March 2002

[Week 13 · Mar. 4th - 10th, 2002]

Labour Admits FMD Errors

This week the newspapers had a chance to digest the evidence on the government's handling of the FMD crisis last year, details of which were released late last week. It seems that DEFRA now concludes that vaccination was a possibility, that footpaths should not have been closed, and the burning pyres were wrong. An article in The Independent was pretty scathing in its condemnation that the government is not allowing an open public inquiry into the handling of the epidemic.

Meanwhile, a Daily Telegraph editorial on March 27th questioned whether Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett have any interest in farming, given that a single morning was devoted to a working session on farming reform at Downing Street following the report by Sir Don Curry. He thinks that 500m is needed for restructuring, but a Times article wondered whether Beckett can secure the money from the Treasury.

North of the border some 150 to 200 riders assembled on the Duke of Buccleuch's Bowhill estate to for their final legal hunt following the Sottish Parliament's ban on hunting. There are possible plans to challenge the legislation under the European Convention on Human Rights.

[Week 12 · Mar. 11th - 17th, 2002]

The Hunting Vote

The 'middle-way' in the fox hunting debate was thrown out on Monday 18th by MPs when they voted by 386 to 175 against the compromise which would have allowed hunting to continue under licence. The Lords, meanwhile, have supported the 'middle-way'. A few days later the government announced that it will be six months before any new attempt at legislation and this will be based on the principles of 'cruelty and utility' and not the activities to be banned. This very much opens the way for hunting as a means of pest control which Rural Affairs minister, Alun Michael, had suggested some weeks ago.

Meanwhile in Scotland MSPs were giving the controversial Land Reform Bill a second reading. The legislation is controversial because it would allow crofting communities the right to buy the land they work off the landowners. One opposition opponents of the bill has drawn parallels with Mugabe's land grabs in Zimbabwe.

The Soil Association has caused outrage in the English organic wine producing community after importing Californian organic wine for a fundraising bash next week.

  [Week 11 · Mar. 18th - 24th, 2002]

Another Countryside Initiative

Another government initiative to get us all back into the countryside - Your Countryside, You're Welcome - was launched in London's Leicester Square on Sunday [Mar. 10th] with actress Joan Collins surrounded by country paraphernalia. The papers at the beginning of the week commented with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Dressed more like a Texas rancher some observers wondered at the appropriateness of Collins' but apparently the Rural Affairs minister, Alun Michael, approved.

By the end of the week Janet Street-Porter, of TV and Ramblers' Association fame, was fuming in The Independent. Ms S-P regarded the project as a waste of money and suggested that there were better ways of getting us back into the countryside... restoring rural transport, rural pubs to serve food beyond the 2pm closing time at weekends, and more besides.

Apparently the government is seeking to reconcile the differences between the Lords and House of Commons over anti-hunting legislation by introducing exemptions based around pest control. This has been dubbed 'the fourth way' by some, and might get the government off the hook if it does not want to invoke the Parliament Act should the Lords continue to block the Commons on the legislation that manY MPs want to see introduced.

[Week 10 · Mar 25th - 31st, 2002]

Compulsory Farming Insurance?

The FT reported on a meeting between the government and representatives of the Association of British Insurers at the start of a process to try and get UK farmers to insure themselves against crises like FMD rather than the government having to shell out billions of pounds in compensation in the event of future problems. However, the article says that the ABI is worried about such high-risk coverage, reinsurance and government backing.

There was shock last year when the Royal Agriculture Society of England [RASE] announced that it was reorganising itself into a slimmed down operation, however there appears to be something in the wind now. RASE apparently wants to create a theme park at its Stoneleigh Park site in Warwickshire, complete with shops and virtual reality experiences at a cost of around 100m.

The Ananova website announced that to stamp out rogue traders passing off bad goods at Farmers' Markets DEFRA is planning a certification scheme for FM's. Hopefully this will ensure that local growers and farmers are not undercut by the unscrupulous and that high quality standards are maintained.

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