April 2001

[Week 17 · Apr. 23rd - 29th, 2001]

Organic Fright

The highly respected organic farming association, the Henry Doubleday Research Association [HRDA] is at the centre of a GM scare this week after it was revealed that a 25-acre trial of GM maize is to take place a couple of miles away; a prospect which will shock those working in the organic industry.

One unusual casualty of the FMD outbreak has been Agrifirst.co.uk which was due to trade in agricultural supplies via the WWW. The French parent company has shelved plans for its UK offshoot for the forseeable future. A similar on-line venture, Globalfarmers, reported that it would be reducing its' Edinburgh workforce by half.

The FMD outbreak continued to dominate rural news with Nick Brown essentially ruling out livestock vaccination after an overwhelmingly negative response from the farming community. However, in Cumbria and North Devon there were certainly sections of the community who wanted to give vaccination a try, given the seriousness of the outbreak there.

There was also some debate over the fairness of the compensation paid to farmers whose livestock have been slaughtered. Livestock slaughtered before March 28th were frequently valued at less than the 'standard payment' which was introduced by the government to speed up the disposal process.

Meanwhile, the Country Land and Business Association [CLA] has called for MAFF to be scrapped and replaced by a more wide-ranging Department for the Countryside and Agriculture. According to an article in The Times [April 25th] Tony Blair has already decided this will be the case, althought the following day this was denied.

Elsewhere, around the Essex abattoir, where the current FMD outbreak was first spotted, livestock restrictions have been lifted. Wales, however, is suffering from a huge backlog of animals awaiting slaughter - over 200,000 according to a statement given to the Welsh National Assembly.

The Food Standards Agency also raised fears later in the week that fields where FMD carcasses were incinerated may be contaminated with cancer-causing agents from the pyres. Near Welshpool, in Wales, a burial pit is to be re-opened after effluent from the pit escaped in the vicinity of the Severn River. The World Wide Fund for Nature raised it's head above the parapet too; calling for three quarters of the money supporting the EC's Common Agricultural Policy should be invested in the wider rural economy.

[Week 16 · Apr. 16th - 22nd, 2001]

Vaccination on the Cards?

The latest twist in the FMD crisis is that the NFU appears to want to block government plans to immunise livestock with vaccine. The basis of the NFU argument is that it will take longer for our farmers to regain disease-free status which is important for UK meat exports. The Food Standards Agency says the vaccine is not a health threat to humans, and that milk and meat from vaccinated animals could be sold on the UK market [though there will be a 30 day post-vaccination period before human consumption would be allowed and milk would need heat-treating]. Later in the week the government announced a delay in its proposed vaccination plans.

The Country Land and Business Association [formerly the CLA] is to go ahead with this year's Game Fair. One difference to many other shows is that the three-day Fair is not centered around livestock.

The RSPCA waded into the FMD outbreak with regional schemes to help in the farm-animal welfare crisis which has been another major concern; a number of alarming reports claiming that some animals are almost starving to death. The RSPCA will endeavour to get feed and other supplies to farmers who have been running out of these due to movement restrictions.

  [Week 15 · Apr. 9th - 15th, 2001]

Illegal Livestock Movements

On Monday [April 9th] Tony Blair met farmers' leaders for an update on the FMD crisis. Meanwhile Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, drew attention to reports that some farmers have been illegally moving livestock with the potential for spreading FMD. A number of Police forces and Trading Standards authorities are looking into alleged cases of livestock movement without licences.

It was also announed that the Royal Welsh Show will be cancelled with a potential loss of 30m to the local economy, while on Wednesday [April 11th] it was announced that the famous Royal Highland Show, which attracts about 150,000 people, would be cancelled this year.

The Tenant Farmers Association drew attention to the potentially large costs that farmers could incur if a European Directive to improve water quality is followed through.

A DoE consultation paper suggests the costs for complying with the directive could be around 70/acre for arable and nearly 50/acre for grass land; something which the TFA believes could threaten farming livelihoods.

[Week 14 · Apr. 2nd - 8th, 2001]

Imperial College Forecast

Scientists at London's Imperial College have been putting their computers to work and estimate the FMD outbreak may have passed its peak, although this prediction is based on the assumption of 24-hour cull times - and 48-hour for farms neighbouring affected livestock units - to make their prediction. As several news items have shown over the week the 24-hour cull time is still not being achieved in all outbreaks.

A helping hand to rural tourist and retail businesses was held out on Friday when Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, announced bridging-loan facilities [up to 250,000] for enterprises suffering cash-flow troubles as a result of the FMD outbreak.

Worries that some of the rarer breeds of sheep - particularly those in upland areas - could be lost to FMD has been exercising the minds of many flock owners and scientists. The good news this week is that there have been some moves toward collecting semen and eggs from the hefted Herdwick flocks for a gene bank, thanks to a donation forthcoming from the Garfield Weston Foundation, and matched by MAFF.

Other items...
The BoE's quarter percent interest rate cut in base rates - to 5.5% - was welcomed by many, including a good number in the farming community.

The long standing battle by farmers for an increase in payments for their raw milk product may be about to bear some fruit. Two of the leading supermarket chains - Asda and Safeway - have agreed to pay an extra 2p per litre providing processors pass on this increase to producers.

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