16 August 2002


Standstill:Group vet disagrees

Regarding your headline "Vets stand firm behind ruling" (News, Aug 2), I am one vet who does not agree with the 20-day standstill. Twenty days is well in excess of the normal incubation period of foot-and-mouth.

Isolating bought-in stock, not the whole of the farm, would better control other diseases. Control measures which apply to intensive livestock, such as poultry and pigs, do not apply to cattle and sheep kept in a completely different way.

I feel strongly that the way F&M has been handled has damaged the reputation of our profession. In my opinion decisions made by senior DEFRA vets show a lack of understanding of the farming industry and a poor application of the science.

What is required now is an effective control of the illegal importation of meat, not the pathetic application of a few drops of disinfectant to vehicle wheels at markets.

Please remember that we vets in mixed practice are independent and give advice based on practical knowledge and science. We do not have to consider our chances of promotion or any civil service pension. Please do not tar us with the same brush.

D Martin Davies

Bush House Veterinary Group, 34 Towy Terrace, Ffairfach, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.

DEFRA order move a puzzle

There will be many people like myself who will be both puzzled and disappointed by the recent decision by DEFRA and Lord Whitty to maintain the 20-day standstill order for the movement of livestock on and off farms.

Lord Whitty supports the recommendations of the recently published Lessons to be Learned inquiry, whose chairman was Sir Iain Anderson. This report recommends that the government retain the 20-day movement pending a detailed risk assessment and wide ranging cost-benefit analysis. Earlier in the report he states that the last confirmed case was in Appleby, Cumbria on Sept 30, 2001.

I find it difficult to reconcile the maintenance of the utmost of bureaucratic restrictions on livestock farmers, who are still trying to recover from those dreadful events of last year, when the outbreak was officially over 11 months ago.

There must be a reason for this discrepancy. Either Lord Whitty and his government wish to take revenge against the farming industry – which is increasingly expressing its dislike at what it perceives as a futile government fundamentally opposed to it – or the risk of F&M is not yet over. In the latter case Dr Andersons report is fundamentally flawed. If that is true, there will be a risk only in certain parts of the country, so why should the rest of the country have to suffer?

Dr Andersons report devotes more attention to the economic impact of closing and opening of footpaths than it does to biosecurity arrangements.

Lord Whitty must provide the scientific basis on which he has made this decision because it is certainly not in Dr Andersons report.

Arnold Pennant

Nant Gwilym, Tremeirchion, St Asaph, Denbighshire.

Put restrictions on politicians

The 20-day livestock movement rule is to allow any consequences of the movement to develop before further movement. Should not the same rule apply to the speeches of ministers and politicians? No more speeches until the effect of the first has worn off.

Bruce Wilkinson

Netherdyke, Glapthorn, Peterborough.

20-day rule is fatally flawed

Much has been said and written about the 20-day movement restrictions on sheep. If they were to continue, the industry, in its tried and tested form, would not.

In the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, it did make sense to restrict movements. But we have been declared free of the disease for many months. So why do we still have to abide by these pedantic regulations? There can be no scientific justification, unless DEFRA believes sheep somewhere are still harbouring infection. If that is the case, it should say so. There cannot be welfare reasons, except in the eyes of cranks. Could it be, once again, that the government is out of touch with reality and necessity? Or is the government just trying to keep we farmers where it wants us?

It is just one more reason to join the Livelihood and Liberty March on Sept 22.

K J Vizard

Bartram House, Bartram Farm, Old Otford Road, Sevenoaks, Kent.

Organic aid not what it seems

The recent announcement (News, Aug 2) of extra support to be granted to organic farmers needs closer attention than the public would believe. Some of the money mentioned had already been announced and I believe that is called double accounting.

Second, the media confused acres with hectares so £240/acre as announced is 60% too high. The best industry information I know values the award to an average organic dairy farmer at one quarter of a penny per litre – still useful when you have seen the price drop by six or seven pence this year alone. Perhaps most interestingly of all was the comment of our feed association UKASTA. It e-mailed us with the announcement of the publication of DEFRAs Organic Farming and the Environment plan. It was developed by a small sub-group that included no one from an agricultural body and drew dubious comparisons between conventional and organic farming.

