30 July 1999


To ban the hunt would be disaster

Never before has our rural population and wildlife been threatened by such prejudiced ignorance as that displayed by some of Britains MPs.

Hunting is just one of the wildlife management tools which ensures that a healthy population of foxes, hares and deer exist; not in nature reserves but in our farmland and woods. Hunting is run to strict codes of conduct and policed by men, women and children from all walks of life who follow on horse, on foot or by car at their own expense because they are passionate about the environment.

Hunting is their hobby enjoyed all over Britain. A hobby that can be followed for a few minutes or a full day, every week or just now and then, as and when family and work commitments allow.

Hunting people look after the wildlife for the benefit of all the people of Britain by ensuring a living landscape. They also organise functions to raise money for worthwhile causes for the benefit of all such as cancer research and air ambulances.

None of the non-hunting animal welfare organisations ever do thAT. They are selfish to their own cause and blinkered to a rational overview of the world around them which needs to be managed.

Banning hunting brings no benefits to people or animals. If you agree, do everything you can to ensure it continues or we will witness a man-made countryside disaster.

Walter M Black

The Countryside Alliance, The Grooms Cottage, Sherbourne, Warwick.

Deny scientists right to meddle

It is beginning to dawn in the public mind that, having survived Nostradamus dire predictions for the ending of the world, we may fall victim to the prediction of Karl Marx. That is it will take illegal action to prevent the multinational corporations from inflicting damage to the planet and to the health of our children.

In the debate about genetic engineering of food, there is continuous recourse to the evidence of science as the deciding factor. It is worth remembering that Albert Einstein made the following remark: "One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science measured against reality is primitive and childlike."

It has been the grand pretence of modern science that existence is fully comprehensible to the human mind. Hardly surprising, then, this present confusion of the ability to tamper with nature, with having the complete knowledge of reality to warrant such acts of vandalism.

It is not scientific to assert, as scientists do, that nature is the product of chance chemical reaction and consciousness the by-product. A new science is being developed which recognises consciousness as being primary in nature, In this ordered universe, what scientist could claim the right to meddle, and what businessman can claim the right of might by financial clout?

Science knows as much about the universal questions as a lonely gnat skating on the surface of the mid-Atlantic can accurately report on the contours of the oceanic floor.

It may be of value to the likes of Monsanto, to recall that the French Revolution began with a man, an axe, and a rabble who marched on the Palace of Versailles. The rabble was made up mostly of distraught mothers who would not forgive the fouling of their childrens food supply.

Giles Maynard

Chairman, Dilston Press Ltd, Cowick Farm, Hilmarton, Calne Wilts.

Calm debate at anti-GM meet

We organised the public meeting at Lyng in Norfolk to which you refer (News, Jul 16) and found your report less than balanced. Most people attending the meeting were either from Lyng or the surrounding villages.

The debate was calm and courteous and we regret that the farmer, Mr Brigham, chose to send a prepared statement, rather than attend to explain his views. Those who contacted us to ask for this meeting were, like ourselves, all ordinary, local people with genuine concerns. They felt that consultation and information had been denied them, first by Mr Brigham and then by the government and AgrEvo.

The meeting raised further important issues among which were the following. First, a decision has not been made as to how to destroy the GM maize crop; the suggestion is that it will be incorporated into the soil. Mr DSouza then admitted that a non-GM crop grown in that same soil next year could be sold, unlabelled, for animal or human consumption. Second, liability for contamination of non-GM crops or environmental damage is still under discussion with only days before the crop flowers. Why was this trial even started before such basic rules were established?

Karly Graham and Jo Page

Genetic change only natural

May I be permitted to clear up the confusion surrounding genetic modification (Letters, Jul 9). The theory of natural selection postulates that genetic modification is the mechanism through which evolutionary change occurs. The distinction between natural and unnatural agents of this change seems to me spurious. A gene is no more than specific arrangement of amino acids and other chemicals within a chain. It is there in a currently surviving species only because, after a mutation that put it in position, it conferred advantage on the individual which possessed it.

When enough mutations have occurred the individual becomes so different from the original (not to mention from others in which different mutations have occurred) that a new species appears.

By extrapolating this process from a single original living organism divergent species evolved and eventually plant and animal life established, originating from common genetic material. To suggest that any particular gene is only appropriate to this organism seems illogical considering the common origin of life.

