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Muckspreader June 26


A murky drama recently unfolding in a Shrewsbury courtroom reminds us yet again of the unhealthy closeness between the officials of Defra and the pharmaceutical industry. John Rawlings is an agricultural merchant who supplies some 70 farms in the Midlands with pesticides (don't worry if you have a bias against pesticides, that's not the point of the story). Mr Rawlings noticed to his surprise that, on the continent, many of the pesticides he sold in Britain were very much cheaper, although they were the same products made by the same companies. So, aware we now live in the 'single market', he imported 14 products from Italy and Holland which are normally sold in Britain at up to 45 percent more than he paid for them. He and his customers were happy. Not so Defra, which hauled him into court on 14 criminal charges. His offence, apparently, was that these chemicals had not been vetted by the Pesticides Safety Directorate, part of Defra's empire, and were therefore illegal, even though all but one were exactly the same as products the PSD had approved. Defra, it seemed, had not yet heard about the single market, which is odd, since almost all it does is dictated by Brussels, for which it is merely a very inefficient branch office.

What Defra hadn't reckoned with was His Honour Judge Onions who, as the costly trial unfolded, waxed ever more irritable. At one point, he was so angry at Defra's 'prevarication' that he threatened that, unless it got its act together and withdrew 11 of the 14 charges, he would order a senior Defra minister to appear in his court by 10 o'clock next morning to explain what his officials were up to.

At the end of the case Judge Onions said it was clear Defra was collaborating with the 'chemical companies to operate a cartel' (which two of the companies' witnesses under oath had admitted). In other words, Defra was conniving with its friends in the pharmaceutical industry to sting British farmers up to 45 percent more for their products than was being charged to farmers on the continent. He was so angry that he said he would be writing to Mr Kerr Wilson, head of the PSD, asking why on earth the case had been brought, demanding an answer within 21 days. He also said the pharmaceutical companies should be investigated by the Competition Commission, since operating cartels is an offence against EU law. On the three remaining charges, the judge gave Mr Rawlings a conditional discharge, on the grounds that technical offences had been committed. But in light of Defra's behaviour he ordered the ministry to pay 80 percent of its costs.

True to form, when Defra and the PSD came to report the case on their websites, they left out everything remotely detrimental to their case, including the fact that the taxpayers were being left to foot most of Defra's £42,500 bill. They presented it as if they had won a glorious victory and reminded farmers that it was a criminal offence to use pesticides not approved by the PSD, for which they could lose their EU subsidies. The chances of Defra doing anything to end the illegal cartel seem remote. After all, it is not long since Defra helped to cover up the disaster inflicted on thousands of sheep farmers by their use of OP sheep dips, which of course were manufactured by its pharmaceutical friends.
































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