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ARCHIVE 2007 ~ December

December 28 2007 ~ Throckmorton at the mercy of planners yet again

    The FMD burial site at Throckmorton in Worcestershire has been a misery for the villagers ever since the hundreds of lorries full of dead animals began trundling past their homes in April 2001. Residents had already had to suffer a huge expansion of the landfill site, an intensive chicken farm was thrust on them in spite of a heroic battle, then an HGV depot, and then the horror of the mass burial ground. ( We remember how Defra "reassured" them that only "healthy" animal bodies were being dumped there...) The following year they were told that a huge refugee camp was to be built there - then, instead, a science park. Now, QinetiQ (of all people) appears to be showing interest in building between 5,000 and 20,000 new houses, said to be "eco-friendly". According to Worcester News the parish council chairman says that the plans "would alter the local landscape and nature of the community irrevocably.... into one large artificially-created urban/suburban development, on a largely greenfield, open site and have enormous impact on all neighbouring communities." This was once our green and pleasant land.

December 27 2007 ~ "There are feral strains that are of historical and scientific interest, such as the Arapawa goats..." Conservation Society of New Zealand

    Arapawa Island goats - doomed to be culled in January - are believed to be descendants of the Old English goats that died out in the UK during the severe winter of 1954. There are, worldwide, no more than 360.
    Recognising that the Arapawa goat is a separate breed of goat and not a crossbred feral, the Committee of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand gave and approved the goats "rare breed priority" listing at its meeting of 27 May 2004. However, the new Minister for Conservation, Stephanie Chadwick, sees them - not as a unique genetic resource - but as vermin. In connection with her scheme for removing all "pests" from other islands she recently spoke of "restoring the islands and repopulating them with rare native species..." - a sort of ethnic cleansing of fauna to preserve the flora. (The goats nibble the trees and bushes but do not destroy them. See )
    We are told that between January 7th and 25th January the Arapawa Island goats are to be shot. If you share our dismay, please read more.

December 27 2007 ~ "...the notion of public service has effectively been abandoned. "

    The Guardian's reviewer of the final Monarchy programme by David Starkey notes how impressed the historian was (as we have been for years) by Prince Charles's "interventions in education and heritage, his environmentalism, his campaigns on food - and especially the Prince's Trust."
    The conclusion to the programmes was both shocking and inspiring.
      "... the notion of public service has effectively been abandoned. Every political party now buys into business values, and into the notion that by definition business must run things more efficiently... Something new is required. Altruism, neighbourliness, the fruits of the spirit, are as important as ever. Who will speak up for them, if not the crown?"
    See Guardian. Almost everyone knows or knows of someone who has benefited from Prince Charles' practical understanding and compassion for both town and country - which need, more and more, to understand each other. The unsteady hand of government seems to be leaning with increasing desperation on the Chimaera of "consultants", in-crowd scientists and protectionism - while allowing what really matters to go to rack and ruin.
    It's not only Prince Charles. We all need to stand above these irrelevancies and work for what is humane and important.

December 22 2007 ~ "it was interesting that I hadn’t come close to understanding the trauma these people were experiencing...” Sir David King

    the Times article by Mark Henderson and Helen Rumbelow on the departure of the Chief Scientific Adviser inspires today's Blog.

December 22 2007 ~ "The best defence at home is disease eradication abroad..."

    "..... Disease elimination will spur international trade, reduce poverty and promote economic development over more than half the globe." Roger Breeze's message last year is more and more relevant.
      " .... We can protect and improve the health of livestock and the economic security of people all over the world by applying the ingenuity and focus of the private sector to seemingly intractable international animal disease problems.. It is in the self-interest and national security of developed nations to assist in global disease eradication to protect their own economies against natural infection and terrorist attacks, to promote economic development and unrestricted trade, to complement new global public health programs and to reduce hunger and poverty. .."
    Read in full. And Happy Christmas to all - especially those at DEFRA who, against all the odds, do try so hard to effect sensible change.

December 21 2007 ~ "... a death-blow at much of what remains of Britain’s hill-farming."

    " It is not physically possible to keep track of which sheep over hundreds of square miles of moorland may have lost their ear tags (even Defra a year or two back worked out that the cost of this scheme to farmers would be considerably greater than their yearly income). No country will suffer more from this ridiculous new law than Britain, with by far the largest number of sheep in the EU, many spending at least part of their time wandering the hills..." From Private Eye: Muckspreader's round-up of recent events and idiocies.
    (Hill farming is also part of the subject of the Dec 21 warmwell Blog).