It is so unnatural to facilitate such change? The only difference between human intervention and the myriad of other influences inducing mutation is that of intention as opposed to chance. The result will be the same, many failures, and the conferring of advantage on a few individuals who flourish and compete successfully. It is reasonable to suggest that the changes brought about by Monsanto could have occurred spontaneously.

Human intervention will however alter the pressure of selection, and thereby affect what survives and what doesnt. In that sense, Monsanto joins the Ice Age and gunpowder as part of the world within which natural selection operates.

The real point at issue is not genetic modification, but the context within which the resultant individuals are allowed, encouraged, or prevented from flourishing.

If I trusted politicians and big business more, I should be more sanguine on this issue. As it is, this technology is neutral but with enormous potential to be used to advantage but its introduction requires responsibility and care.

David Boulton

Bounden Hill Farm, Charwelton, Daventry, Northants.

GM label is misleading

The recent discussion in your letters columns about genetically modified organisms springs from whoever was responsible for inventing that label in the first place. It is perfectly sound to say that selective breeding is genetic modification; available genes are introduced to achieve certain properties in the animal or plant being modified.

The current debate involves a method which literally takes apart a collection of genes (chromosome) and rebuilds it with different components which may, in some cases, have come from a different kind of organism. The technique is probably more correctly titled genetic engineering and was often referred to as such until fairly recently.

Using this more descriptive term would probably satisfy both sides. In fact, we probably have some headline-seeking journalist to thank for the present label.

R Burrell


Danes take Heritage name

I am a regular purchaser of Heritage bacon, although it can be difficult to find with its small print. I was pleased to see the other day that Heritage bacon had changed its pack design and Heritage was printed in large and eye-catching letters. Further investigation revealed in very small print the words Danish Bacon.

Can the Danes be allowed to get away with this? Can they steal another brand name?

Mrs SM Body

Treweatha Farm, Dobwalls, Liskeard, Cornwall.

Beg to differ over Limousins

Having had the honour of judging the Limousin classes at this years Royal Show I feel it is necessary to comment on your misleading report (Royal Show Report, July 9).

Hawsons Gold Dust was not in the same class as Millbrook Lancelot, neither did he stand in front of him at any time in the show ring.

Millbrook Lancelot was a worthy supreme champion of the breed and, together with the female and reserve champion Ronick Janita, went on to win the Burke Trophy. That was the first time ever for the Limousin.

Doug Edgar

Fellside, Ousby, Penrith, Cumbria.

Balloons pollute the countryside

How can people be proud of letting 5000 balloons pollute the countryside (News, July 9)? Especially to promote farming. What goes up must come down.

Most of them seem to land on our farm. They flutter in the hedge and spook the horses. Ive hit the ground too many times to count. They cause horses to shy in front of cars that travel along the lanes too fast to stop suddenly.

I heard galloping horses in the paddock and discovered that an inquisitive horse had nibbled at the label and got it stuck between his teeth and was galloping around with the balloon chasing him.

Young calves have had them stuck internally. Even if they are biodegradeable its not quick enough to save lives. Please tell the NFYFC campaign to raise their own awareness and other peoples some other way.

Mrs Rosemary Manlove

Bury Barns Farmhouse, Sandon, Herts.

Quality meat? acquire a list

I have sympathy with Denis Lilley (Letters, July 9) who is trying to find a source of good meat but he should not despair. As a conservation measure, we introduced several years ago the Traditional Breeds Meat Marketing Scheme since many of the breeds under our wing were largely scorned by the mainstream meat market. Thus we accredit selected independent butchers around the country to stock and market meat from purebred, rare and minority breeds as a speciality product.

Using traditional, slow-maturing stock kept in non-intensive conditions, I can assure him that meat through our scheme has many of the old-fashioned virtues he remembers with well-marbled beef, pork with real crackling and dry-cured bacon which would test the spirit of many vegetarians. Alas, the OTMS prevents us from offering beef from fully mature cattle of 800kg liveweight but I am sure that our beef is the next best thing available.

We have a growing list of accredited butchers around the country and with their success, a growing army of discerning consumers discovering that there is an alternative to the sort of eating experiences Mr Lilley describes.

At the same time, with such an appreciative market, numbers of many rare breeds are increasing again.

