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August 2000

[Week 34 · August 21st - 27th - 2000]

GLIMMER OF HOPE

There was a glimmer of hope for pig farmers this week as Brussels partially lifted the ban on exporting live pigs from the UK on Tuesday [Sept. 22nd]; except from those areas affected by the Swine Fever outbreak, namely Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. The authorities have moved very quickly to contain the outbreak and appear to have been successful, although 12,000 or more pigs have been slaughtered in the process.

Meanwhile, agriculture minister Nick Brown has been working behind the scenes to organise some sort of aid for farmers who are faced with financial ruin thanks to the outbreak. He hoped to have something to say on the matter very soon, recognising the urgency.

Still on the topic of livestock, readers of this column may remember a few months past that Welsh lamb farmers were greatly upset to hear that the MoD was sourcing the majority [98%] of its lamb for the Armed Forces from overseas. It may be also be remembered that a number of Welsh farmers banished the Army from training on their land as a means of protest. This last week the MoD announced that it is reviewing its beef requirements for the year and that 350 tonnes of 2000+ tonnes could possibly be sourced from the UK. Why not more, one is left asking? One must also question whether the imported meat served to our servicemen meets the stantards of the BFS [British Farm Standard].

Other items...
Farmers' Markets were in the spotlight this week as Friends of the Earth urged to take the markets seriously as they are providing income for many farmers going through tough times. There were also calls for market start-up grants to be available, and for more friendly local planning application treatment.

Scottish farmers have been cleared to trial GM winter OSR at four sites in the north of Scotland. Interestingly the pollination buffer zone (or separation distance) has been increased from 50m to 100m.

The Director-General of the CBI [Confederation of British Industry], Digby Jones, has infuriated farmers by saying they are unskilled and unemployable - in reference to those who are now moving off the land because of the current agricultural economic climate. If one thinks back to the coal mining and steel industries, many of those who suffered from the fallout of those declining industries were re-trained. Why not farmers then? One other thing the DG appears to have overlooked is that those who work the land do have many entrepreneurial skills and, furthermore, their businesses are often at the mercy of mother nature and disease, unlike service industries and manufacturing.


[Week 33 · August 14th - 20th - 2000]

FEVER CONTINUES

The week began with Brussels imposing a ban on the export of live pigs from England, but Agriculture minister Nick Brown has made it clear that British pig farmers with livestock within the disease surveillance areas, and therefore unable to sell healthy pigs because of restrictions on animal movement, will not be compensated, even though some farmers are facing financial difficulties.

Meanwhile, the minister has said that when there was evidence that the fever outbreak is under control then movement restrictions could be relaxed gradually, although he was open to looking at situations where viable business opportunities were being damaged by current restrictions.

Other snippets...
Studies of some organic farms and other data by the Soil Association show that flora and fauna on organic farms is in a much healthier situation than on farms which practice conventional intensive agriculture. The SA has suggested that some of the declines in bird, insect and flower populations could possibly be reversed if more organic conversion was undertaken.

In another study carried out by York University (on 100 people mind you) and published in the Veterinary Record seems to suggest that the public accept the culling of badgers to control TB in cattle. Badger groups fiercely contest the results.

Elsewhere, a farmer up in the Yorkshire Moors, near Fylingdales, is giving up dairy farming and turning to mineral water extraction from his land as a way of diversifying. With farmers receiving about 16p per litre for milk, undoubtedly sales of mineral water should be a lot more profitable.

Finally...Anyone who recently saw, or read, news about Sainsbury's new steam-treated, pasteurised, salmonella-free eggs will be delighted to know that legislative nonsense is still alive. Under EU food labelling regulations the new products cannot be called eggs. Sainsbury's is apparently working with the government to bring some sense to the regulations.

  [Week 32 · August 7th - 13th - 2000]

GM BACK IN FOCUS

A rather bitty week, with all sorts of different things happening in the countryside.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace thought it saw a chink in the armour over trials of GM (genetically modified) crops in this country. The basis of their argument relies on the notion that because a trial GM crop is not an agricultural activity, but one of research, then this corresponds to a change in land use. And as we all know, such matters involve planning permission from local councils. Greenpeace therefore suggests that planting of GM OSR [25 new GM test sites were announced last week), is unlawful and has written to Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, and to John Prescott. The government responded by saying that individual councils should seek their own legal advice in such cases, prompting Greenpeace to accuse the government of failing to face up to its responsibilities.

Those concerned at the so-called Frankenstein food issue may also have been reading some of the latest research published on the vCJD in the much respected 'Nature' journal. This relates to a study completed at Oxford University which shows that all known cases so far have in common a particular genotype shared with 40% of the population. What is still under discussion is why a younger generation appear to be more susceptible to contracting vCJD - the average age of the 79 cases so far is 29.

Elsewhere...
Food supermarket retailer Iceland has called for more UK farmers to produce organic milk. Apparently there is a shortfall in supplies needed to make a new range of ice creams.

Catastrophe has hit the pig farming community in eastern England, with cases of Swine Fever reported in Essex and Norfolk.

Finally, on a lighter note. Something we all knew - that crop circles are fake... well at least 80% of them, according to crop circle expert Colin Andrews. After 17 years of study he has concluded that the remaining 20% of crop circles are caused by the earth's very own magnetic field. An interesting hypothesis which will no doubt raise a few eyebrows but perhaps take a little of the mystery out of the subject.


[Week 31 · July 31st - August 6th - 2000]

MAKING YOUR MILK CURDLE

News has it that during the week Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown became hopping mad after learning that the OFT [Office of Fair Trading] had written to Safeway, saying that a proposal for supermarkets and retailers to act in concert - and pass on any increases in milk prices to farmers - could possibly be in contravention of the Competition Act 1998, and bring about considerable financial fines.

This flies in the face of Mr Brown's attempts to urge the major retailers to raise prices and pass the increase back to the farming community - something which Safeway had apparently agreed to in principle if other retailers followed suit. Such an overbearing bureaucratic stance beggars belief at a time when parts of the UK's dairy industry are struggling for their life. It is to be hoped that the Minister can exert his authority on such mean-spirited bureaucrats when there are a growing number of the public who would willingly pay more for their milk if the extra pennies did not go into retailer's pockets but instead to our farmers.

And...
Two other items which caught the eye during the week included news that because of an impending backlog of work in the House of Lords, the government's proposed Countryside and Rights of Way bill may be dropped from the main legislative programme to make way for more socially important bills before the next election. Those who have been campaigning for the provisions of CROW are suitably upset at the prospect of seeing the bill sacrificed to political expediency.

The second item was news that the EU Commission may well let farmers exceed the maximum 2-metre field margins that were proposed last year as a way of shaking up arable area payment claims. The proposal at the time caused consternation among conservationists as farmers cut back or even tore up hedgerows so as to able to claim the full payments. One even sacrificed a beautiful stretch of hedgerow for the cameras of BBC's Countryfile programme to make the point that our hedgerows, with their wide overhanging canopy, are an integral part of the British landscape and should not be sacrificed to ill thought out EC directives.


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