December 21 2007 ~ DEFRA - living within its means?

    The Guardian this morning Comment is Free by David Hencke mirrors our deep unease at the way DEFRA is mishandling so much that then rebounds on animal health, on the rural community and indirectly on us all.
      ".... Gordon Brown demanded £100m to launch an advisory service on greener homes so he could be seen to be doing something. He got it by raiding the carefully balanced Defra budget and the supine but well-paid Helen Ghosh, the ministry's permanent secretary, gave him everything - and is now drawing up plans to slash £300m from the rest of the budget. And she has just provoked an industrial action ballot by imposing a pay settlement on the ministry's vets - who will now probably work to rule during the next foot and mouth crisis. Her standing is so low among some civil servants that people are openly deriding her Christmas card, which has the extraordinary message: "Living within our environmental means" - no doubt a coded missive to staff she has lined up for the sack in the new year...."
    "Living within our environmental needs" is a wonderful example of the idiotic DEFRAspeak so splendidly derided by Matthew Parris in the Times
      "............On what planet, in what galaxy, in which cosmos do these people live? Is theirs an internal language, known only to a priesthood? Does the language mean anything to them? An entire segment of our fellow citizens is spinning off into a kind of linguistic oblivion, leaving us, gaping and bewildered, behind."
    And how did Helen Ghosh explain the 300 million pound cut? "It's just a reprioritising exercise against a new strategy."

December 20 2007 ~ DEFRA staff to take strike action

    The Farmers Guardian reports that DEFRA staff have voted for strike action, to begin in the New Year, that will take the form of a ban on overtime
      "...with staff only working conditioned hours and banning all out-of-hours coverage except emergencies. Members expect the action to impact on key activities, including import inspections of plants and animals entering the country. But it falls short of full strike action that would have had a much bigger impact on the farming industry..."
    As we have said below, we have sympathy for the rank and file of DEFRA staff who are not to blame for the inflexibility and ignorance of many policies. Those older members of staff with talent who are able to take the generous golden handshake offered in November will undoubtedly leave to get lucrative jobs elsewhere, leaving behind the less able. Hardly surprising that morale among the rank and file is at an all time low.

December 19 2007 ~ Brazilian beef

    From Jan. 31, only beef from a list of approved farms in Brazil that meet EU animal health standards can export to Europe. The decision today falls short of action demanded by Irish beef farmers who had called for a total ban. See and our report below.

December 19 2007 ~ " if you want to see the future, just look at the west coast of Scotland .. the farmers had no other industry to rely on, ...all the animals have gone."

    The Yorkshire Post article (see below) reports on the organisation "Food and Farming 4 REAL" - organised by farmers and small businesses who believe passionately in the preservation of the uplands and the communities that depend on them. In the New Year, Alistair Davy and other delegates from Yorkshire, are hoping to secure a meeting with William Hague MP and Tim Farron, chair of the Hill Farmers' Parliamentary Committee.
    " .... if the sheep and the cows are no longer grazing, it wouldn't take long for it to become impenetrable with bracken and bramble. For the last few years, the true picture of the problems facing agriculture have been masked..."
    "This is the last push," says Alistair. "I'm not doing it for me, I'm doing it for my son and for all those future generations who want to work. We are the last of the great industries to be wrecked, but if we go the way of the coal and steel industries, there will be no way back."

December 19 2007 ~ Demonstrate interest and concern for the future of the uplands

    We can show our support by our sending email address to the website They say "the more names we can collect, the more we can demonstrate the interest and concern for the future of the uplands. We will respect your privacy and will not pass on your name to others."

December 19 2007 ~ "People are doing everything possible to avoid leaving the farms which they love, but everyone has a breaking point..."