Anyone looking for quality meat should contact us for a list of accredited butchers.

Richard Lutwyche

Rare Breeds Survival Trust, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park,

Strong merits in modern meat

I would like to reply to Denis Lilleys letter (Jul 9) Modern meat not worth eating. He obviously did not visit Barenbrugs stand at Grassland 99. Otherwise he would have enjoyed beef supplied by our local butcher here in West Sussex. I suggest he moves to this area to enable him to feast on marbled beef and excellent pork sausages which I can assure him will not taste like condoms filled with soya meal.

Bill Morphew

Horsham, West Sussex.

Consumption of beef declining

The MLCs head of beef strategy is right to point out that beef consumption is almost up to 1995 levels (Letters, July 9). But he overlooks the fact that the total volume eaten each year still appears to be in long-term decline. Disappointment in its taste and flavour is almost certainly a significant contributory factor.

Mr Mead also concentrates on extolling the virtues of the MLC blueprint which, if it is adhered to, should present consumers with beef that is consistently more tender. But it may be that in times of short supply, less beef than normal is in abattoirs long enough to hit the recommended maturing period.

Mrs Adams (Livestock, June 11) is not just a Nuffield scholar she is also widely recognised as the NBAs spokesman on consumer affairs. Like her colleagues, she takes the view that more must be done to re-introduce taste and flavour into home-killed beef.

Our belief is that this means the industry must concentrate more on the production of the right type of animal instead of focusing only on establishing post-slaughter tenderness as the MLC is doing through its blueprint.

More effort should be made to take advantage of the fuller flavour of grass and silage fed beef and the identification of animals most likely to produce marbelled beef.

We accept that if blueprint protocols are followed to the letter, more consumers will get tender beef but abattoirs cannot make a silk purse out of a sows ear. And it is also important that they receive more slower growing animals that have absorbed more omega 3 fatty acids through grass and are killed later than animals producing fast, tasteless beef through exclusively grain-fed intensive systems.

If this production-led approach was married to the MLCs post slaughter blueprint controls, then consumers and the industry would be more likely to enjoy the benefits that come from supplying even better beef.

Robert Forster

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

Threat to small farms evident

According to the latest prophecies of Dr Michael Murphy, of Cambridge University, small family farms will disappear like corner shops.

You dont need to be a number cruncher to come to that conclusion. That process has already been under way for decades. Its not just small family farm businesses which will disappear; along with them will go many allied trade businesses. I suspect not many tears will be shed for the inevitable demise of the mass ranks of agricultural hangers on such as land agents, quota agents, consultants and of the rest.

It must be the most maddening experience for a dairy farmer to turn out of bed at 5am, seven days a week, to pull cows teats and have to lease quota at 10p a litre from a non-producer quota owner such as an over-paid pop star or commodity dealer. Dairy farmers themselves, not just their cows, are the ones who have been milked.

J D Wright

Riverview, Toad Row, Henstead, Beccles.

Nest destroyers risk £1000 fine

I noted your letter (Jul 16) about hedge cutting and destroying birds nests. I thought everyone knew that this activity is illegal from 1 Mar to 30 Sept; as is cutting back any sort of vegetation. It carries the risk of a £1000 fine or an unlimited fine for a second offence. Please save the hedge and grass trimming until winter when there is not as much to do on the farm.

P Dransfield

North Yorkshire House, Main Street, Great Heck, Selby, Nr Goole, East Yorks.

Long Ashton has vital role

I am disturbed by your report (Arable, Jun 18) of the proposal to close IACR – Long Ashton. Long Ashton Research Station has been at the forefront of agricultural and horticultural research for almost a century.

The original work on cider-making and fruit juices led to broader studies of plant biology, nutrition and disease control in fruit crops. The work widened to include other crop plants and thus was developed the expertise which resulted in Long Ashton becoming an important part of IACR. Todays issues are the environment and responsible use of agrochemicals.

Long Ashton has for some time been addressing these through the LIFE/ICM work. The biomass studies developed from work on willow growing for basket making. That work was nearly closed at a crucial stage a few years ago.

As a farmer and wildlife trust member, I meet many well-educated people who are concerned about the effects of modern farming on wildlife and the environment. It is the inter-relationship of biological species that created and which maintains the environment in which we live and farm. We must ensure that our farming methods can co-exist with the biological mechanisms on which we depend.

