March 2001

[Week 13 · Mar. 26th - Apr. 1st, 2001]

Devon Economic Meltdown

A study carried out for Devon County Council by the Exeter University Agricultural Economics Unit suggests that over one thousand jobs in agriculture may be lost this year, thanks to the FMD outbreak. Even worse is the hypothesis that the whole Devon economy may meltdown with almost 9,000 jobs possibly being lost in tourism, and 280m in income.

News came this week that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has set up an emergency freephone number [0800 138 1647] offering advice to farmers, farm workers and rural businesses and their employees with debt and money difficulties caused through the FMD outbreak.

Other items...
The government has indicated that it wants local planning authorities to look carefully and sympathetically at applications for farm diversification which help rural employment but cause only minor increases in localised road traffic.

A MORI poll in The Times on Thursday [March 29th] suggested that the public has become dissatisfied with the way the government is handling the FMD outbreak. Rural folk were more dissatisfied than urban inhabitants; a pity, since Agriculture Nick Brown has put heart and soul into trying to control the outbreak.

[Week 12 · Mar. 19th - 25th, 2001]

Help IS at Hand

Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, who has been heading a rural task force in the last few weeks to look at the impact of FMD on the fabric of our countryside, announced a raft of measures on Tuesday [March 20th] to help rural businesses hit consequentally by the FMD outbreak. Among the measures are possible rate relief from 75% to 95%, temporary reduction in rateable value, potential rate relief of up to 50% rural pubs and garages with rateable values lower than 9000, deferred rate payments, and a call for the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise to be sympathetic to the needs of rural businesses.

The investigation by the Leicestershire Health Authority into the cluster of Variant-CJD cases in the Queniborough area of the County has concluded that traditional [and now obsolete] butchery practices were probably the cause of meat being contaminated with BSE agents. In the early 1980s butchers were quite legally able to process a whole animal, and hence there was the potential for cross-contamination during the butchering process.

Other items...
The worsening FMD outbreak has caused the authorities to request help from overseas vets, while over a hundred final year veterinary students have been enrolled to help.

  [Week 11 · March 12th - 18th, 2001]

'We Will Not Abandon Them...'

So said Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown on Friday, to the farmers hard-hit by FMD.

This was the week in which the wider impact of FMD - beyond the farming community - really began to appear on the political agenda. Rural tourism and catering is being hit hard by booking cancellations and the government has set up a taskforce to look at the problems and try to find solutions. It appears that the public has taken the plight of the countryside hit by FMD seriously and as a consequence are staying well away. This has impacted on peripheral rural business. Michael Meacher will be announcing various financial and support packages this coming Tuesday.

The government also ordered a cull of livestock [actually pigs and sheep] within a 3km area around any infected farm in Cumbria and Scotland. Many thought the cull included cattle which added to the anxiety of dairy and cattle farmers. Mr Brown later apologised for any misunderstanding. By Sunday evening the number of confirmed outbreaks stood at over 300, and the culling process could eventually tally at a half a million sheep, pigs and goats. A number of farmers in Cumbria have threatened to resist - by whatever legal means - the culling of their healthy animals.

The Prince Charles, who has expressed his concern and solidarity with the farming community at this terrible time, has donated half a million pounds to various rural charities helping farmers deal with the stresses. It is also understood that the Duke of Westminster has made a similar donation.

[Week 10 · March 5th - 11th, 2001]


Apart from FMD the major event of the week was Gordon Brown's Budget. For the farming community there was little to bring cheer, and Anthony Bosanquet, President of the CLA [recently renamed the Country Land and Business Association], pointed out that even with a 23 billion budgetary surplus there has been no mention of any disaster relief as a consequence of the government's imposition of livestock movement restrictions.

There was news in The Times on Wednesday that there are factions within the Countryside Alliance wish to pursue Jack Straw's preferred 'middle way' on the foxhunting issue - in other words licensing hunts.

In The Guardian on the same day Lord Haskins, Chairman of the giant Northern Foods business, and an adviser to the government, proposed a number of ideas challenging the way we produce food: a ban on pig swill and reduction of animal medicines, there should be more environment-friendly production, and an examination of the intensive methods of pig farming. However, Lord Haskins rightly points out that without modern agricultural methods wheat would cost about 1000 a tonne, while milk would be around 2 a pint - the prospect being that many poor people would be unable to afford milk and subsequently rickets would reappear.

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