    Alistair Davy, known by several readers of this website, is quoted today in the Yorkshire Post. He says, "..the money we make from other things is no longer compensating from the loss we are making from livestock. Basically, it's us, not the Government, who are subsidising farming."
    It is an article that should be read in full. (Thanks to FMD news at the University of California at Davis for the link).
    His pp presentation at Brussels in October may be seen here (pdf). The account he gave to accompany the presentation was frankly heartbreaking, and decision makers and those Opposition politicians who profess that they want to save British farming would do well to take note of his final statement:
      "The future requires clear, concise, authoritative statements on disease, based on proper research and veterinary knowledge, rather than political requirement."
    For farmers like Alistair Davy, communication matters very much: "Communication is the most important factor in creating a cohesive effort to combat disease - remote and uninclusive policy decisions alienate the rural community."

December 17 2007 ~ Exports. Imports. Foot-and-mouth restrictions could be completely lifted in two weeks for farms around Egham. Brazilian beef could be banned.

    All EU restrictions on British meat and livestock were lifted over the weekend for farms except those Surrey farms in and around the outbreaks. They are still banned from live exports but Fred Landeg said the Surrey restrictions were expected to be lifted by New Year's Eve.
    As for imports, it looks as though the European Commission will impose at least a partial ban on imports of beef from Brazil. On Thursday, Markos Kyprianou, the commissioner in charge of consumer affairs, indicated that a formal decision can be expected early this week. This was discussed on Monday's Farming Today (Listen again) "even if it's only one or two more states, in practical terms it might mean very severe restriction of the amount of beef coming into the EU." The Irish Farmers Association has been demanding a ban on Brazilian beef for months and their president, Padraig Walshe, says on Farming Today that he feels "vindicated".

December 17 2007 ~ EU ministers agreed on Monday to introduce electronic tags for millions of sheep and goats across the European Union by the end of 2009

    Reuters reports that "...Unique identifier codes are carried by the animal either on an eartag or inside its digestive tract. The identification number can then be read using either a portable or fixed electronic reader. Electronic identifiers cost between 1 and 2 euros ($1.43 and $2.87) per animal, while the minimum cost of hand-held readers is 200 euros and that of static readers 1,000 euros."
    As we report below, the UK is very unhappy indeed - and the Yeovil Express last Saturday reported that Conservative MEP, Neil Parish, himself a former Somerset farmer, said: "It would be a real burden on UK sheep farmers if this legislation goes through now, even with the slight delay until 2010. We are simply not there yet with the technology needed to make this work. Cast ewes are worth only a few pounds, so how can farmers afford to tag them with microchips and purchase expensive readers? It is simply not feasible. The sheer number of sheep in the UK, combined with our specific topography, do not permit us to even contemplate such an astronomically costly system at this point in time."

December 15 2007 ~ " in avoiding blame, agencies wriggle, make excuses, and point fingers elsewhere - which results in obscuring causes and what can/should be done to prevent a repetition."

    says an email today, commenting on the fact that the IAH had strongly to refute the Times in its claim that those at Pirbright rather than DEFRA itself were responsible for the second phase of FMD in Surrey. Genetic sequencing by IAH scientists confirmed the two outbreaks sprang from the same virus, suggesting the culls and biosecurity measures failed to contain foot and mouth. .
      "IAH and its sponsoring body, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), strongly refute unsubstantiated and incorrect claims in the Times newspaper on December 13th that the second phase of infection in the Virginia Water area was caused by infected soil removed from Pirbright." (See below and
    The Farmers Guardian report (Jack Davies) says "....The two outbreaks are now believed to be linked by sheep on Klondyke farm in Virginia Water, Surrey which had become infected but recovered from the disease, showing no signs of infection until tested by vets. It is believed the farm became infected during the first outbreak in August but was overlooked as the animals showed no signs of disease, prolonging the outbreak for months."

December 15 2007 ~ "animals in IP 5 (The Klondyke farm), had been infected -- and potentially spreading the virus -- for weeks before eventually diagnosed and culled."

    A ProMed moderator said of IP5 on September 22
      ".... Reportedly, animals in IP 5 (The Krondyke farm), had been infected -- and potentially spreading the virus -- for weeks before eventually diagnosed and culled."
    Ruth Watkins comments today, "This clinches the case for vaccination in my view, the only debate would be how big to make the vaccination zone in the first place. I seem to remember that the issue with IP5 was that their cattle had been ill for some time and had lesions indicating infection weeks earlier. I don't remember at the time that the sheep were much discussed. Were they actually the ones infected in the first place and had asymptomatic infection? .. Apparently DEFRA have sat on this information, concealed it, and are happy to see soil from Pirbright being blamed... . " (Warmwell's vaccination page has been lifted in its entirety, we note, to a US website.)