The consequences are that 95% of the population who heard this news will think farmers have been baled out again and how DEFRA is doing as much as possible for farming and the countryside. In reality it is a smokescreen to cover the truth. DEFRA seems to be able to spin as well as the Indian cricket team.

John Reading

Grimsdyke Granaries, Coombe Bissett, Salisbury, Wilts.

Smash ragwort not GM crops

Those activists who fear the as yet unproven defects of genetically modified crops to the extent that they commit trespass to uproot them, might instead devote their energies to uprooting that well-known injurious weed, ragwort.

The weed is blooming along public roadside verges and will run to seed and blow in all directions. Some may think it pretty but the toxins in ragwort are poisonous to grazing livestock (and humans) and will cause an estimated 1000 deaths of horses this year. But no doubt someone will identify an endangered species of insect which depends on it.

John Jenkin

Meads, Eastbourne, Sussex.

GM crop data was not so rosy

The article "Data shows economic success for GM crops" (Arable, July 12) is misleading. It quotes claims from a US National Centre for Food and Agriculture Policy study part funded by Monsanto and the Biotechnology Industry Organisation.

With the exception of Bt insecticide cotton, often planted where little integrated pest management is used, examination of USDA governmental data released in June gives a different picture. First, GM crops do not increase yield potential and may reduce yields. Second, Bt insecticide GM corn has had a negative economic impact on farms.

Third, GM herbicide-tolerant crops have produced no reduction in herbicide active ingredient applied. Fourth, the reports says: "Change in pesticide use from the adoption of herbicide-tolerant cotton was not significant." Fifth, for herbicide-tolerant soya, active ingredient of herbicide applied has increased.

Sixth, it states: "The adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans does not have a statistically significant effect on net returns." It adds: "Using herbicide-tolerant seed did not significantly affect no-till adoption".

The report comments that "the soybean results appear to be inconsistent with the rapid adoption of this technology" and that "An analysis using broader financial performance measures… did not show GE crops to have a significant impact."

It concludes that: "Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative." The report does not refer to unreliable promotional advice fed to farmers.

The Prime Minister claims to seek a scientific debate on GM crops. Unless there is a willingness to look at all the scientific data and to avoid hype from vested interests, we are unlikely to get one.

Mark Griffiths

75 Fairfield Rd, Winchester, Wilts.

Welcome for plane sailing

A couple of weeks ago, I was forced by weather to land my sailplane in a stubble field for the first time in well over a year. It was my first out landing in such a long period because of last years foot-and-mouth problems when responsible air sports bodies banned cross-country flights.

I was uncertain as to the reception I would receive, so I was delighted when I rang the farm (in line with the British Gliding Associations Code of Conduct for field landings) to explain that I had unexpectedly dropped in on them. Once the farmers wife had ascertained that I was all right and the field was a large cut one, she said there was absolutely no problem and should my crew have difficulty getting the gliders trailer in and out of the field, they would happily send over a tractor to help out.

It was very reassuring to receive such a welcome and through your pages I would like to thank the Gloucestershire farm concerned for their friendliness and helpfulness.

Nick Wall

Stroud, Glos.

RSPCA – stick to charity work

Following the recent correspondence on Freedom Foods (Letters, Aug 2) I would like to take issue with Mike Sharpe of the RSPCA. He states that the RSPCA did not prosecute a chicken supplier for misleadingly using the "Freedom Foods" trademark on some products.

I believe that food labelling legislation and trademarking is a matter dealt with by local authority Trading Standards departments and not the RSPCA. The decision to prosecute was, therefore, not in his hands. I wish the RSPCA would stick to what it is good at – being an animal welfare charity and not a law enforcement agency.

Caroline Cooper

Contractor was out of order

As chairman of the industry organisation representing agricultural contractors, I must write to condemn the recent photograph of the sprayer operator taking water from a stream (Livestock, Aug 2). Almost every rule in the book was being broken and those are not the actions of a responsible professional.

