February 2001

[Week 9 · Feb. 26th - March 4th, 2001]


By Sunday lunchtime the number of FMD cases had risen to 56, with new cases reported in Devon and elsewhere in the country. However, most of the current cases are linked to the original cases and appear to be clustered, although Scotland had its first cases in Dumfries.

Earlier in the week the NFU leader, Ben Gill, had met Tony Blair for urgent talks, while the Countryside Agency urged people to respect the temporary closure of footpaths and rights-of-way during the current FMD outbreak - the government giving local authorities statutory powers to close footpaths. These measures were thought necessary as a few members of the public seem to have been ignoring pleas to stay away from farmland.

By Friday the government was considering licensed movement of livestock to abattoirs from non-infected, the problem being that new stocks of British meat are not reaching the shop shelves. The Prime Minister ruffled supermarket feathers by suggesting that the large multiples have put farmers in a buying 'armlock' and that they were also contributory to the loss of many of our smaller abattoirs.

Other news...
Responding to the short-term cachflow problems being faced by farmers Barclays announced a 3 month 'loan break' for all the 20,000 farmers on its books.

The government announced about 60 locations where trials will take place on GM crops, including oilseed rape and fodder beet. The results will be made public at the end of the trials.

[Week 8 · Feb. 19th - 25th, 2001]


Tuesday saw the confirmation of a case of Foot & Mouth Disease in the UK and within days more cases, and a trace to a holding farm in Northumberland as the possible originating source. After more than 30 years the spectre of a major epidemic has returned to haunt the farming community which is still reeling from the effects of BSE, and Classic Swine Fever last year. For those already struggling in the current agricultural downturn the reappearance of the disease may sadly be the final economic blow to a few farmers, and possibly some food processors.

The government has acted swiftly to impose a ban on the movement of livestock - a measure never adopted during the devastating 1967 outbreak, and the effectiveness of which will be useful to review when the current outbreak is brought under control. On Friday there were hopes that the disease might be confined to just a few farms, but these hopes were dashed on Sunday when the disease was confirmed in Devon [a farmer there had bought livestock from a Cumbria market which had been supplied from the Northumbrian region], and there were reports of a possible case at a processor in Anglesey.

When the dust finally settles, we need to find out why and how FMD has reappeared after 30-odd years. Was the rogue virus brought in with processed feedstuffs or livestock, was it through some sort of bad livestock practices, or is it something to to do with the 'intensive' nature of farming?

Other news...
The Daily Mail reported on Friday that Tony Blair feels that the ban on fox hunting is too divisive and wants to ditch the Labour Party's commitment to the ban in the forthcoming election manifesto.

  [Week 7 · Feb. 12th - 18th, 2001]


The National Assembly for Wales released figures this week which showed that total farming income in Wales dipped into the red last year buy over 2.5 million - the cost of production outstripping payments received.

Various anomalies in the Hunting Bill surfaced during the week, notably one on the hunting of minks with dogs. It seems that one Labour MP is concerned that the absence of hounds to control the mink population would lead to increased numbers of mink which attack other species. MPs are to be given a free vote on this. There was also a strange concession on hunters being able to use dogs to flush out deer - such as a gamekeeper would need to do to take out a diseased animal, and similar to methods used by true deer hunters themselves. The Hunting Bill is certainly going to be full of strange contradictions.

One particularly interesting news item later in the week was that a number of farmers dispossessed during WW2 - for failing to achieve government quotas at the time - are taking their case for deprivation of individual property without compensation to Europe under the new human rights legislation.

[Week 6 · Feb. 5th - 11th, 2001]


On Thursday the Tourism Minister, Janet Anderson, told the National Farm Attractions Network Conference that visits to 'farm attractions' reached ten million last year. It seems that city folk are particularly keen on countryside breaks, and the minster paid tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of those farmers who are making it happen.

The same day The Times reported that Scotland was likely to regulate fox hunting through licensing rather than banning the activity outright. Should the HoC go for a complete ban we could well see huntsmen from England travelling across the border.

The NFU reported that the logo of the British Farm Standard - the little red tractor - will soon be finding its way onto cartons of milk in Sainsburys, and a number of frozen meat products made by Perkins Fropzen Foods. The mark could soon appear on some bread. Perhaps, at last, the red tractor campaign will begin to bear fruit and help promote British raised produce.

The Bank of England reduced interest rates by a quarter percent during the week, but one wonders how much impact this will have on the farming community; although any reduction is probably welcomed by those with large loans and overdrafts. Possibly the reduction might help reduce the strength of Sterling against the Euro, a major problem for those trying to export products.

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