Dec 15 2007 - All this is so important that we repeat, below, our posting for September 22

    .....We have now seen the spread of the escaped virus from Pirbright to Egham and beyond (see map) and it all started on August 4th. That it will have got further seems inevitable. Professional surveillance and testing, using hi-tech equipment, is paramount for OIE List A diseases. DEFRA still wants farmers to share costs on disease control - but sharing involves shared responsibility on both sides and at present DEFRA seems - because of long-term underfunding, lack of the latest hi-tech diagnostic equipment and a lack of expertise driving the policy - unable to cope. As we say below, if Pirbright's arsenal of diagnostic equipment is not as impressive as it should be, blame for this does not lie with IAH. We seem to have a government that does not understand the importance of existing technology and expertise in the realm of animal disease and chooses not to spend money on supporting its own scientists nor in getting the best systems in place.
    It will be seen eventually that the decision not to use ring vaccination when the "Ring" could have been limited to such a small distance was a mistake of the greatest seriousness.
    We also noted from the Herald: "... the revelation that 139 animal movements have been recorded as going off farms in the 50 kilometres in Surrey, but there is no record of them coming on to farms. In other words, 139 animals have come out of the highest risk zone in Great Britain and vets have no idea where they have gone...."

December 14 2007 ~ "culling and biosecurity measures did not stamp out the virus"

    The Guardian this morning reports on the fact that "the IAH scientists today leaked their own report, which was completed in September, amid frustration that it had not been published by Defra."
    The news release on the BBSRC site says
      ".... it is possible to establish with considerable molecular precision which viruses are descendants of which parent viruses. The data have been peer reviewed by a group of leading scientists at the request of Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser and are due to published shortly. The independent expert peer review process has accepted the study’s conclusions that the second phase of the outbreak originated from the first phase and not from a separate release from the Pirbright site."
    In other words, the two outbreaks came from the same source, and it was a grave error on the part of DEFRA to claim that the first outbreak in August had been fully eradicated.
    As the Guardian spells out this morning, " the outbreak.. led to the culling of hundreds of healthy animals."

December 14 2007 ~ Swill feeders - The Ombudsman finds Defra guilty of "maladministration" - but rejects compensation

    The £40 million swill processing industry was given just 10 days to close down in 2001 after it was alleged FMD spread from swill used on a single pig farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall owned by the Waugh brothers. Bobby Waugh did not process swill. He was only licensed to feed swill to pigs. He broke the rules about feeding - and no evidence of FMD was found at any other farms processing swill.
    Boris Johnson told the House of Commons in March 2004
      "...the Animal By-Products (Amendment) (England) Order the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there perished in this country a practice that has taken place for thousands of years.... There is the simple moral case: many swill feeders were urged by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to buy very expensive equipment and a few months later that machinery, like their profession, was redundant."
    The judgement today does seem to defy logic. Food waste that swill processors once handled (1.7 million tonnes per year) now goes to landfill sites. See also Farmers Guardian and warmwell's own pages about the origin of FMD 2001

December 14 2007 ~ From Jan 1, all of the Britain will be able to export to EU member states under normal rules.

    Exports within the European Union are to resume from today. At present, Britain is divided into the foot and mouth disease " free export" area ( meat and meat products may be exported but not live animals, livestock will be able to move out of this area to the rest of GB provided they are not exported) and the "live export" area where live exports are now permitted.

December 13 2007 ~ "I agree that Defra should not continue as regulator of laboratories handling of animal pathogens..." Hilary Benn

    The Callaghan Review , published today, is available as a pdf file here. It recommended a three-phased approach to implement a number of changes to strengthen this regulatory framework in the UK. The main change would be to move to a model where use of both animal and human pathogens is governed by a single regulatory framework, with Defra passing the responsibility for regulation of these pathogens to the HSE, as a single, independent body with the appropriate expertise and experience in the field. Hilary Benn's response to the House of Commons can be read here and a summary of DEFRA's responses to the main recommendations is here..
    One of the most interesting sentences in the report: "It is our view that VLA and AH, which are both Defra Agencies, do not have the necessary distance from Defra policy makers to count as arm’s length organisations."

