the date of the livestock movement ban. That will take a lot of local short-term pressure of at least one sector of the industry and cost the government practically nothing in cash.

Then after three months, or lifting of movement order, the 33 months could be reduced back to 30 over a three-month period. That would avoid over pressuring the abattoirs with a stock build up. Presumably, farm minister Nick Brown and PM Tony Blair could fix the legislation for that one practically overnight.

It would be one less thing for many farmers to worry about. It would also avoid the need for panic moves from farms and the risk of transmitting the foot-and-mouth disease.

Dr A J Sewell

North Yorks.

Inquiry is vital into F&M cases

Speaking as an ex-trading standards animal health enforcement officer, I feel that it is important that once this terrible tragedy of foot-and-mouth disease is brought under control a thorough and fully independent inquiry should be set up to establish how it was possible for the Northumbria swill plant to operate at below required legal standards.

There will always be rogue traders who, through ignorance, greed or just complacency, cut corners. Legislation exists to protect the rest of the farming industry and the country at large from their negligence. It seems increasingly that the Diseases of Animals (Waste Food ) Order 1973 as amended was not being adequately enforced. It is the duty of MAFF and the local authority to inspect swill plants to ensure they meet the strict controls for feeding waste food to pigs. Somebody was obviously not doing their job properly. Steps should be put in place to prevent a similar tragedy happening again.

Caroline Cooper

MoDs cheap imports cause?

Could the MoDs purchase of cheap meat imports to feed our soldiers have a bearing on the current foot-and-mouth outbreak? It is all too easy for soldiers on exercise over agricultural land to discard potentially infected rations.

W Rowland

E-mail address supplied

Red meat prices need to double

farmers weekly stated recently that red meat prices had fallen 75% over the past 15 years in real terms. That is the cause of sheep producers problems.

As soon as grass gets a bit tight, it is more attractive to sell on for a small profit, than try to finish on expensive concentrates and take a gamble on prices. Average finished lamb prices have only moved downwards at our farm over the past 15 years, but meat on supermarket shelves has risen.

All money spent on improvement schemes by pedigree producers is wasted, because ever increasing numbers of buyers of our rams look only as far as the store or couple rings for their end price. Hence the need for dealing with a system which distributes problems and disease. Consumers need to realise you cannot have high welfare standards for British producers, then make us compete directly with easy care beef, pork and lamb from abroad. Red meat prices need to at least double at the farm gate, to encourage primary producers to keep animals through to finishing.

Andrew Coombs

Mole Manor, Three Tuns Farm, Emborough, Bath.

Sympathy from two children

We are writing to say how sorry we are that there has been a foot-and-mouth outbreak. We are particularly sorry for those who have had confirmed foot-and-mouth outbreaks. It is horrible that their stock have to be shot and burned, but we understand why it has to be done.

Jimmy (aged 11) and Lorna McNiven (aged 7)

Stonefolds@Fywie, Turriff, Aberdeenshire.

London marts are irresponsible

It is with great sadness that I write this letter. At a time when every effort is being made by the industry and the public to reduce the risk of foot-and-mouth being spread, London Farmers Markets have deemed it necessary to remain open, drawing farmers from a radius of 100 miles of London.

We have campaigned hard this week to get the markets to close temporarily to enable everybody to see the extent of the spread of the disease. You might be free when you leave home only to return with the infection. It would also give various bodies time to draw up plans for a limited opening of the markets.

How much stronger the farmers markets would be when they reopen. We must give the right image of responsible farmers to the public. Why should they help us when we wont help ourselves?

What saddens my wife and myself is the selfish attitude of many of our fellow producers, when asked to support temporary closure.

I am sure we have lost friends, but we refuse to put 25 years of work and our herd at risk. We would also like to thank those few fellow producers who have also campaigned with us.

Why cant farmers stand together, just for once?

Richard Beard

Global economy maximises risk

At what level of foot-and-mouth infection in our national herds of cattle, deer and sheep flocks will MAFF call off the slaughter? 50% or 60%?

Even after the present cull, can we guarantee that the disease will not reoccur within the next four years or so? With our economy and trading partners becoming ever more global, how big is the risk? After all, we have great difficulty in preventing illegal immigrants and illegal drugs entering country. Why should foot-and-mouth be different?

J&E Bradford

Forest Farm Cottage, Three Cups, Heathfield, East Sussex.

Stop milking agriculture

I was invited a year ago to observe what was happening at local supermarket depots that were being picketed by Farmers For Action. The farmers were there because milk processors and supermarket buyers refused to discuss closing the massive deficit between production costs and buying price.

Milk is on the shopping list of 95% of those entering supermarkets. The cost of a four-pint (2.272 litres) milk container is 88p. See how 38.7p/litre compares with your doorstep delivery. Farmers are currently getting 18.2p and only covering 81.25% of their 22.4p/litre production costs. The milk processor (pasteurising and packaging) sells on to the supermarket at approx 33p for a return on capital of 10-12%.