Excessive emphasis on industry rather than public funding for research has concentrated work on commercial profit rather than public interest objectives. This, and the attendant short-termism, has probably contributed to the problems of BSE and OPs and certainly to the poor public image of scientific agriculture.

We need publicly funded positive studies of the relationships between crop production methods and wildlife balance in the environment and the environmentally beneficial potential of GMOs such as disease resistance, extended growing season and legume style nitrogen generation for cereals and grasses. New Labour has a commitment to the environment; so instead of closing Long Ashton, the BBSRC should be frightening the wits out of government with warnings about what will happen if they do not fund the appropriate work that Long Ashton is ideally placed to undertake.

I must disclose a personal interest. My father, Prof Thomas Wallace, worked as a soil chemist at Long Ashton from 1919 until his death in 1965. He was director from 1943-57 and during that period I grew up living on the station farm.

Nigel Wallace

Craen, Llanerfyl, Welshpool, Powys.

Farrowing crate ban misguided

I read with dismay the RSPCAs decision to ban farrowing crates. My sows were very contented farrowing in crates. Most of them grunted as you passed. Each sow got its own ration and cleaned it up by the next feed.

I began keeping sows years ago. The bullies were just the same then as today.

The decision to ban farrowing crates by Freedom Foods has nothing to do with welfare it is about legacies they wish to gain from old ladies. Those would allow people in these organisations to keep their cushy jobs.

Jimmy Fraquair

Wellington, Dalkeith, Midlothian.

Dangers of OP acknowledged

Information from the working group on OPs has at last led to recognition of the serious effects that OP sheep dip has had on many farmers (News, July 9).

Thanks to the determined actions of voluntary bodies and individuals, who refused to give in, the recognition of the dangers of this product are confirmed. But this is not the final act in the protection of farmer and consumer safety.

Other products, many used as sprays on farms, in industry, in homes and on our food are still used and accepted by the Pesticides Directorate or the Vet Medicines Directorate as safe.

Theres little evidence of adverse reaction reporting, due mainly to the ignorance of farmers and public regarding the existence of such a system.

It also reflects the lack of expertise in the medical profession regarding ability to diagnose toxic effects and relate them to specific toxins.

The ethics committees are either biased or have little say and where an element of doubt exists, the precautionary principle is used less in scientific practice.

Farmers should make sure their MPs are aware of these issues when voting on the Freedom of Information Bill shortly to be debated. Secrecy in the licensing procedures must be eradicated.

Setting up of a new food ethics council, a group of independent members with expertise to deal with such issues, is good news.The committee could be a step in the right direction to protect farmers and consumers.

J MacDonald

Farming and Livestock Concern, Penlan Fach, Llangain, Carmarthen.

Dip claim is just scaremongering

The Talking Point (Jul 16) on OP sheep dips by Paul Tyler is scare mongering of the worst sort. He has misrepresented the findings of the study by the Institute of Occupational Medicine in such a way that sheep dippers will be caused maximum alarm.

The study set out to test the claim that exposure to dips over a long time, even in low doses, can cause nerve damage. It did not support that theory. Instead, it concluded that if nerve damage has occurred it may be due to exposure to concentrated dip.

That is hardly surprising because the first part of the study, carried out in 1996, showed that less than half of those handling concentrate bothered to use gloves, and that most of those who did use gloves failed to do so correctly.

Mr Tyler states that 18% of farmers handling dip suffer nerve damage.

This is not true. 19% of dipping farmers reported symptoms (not the same as nerve damage) compared with 11% of farmers not using dip and 5% of industrial workers.

More English dippers reported symptoms than Scottish dippers, and older farmers reported more symptoms than younger ones. After adjusting for age and country the study found that there was no real difference in symptoms between farmers using sheep dip and those who did not. Both groups had more symptoms than industrial workers, which may say something about farming as a way of life, but not much about dips.

So what does this mean? Probably no more than that mishandling concentrate dip is a mistake – which was already known. The test for the regulatory bodies is to see if they can improve the handling of concentrate. The study was carried out some time ago and it may be that the certificate of competence which has been introduced since then will have reduced careless handling. Also manufacturers have been asked to make the packaging of concentrate less prone to accidents.