The contractor has let himself down while bringing the industry into disrepute. The NAAC could neither condone nor tolerate such activity. There can be no excuse for the contractors behaviour. I can only assume that he was not properly up-to-date with all the information on spray operations.

Rob Morris

National Association of Agricultural Contractors, chairman, Samuelson House, Paxton Rd, Orton Centre, The photograph in question slipped through our usual safety net. It is our policy to uphold best farming practice. As such, we cannot condone irresponsible spraying operations – EDITOR.

When tithes were hard

No doubt the book Tithe War by Carol Twinch is an excellent read (Features, Aug 2). But unless my memory has let me down, tithe goes back to 1066. And if the church tax ever was a "strong traditional link between farm and church", it was both recent and short-lived.

Until well into the Industrial Revolution, agriculture was the main basic industry of the civilized world. Peasant farmers and their families were virtually slaves, who enabled the crown and noblemen on one hand, and the church on the other, to live lives of luxury.

Until mechanisation, farming was very labour-intensive. Oxen or horses ploughed and pulled carts. The rest was hand labour, from sowing seed to scything hay and harvest. Peasant farmers and their families built cottages, thatched roofs, cut hedges and dug ditches. Tasks which changed little century after century.

The Industrial Revolution concentrated labour under one roof. As families moved into the newly-built towns around coal mines and cotton mills farm sizes got bigger and farm commodity prices increased. The introduction of the horse drawn reaper did the work of 10 scythers, which caused the Tolpuddle martyrs to go on strike in 1834. Yet tithe was far more unfair and unreasonable.

When I started farming in 1946, the cost of tithe per acre was half the cost of the going rate for rent and the church did nothing for it. That was why it was brought to an end. When our local vicar asks for a donation for the Harvest Festival, he was shocked when I told him to take what he wanted out of my tithe.

George Scales

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

Is marijuana our salvation?

Am I to understand that Home secretary David Blunkett has given us a window of opportunity? Marijuana could be the cash crop of the future.

Surely DEFRA will endorse a crop that is not reliant on subsidy for profit. Heed will have been taken from the advice they have given us, so we will cut out the middle man and market direct, probably as self-pick farms. Who knows, stubble burning may be reintroduced due to public demand.

Has New Labour solved the problems of CAP, modulation, over production and sustainable agriculture while saving the taxpayers millions of £s? Or is my naivety enough to get me stoned?

Austen Righton

Lower Farm, Noke, Oxford.

Car the culprit for lost hares?

I would like to comment on your article (News, Aug 2) on the decline of brown hares. In the past few years numbers have increased on our farm. Hares are being seen again where they have not been seen for many years.

The most noticeable predator is the car as I have seen three dead hares on the lanes around the village in the past month. These are quiet Devon lanes, so perhaps the fact that most roads are busier these days may account for some of this decline in other areas.

R A Cross

Huntsham Barton, Tiverton, Devon.

Memories of a bygone age

John Jenkins Talking Point (July 26) takes me back more than 50 years to the summer of 1951 when I had two months agricultural leave from the Army to help with the harvest.

Most of the time I did the milk round from my brothers farm and we did indeed supply papers, tobacco and occasionally post to outlying houses.

The highlight of the round was breakfast at the big house with the kitchen staff. The butler took up her ladyships breakfast with the News Of The World or the Mirror and then retired to his pantry with The Times.

Keith Jenkin

1 Trinity Walk, Leverstock Green, St Albans, Herts.

NZ does fine with low aid

A recent OECD report showed that in 1999, 70% of Swiss farmers gross farm revenue was provided by subsidies. In Norway 65% of gross farm income came from subsidies and in the US it was 21%.

In Australia and New Zealand the percentages were 0% and 1%, respectively.

With some farmers in this country trying to justify the future payment of subsidies on the basis of keeping the countryside looking beautiful, I would like to ask, how does New Zealand manage to keep that country looking so beautiful, if their farmers only get 1% of their income from subsidies?

N Carter

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