For wheeling a cage of cartons for a few minutes from the delivery bay to the shop floor several times a day, supermarkets add 5.7p to gain a 17.3% margin. Dairy Crest declared recently that it expected profits to increase (45%) from £44m to £54m by 2002. Two out three people handling a daily commodity are doing very nicely. It defies commercial common sense that supermarkets sell for 88p/litre the milk they sold for £1.09 four years ago. Farmers then received 26p litre.

There is no reason why the supermarkets and those who process for them should milk British agriculture. A phoenix will arise from the ashes of incinerated livestock in the form of a stronger farming community. Farmers will be able to sell basic commodities profitably. Consumers will appreciate that milk contains more nutrition than water and will be prepared to pay the difference. Despite the nine-fold increase of confirmed foot-and -mouth outbreaks in a week, British farming is probably on its way back from the abyss.

Donough McGillycuddy

Haselbech, Northants.

Can we build new Jerusalem?

During the continuing crises in our countryside, the anguish and despair facing farmers are felt by many others. Perhaps the following may bring hope and courage and enable us to look afresh at our methods and our dependence on the livestock trade. Man is given dominion over the beasts, but dominion means lordship – to care for. Is it really necessary to drive terrified animals miles and miles from pen to truck, to market to slaughter, to table?

Our country is small but fertile and we have a tradition of good husbandry and care both for land and animals. In earlier times the country grew prosperous on wool alone. We are not subject to extremes of temperature and we have rainfall in abundance.

We have fine timber, the best wheat, oats and barley and hundreds of varieties of fruit trees which could be grown commercially. There is also an abundance of soft fruit, vegetables, nuts, honey, plants and flowers. We have hills for the sheep, pasture for the cows, downs for good horses, and vineyards too. Perhaps we forget that the earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof. We have superb machines and miraculous technology, and a great love for the land and the creatures in our care.

Our spirit, law and language make this island a magnet for people from all over the world. Can we build the new Jerusalem in our countryside?

Mrs JR Matthews

26 Swinburne Road, Putney, London.

F&M medal for NFUs Gibson

I want to nominate Anthony Gibson, NFU regional director south-west, for a medal.

Every day during the foot-and-mouth crisis he has appeared on TV, providing farmers with reliable, up-to-date information when it hasnt been readily available. He has also managed to convey to the public at large, the enormity of the problem, in a succinct, measured and responsible way.

Michael Macer

Summerwell Farm, Hartland, Bideford, Devon.

Atmosphere at college changed

I am a Seale-Hayne student and although I do not study pure agriculture I have a great understanding and sadness for all the farmers in the UK, particularly those in the south-west where the main industry is farming. Last week, at the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis, I saw the atmosphere of the college change from being a lively place to a place of confusion where no-one knew what was happening at home or at the college farm. My heart goes out to all the people who have suffered from this terrible ordeal and I hope that one day there lives will resume to normal – whatever that may be.

Sarah Capstick

16 Albert Terrace, Newton Abbot, Devon.

Hunting causes disease spread

I hope that one lesson we have all learned from the present tragedy of foot-and-mouth is never again to allow the hunting by horses and hounds to spread this and other diseases across our countryside.

Lindsay A Mason

Manor Farm, Bury, Huntingdon, Cambs.

Small gesture, big appreciation

Having recently purchased a new tractor, a few freebies came as no surprise. Neither did a bottle of champagne accompanied by a letter "Thank you for your business".

What compels me to write is a second letter expressing concern and support offering me a £100 parts voucher. A pleasant surprise, certainly not standard and very much appreciated. In times like these, small gestures are remembered long after larger ones in more buoyant years.

I would like to thank the managing director at Same Deutz-Fahr.

A Teece

CB Teece & Partners, Haughmond Farm, Shrewsbury.

Unsafe imports, safe exports

It would be encouraging if farm minister Nick Brown showed the same determination to stop imports of contaminated meat from Germany containing specific risk material, and the African countries where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic as he demonstrated in the TV interview in Brussels. On that occasion he spoke about foot-and-mouth prevention stressing that he would not issue any export certificates for British meat to Europe until he was certain it was safe.

T Maguire

Farmer bashing has roots in 70s

If the financial institutions had not forced the price (not value) of farmland up in the early 1970s we would not have had 30 years of farmer bashing.

It will be interesting to see how many New Labour grandees have acquired a little estate in the country by the time they leave office.

Jim Roper

PM contradicts previous views

Perhaps its the rain, or the stress but have I just heard the same Mr Blair and Mr Brown, whom a few weeks ago stressed that we must be more efficient in a global market say that foot-and-mouth and all the woes of farming are caused by being too efficient, intensive and modern? Its great coming from a government where most of the cabinet cant even holiday in the UK.

