August 2001

[Week 35 · Aug. 27th - Sept. 2nd, 2001]

Vaccination ?

The Financial Times reported [Aug. 31st] that a Whitehall official has suggested that vaccination will be considered in the battle against FMD if the measures introduced so far fail to halt the disease. Furthermore, the unamed official has said that in any future outbreak 'slaughtering' animals may not be the preferred way of tackling the problem.

On Tuesday [Aug. 28th] an article in The Guardian suggested that concerns over consumer health and tighter regulation may have burst the GM bubble. Investment in GM is lower and profits static. One shouldn't forget the possible positive impact of GM... A GM variety of English elm - which is resistant to Dutch elm disease - has been created by scientists at Dundee University.

The Anglian Otters and Rivers Project has appealed to landowners in the East Anglia region to destroy wild mink. The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads have large populations of water vole which are potentially at risk from predatory wild mink.

On the fun side, Somerset Organics announced that a web-based 'Pig Brother' will be reaching a PC screen near you. Webcams are to be turned on Blair, Brown, Beckett, Portillo and Widdecombe - the chosen group of porkers in this spoof on TV's Big Brother. The aim is to raise money to help farming families in crisis through FMD.

[Week 34 · Aug. 20th - 26th, 2001]

DEFRA Reveals Priorities

On Friday [Aug. 24th] DEFRA released a consultation paper which outlined its objectives by priority. At the top is the environment and biodiversity, followed by tackling social exclusion, then the promotion of a sustainable and competitive food supply chain, improvement of enjoyment of the countryside, and lastly promoting farming. Both the CLA and Countryside Alliance have raised concerns.

On Monday 20th several thousand ex-MAFF employees took industrial action over their pay and conditions, and in protest that Public and Commercial Services Union members transferred to DEFRA can earn 2-3,000 more. There were obvious concerns in the farming community that this action would delay FMD compensation claims.

Junior DEFRA minister, Lord Whitty, warned that future financial support for farmers will be in the areas of environmental and animal welfare matters, and that the usual subsidy regime will end in ten years.

Following reports that the British food industry has been reluctant in owning up to the amount of mechanically recovered meat [MRM] used in foodstuffs The Independent reported [Aug. 20th] that in a survey of members of the Meat Manufacturers' Association that Sainsbury's was the only company to come clean that it had possibly using MRM prior to introducing its own ban on MRM in 1993.

The rolling countryside of Wiltshire was buzzing with news of a huge 400 ring crop-circle near Alton Barnes. One letter writer to The Telegraph reflected how strange it was that alien induced crop circles have decreased since FMD began.

Farming Online, the agricultural internet portal which was started in 1995, is up for sale and a consortium of about eighty farmers is putting in a bid.

[Week 33 · Aug. 13th - 19th, 2001]

Haskins Accused

Outspoken Lord Haskins, who has accused Britain's smaller farmers of being inefficient and subsidy supported, was this week exposed as a hypocrite, according to his detractors. In an article in the Daily Express he revealed that his family farm in Yorkshire receives some 60,000 a year in subsidies. Another family farm in Ireland is also supported by subsidies. The following day [Aug.17th] the Daily Mail revealed that the Haskins farm was running a 500,000 overdraft. Currently Lord Haskins is undertaking a six week review of the rural economy in a bid to find solutions to revive the ailing community.

It has been announced that the European commission has approved 74m worth of funding to promote English rural development. High on the agenda will be funding for schemes which improve the quality of rural life and those which promote new technology to improve competitiveness.

Friends of the Earth have been ferreting round the shelves of our favourite supermarkets for their latest study... on chemical residues found in fruit and vegetables. Worst performers were M&S and Somerfield, while Waitrose came out on top.

There were rumbles of discontent among livestock farmers this week as the grouse shooting season opened in parts of the country which have been infected with FMD.

The Soil Association is to launch a new on-line database listing farms which stock organic animals.

  [Week 32 · Aug. 6th - 12th, 2001]

Organics Good for You?

On Monday the Soil Association launched a new report on organic food which claimed that farmers' could protect their own personal health by growing organics - because these virtually eliminate exposure to pesticides - while at the same time the nutritional content of the food produced would be improved. However, the report, which is based on some four hundred research items, flies in the face of the FSA's [Food Standards Agency] claim that there is no evidence that organic foodstuffs are safer.

Junior Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister, Elliot Morley, has voiced concern over FMD cull compensation levels. There is now the perception that the government is in 'spin' mode; attempting to divert calls for inquiries into its handling of the FMD crisis with diversionary spin... first with claims that farm disinfection in England was costing 100,000 per farm, now with revelations that 37 farmers have put in cll compensation claims for 1m. Meanwhile Lord Haskins has been briefly given the role of rural recovery czar. Haskins has outspoken views on inefficient small farms, and favours efficient agri-business.

Margaret Beckett, Rural Affairs Secretary, announced three inquiries into the FMD crisis... a study of the epidemic, a commission on farming's long-term future, and a third to investigate animal diseases which threaten farming. However, no 'public' enquiry has been announced, and some observers feel that, in any case, a public inquiry could take years to assemble the facts.

The Committee looking into BSE and vCJD - SEAC - has spoken out against the food industry for thwarting its attempts to find out how much mechanically recovered meat entered the food chain in past years.

[Week 31 · July 30th - Aug. 5th, 2001]

New Scrapie/BSE Worries

More bad news for the farming community this week as it was revealed that experiments on sheep brains from the 1990's show that BSE may have been in the national flock at that time, and that some cases diagnosed as scrapie could have been BSE. However, the findings are inconclusive at the moment.

According to a member of the Commons Agriculture Committee [David Drew on C4 News] there will be a full public inquiry into the FMD outbreak when the crisis over. Tony Blair is accused of deceiving the public over the scale of FMD by former Prime Minister John Major in a letter to the Telegraph. Meanwhile the vets' official organisation - Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons - is upset that the public have been given the impression that vets were against an inquiry.

On Monday the RSPB published its 'Futurescapes' report in which it called for an area larger than Greater London to be restored as wildlife habitats by 2020.

On Wednesday The Times reported that Tesco is involved in commercial trials of English cherries. A revival of the indigenous fruit could help reverse cheap imports of cherries.

There were anxious moments in the Welsh hills earlier in the week when a farmer found what appeared to be a discarded MAFF blood testing syringe and rubber gloves dumped near his farm. Further inspection by the Police revealed that the syringe object was a chemical light vial as used by campers and explorers.

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