Rather than trying to scare farmers it would have been much more helpful for Mr Tyler to have urged them to treat dipping seriously and use protective clothing wisely. His remarks will probably lead to more ill health in farmers, from unjustified worry.

Geoffrey Hollis

12 Lodge Drive, Hatfield, Herts.

Colleges doing their level best

In response to Simon Gibsons letter (June 18) I dont think the colleges are entirely at fault, although I accept his concerns. Colleges predicted that the currency of qualifications would be devalued in the eyes of industry if the pre-entry and sandwich industrial elements were removed, and the courses shortened. But they were powerless to prevent the funding and awarding bodies from doing so.

Industrial advisory panels at Writtle, and I suspect many other centres, debated these changes and attempted to put pressure on the funding councils and validating bodies, but to no avail. Our only alternative suggestion was industrial sponsorship – if the industry really wanted the colleges to put in extra time and effort without government funding, could they not provide some sponsorship maybe on a partnership basis? Alas the industry is going through a difficult period and conditions were hardly conducive to success.

Mr Gibson states that the problems are the fault of the colleges trying to keep student numbers up to the detriment of quality. In fact colleges are trying to maintain quality and protect agricultural education despite the funding problems.

His point has been made for generations and was almost certainly made about his course as compared to those preceding him. There are lessons to be learned but the graduates and diplomats of today are able to enter a complex industry equipped with the necessary skills to enable them to develop their careers and enhance both the industry and the economy generally.

Robert Curtis

Writtle College, Chelmsford, Essex.


Internal squabbling is

the tallest hurdle

confronting the road to

sugar beet success,

says Marie Skinner

The UK sugar industry has the opportunity to take a huge leap forward and reposition itself as a major, competitive player in the European sugar market. But, it may never happen, if internal disagreement prevents a constructive approach to the future.

The good news is that growing and processing sugar beet is profitable, despite problems in other arable sectors. The bad news is that grower and processor are arguing with each other over the basis on which they should work together and share out the guaranteed return.

The Inter-Professional Agreement (IPA) is being re-negotiated. British Sugar, the monopoly processor, and the NFU, acting for growers, are trying to reach a new agreement. The two sides, despite having already spent nearly three years in negotiation, do not seem able to reach an amicable conclusion.

With the gap between BS and the NFU currently like the Grand Canyon, it is unlikely to be bridged by either side. The dispute will have to be settled by independent arbitration. That may sound like the sensible solution but it carries considerable dangers.

British Sugar has made it clear that if arbitration occurs it will withdraw many of the concessions it currently offers. Some existing beet payments could be put at risk, such as early and late delivery bonuses and the beneficial, sugar scale. Beet contracts would become ex-farm, with the transport allowance to growers ending and British Sugar managing transport – so extending powers back on to farms.

The NFU believes it is worth risking losing the current basis on which trading occurs. It feels BS exploits its monopoly processor status by not paying for increased quality or for sugar extracted from the crowns – despite this sugar becoming part of the 1.144m tonnes UK sugar quota paid for in full by the EU sugar regime.

Growers expect the NFU, as the seller of their beet, to fight strongly for their interests. Negotiating on price, and trying to achieve the best possible deal.

Both sides could lose out through arbitration and the destruction of good working relationships throughout all levels of the industry. Growers will only know if this is a price worth paying when they know the final result of arbitration.

As commodity prices fall, it is accepted that the agricultural industry must work more closely together with the food chain than ever before, to be more competitive, productive and innovative at every stage.

Already, there is more vertical integration within the sugar industry than for most other crops. Growers and processor should be building on that advantage to produce a model of efficient practice that other commodities envy.

Outside influences are threatening the UK sugar industry. The EU Sugar Regime is under review and cuts in quota and/or price are a possible outcome. MAFF and the EU Commission are also discussing regional premia. If MAFF allows the UK to lose its regional premium for being a deficit sugar producer, it will cost growers £1.30/t.

The current IPA is steeped in ancient history and desperately needs updating. Before it is too late, the sugar industry should find a way to move forward in a constructive and productive way. But, that will require both parties to have an enthusiasm for change, rather than a begrudging reluctance to move.

As British Sugar and NFU dig in their heels either side of the Grand Canyon they have a choice. Stay put or take a risk and make a major leap across. Small moves will not work, as the Chinese proverb says: You cant leap a chasm in small steps. Your comments would be welcome. or fax 01508 495488

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