Rona Ayres

Higher Riscombe Farm, Exford, Minehead, Somerset.

Organic scheme has failed us

We are seriously disadvantaged by MAFFs implementation of the organic farming scheme which restarted on Jan 2, 2001.

Encouraged by junior farm minister Elliot Morley and the governments offer to help farmers convert to organic farming and to manage their land in additional environmentally beneficial ways, we made plans to convert nearly half the farm starting in October – the beginning of our cropping year. By the time that we had taken advice from the Organic Conversion Service, planned a rotation, applied to a sector body and been inspected, MAFF closed the scheme on Oct 4, 1999, due to lack of money. The scheme has reopened and includes registrations after June 2000. That leaves a nine-month gap with no aid.

Major changes of policy such as organic conversion need long-term commitment from both farmer and government – not changes every few months. We were two months too late or two months too early to qualify for the help we need to make up the income being lost during conversion.

That is unfair and it would probably make more sense to get the sprayer out.

Roger Taylor

Glebe Farm, Great Carlton, Louth, Lincs.

Was outbreak an accident?

Am I the only one who thinks this outbreak is linked to a criminal contamination of our homeland? Where could this infection have come from after 20 years? Perhaps it was introduced accidentally via, as press reports imply, a ham sandwich fed to a pig. Or was it a planned aggression from European agents wanting again to destabilise UK farming?

Perhaps it could be factions within our own community which wish the Countryside March to fail? Apparently this outbreak of foot-and-mouth is the Asian strain; a very virulent form of the disease. How did it cross the water?

Intentionally or accidentally is the question our so-called ministry vets must answer as well as the government.


Name and address supplied.

Demand defeats organic farmers

Listening to the radio on Sat Mar 3, I was amazed to hear a spokeswoman from the Soil Association speaking about the foot-and-mouth crisis.

She said owing to the restrictions on animal movements organic farmers would need derogations enabling them to buy non-organic animal feed. Does that mean organic farming cannot provide enough food to overcome a crisis?

Three cheers for the usually berated conventional farmers. What would we do without them?

Mrs G Palmer

Trevarder Farm, Lanteglos by Fowey, Cornwall.

Misconceptions in organic area

Could I thank Nick Brown and MAFF for promptly paying us 80% of our support payment. But I feel compelled to respond to what he said on the BBCs On The Record programme about organic farming. He stated that organic farming was better for the environment, the public wanted it and it was more profitable. Mr Brown needs some better advisers.

When 70-80% of organic produce is imported how can that benefit our environment? Conventional farmers care just as much about the environment as organic ones and plant trees, hedges and create as many new habitats. The RSPB and other conservation bodies have concluded that conventional farms support as much diversity of wildlife as organic farms. Other reports conclude that conventionally produced food is as nutritious, safe and better value for money than organic food.

Farmers cant afford to use chemicals unnecessarily. Humans are responsible for more environmental pollution than farming.

All the organic imports must miraculously get to the shops without the use of lorries, aircraft and other transports spewing our diesel fumes and raising asthma levels nationwide.

Sadly, Mr Brown, local politicians and the most of the public have no idea of what organic farming really is. He doesnt seem to comprehend that you cant have organic produce at the same price as conventional foods. Also the supermarkets are determined that prices shall be the same thanks to a strong £.

Public perceptions about organic foods do not include the down-side such as: Lower yields, disease-ridden crops, produce rejected because it cannot reach supermarket specifications and conversion periods. Then theres insufficient government funding for conversion and moneys taken by modulation out of conventional farmers pockets.

Mr Brown should realise that the panacea for all farmings ills is not organic farming. Organic prices are continually driven down and it does not give the profits implied.

Bob Dearnley

Burpham Court Farm, Clay Lane, Jacobs Well, Guildford.

None of us left for new dairy

By the time the super dairy at Severnside comes on-stream there will be few dairy farmers left in the UK. I assume Mr Houliston will be sourcing his milk from abroad. He seems to be locked into short-term thinking focusing on low milk price and high profit producing a good cashflow for the company he controls. But he doesnt seem to have spared a thought for the UK dairy farmers.

Current dairy farm costing seems to have no impact on the Dairy Crest management. I suggest they take a look at the hundreds of farmers demonstrating outside their factories. They will see desperate farmers, some milking 70 cows and some over 200. We have been threatened by police and some farmers have been carted off in police vans. But these people are not activists – many are Dairy Crest shareholders – and their common concern is keeping their business alive.

If its co-operation Dairy Crest want they must pay more for their new material. I mean 3-4p per litre more.

John Hore

Ellinghurst Farm, Pilning, Bristol.

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