December 13 2007 ~ Infected Pirbright soil ended up in Egham - Times

    One of the questions posed in September was
      "What did they do about the soil removed from the site given that it was deemed to have been a source of infection? Could it have ended up in a local farm to save time and trouble?"
    Today, The Times reveals that the Anderson review has now heard evidence from a number of people, including private veterinary surgeons that contractors used the soil as “a cash crop” rather than paying for its disposal in a landfill site. "The second wave of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey is likely to have been caused by contaminated soil from the Government's Pirbright scientific research laboratory... It is alleged that contractors working on the £121 million modernisation programme at the laboratory collected soil contaminated with live virus at the site and sold it as top soil. Some of this was spread on land next to a farm where animals were later identified with the disease. .."

December 13 2007 ~ " it shows they have not learnt all the lessons from 2001.."

    As one of our virologist correspondents asked on September 13th, after disease was found in Egham,
      "... is this new infection from activites in relation to the soil directly or indirectly? In loose soil the virus could be buried out of the sun and kept cool and moist in discontinuous discrete lumps. If this is found in retrospect to be so it shows they have not learnt all the lessons from 2001, when the infection was widespread in sheep, at least locally in Northumberland, before ever it surfaced in the Waugh's pig farm..." Read in full
    The Times points out that under the government's own guidelines, waste from any site dealing with live disease viruses requires a disposal licence from the Environment Agency. This "seems to have been overlooked".

December 12 2007 ~ "The Government keep their vaccination policy for all notifiable diseases under constant review"

    said Jonathan Shaw in answer to some questions by Bill Wiggin on Monday. More He said the government takes "full account of the latest scientific evidence" - but was not specific about where this latest scientific evidence was to be found. More credible was his reference to "the desirability of harmonising approaches to vaccination with other member states." He also said,
      "DEFRA has not made an assessment of the financial merits to the economy of producing foot and mouth disease (FMD) vaccine in the UK. However, having a readily available stock of FMD vaccine is of clear benefit in terms of ensuring timely access to vaccine in the event of an outbreak."
    ( It is something to have a Minister acknowledge that even "the financial merits to the economy" might be less important a consideration than a timely stock of vaccine. Perhaps Mr Shaw would even agree that paragraph 3.32 of the latest contingency plan, referring to a Vaccination Operations Team as a "limited national resource", is rather odd in a document about emergency control.)

December 12 2007 ~" has been noted that veterinarians have very little power to influence the decision-making process in comparison with the agri-trade lobby."

    So wrote the veterinary consultant John Ryan in his paper FMD, Risk and Europe a few years ago, and certainly it seems to many that "key" or "core" stakeholders tend to be lobbying for the agri-trade rather than for ordinary farmers - particularly when it comes to such things as vaccination issues. The government's constant claims -( here was Lord Rooker last Thursday, for example,) that
      "Not a single major decision has been taken in this situation without consulting a massive range in the chain of industry stakeholders..."
    do not go on to claim that "not a single major decision" has been taken without consulting the best veterinary expertise. Even Pirbright's experts, who may well offer sound advice are not partners in decision-making and their advice can be brushed aside. As for the virologists, the genuine experts in vaccines and those who actually know something about state of the art rapid diagnosis, it would be interesting to know if and when they have been consulted and - if so - what were the outcomes of such important consultations.

December 12 2007 ~ The present contingency plan mentions diagnosis only 4 times - each time with reference to laboratory tests.

    The word "vaccines" is not mentioned at all - and although "vaccination" appears 19 times, 5 of those appear in a somewhat incomprehensible paragraph (3.32) calling the vaccination team a "limited national resource". Other references give no detail beyond telling us that the Secretary of State will make the decision "based upon epidemiological and scientific advice provided by Defra’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor " and for six long years, Sir David King has set his face rigidly against both FMD vaccination and rapid diagnosis. (Blog) As for his successor, Magnus Linklater writes in today's Times, "... the Professor needs to be as bold and independent as his master is cautious. He should not be afraid to challenge head on the safe and the expedient. He should distrust the advice of those who draw their salaries from well-funded research projects, and be prepared to question received wisdom. .."

December 12 2007 ~ A compulsory electronic tag for every sheep (EID) - an "unmitigated disaster" for the UK.

    Following the news that the Portuguese presidency of the European Union is pushing ahead with the plan to identify each and every sheep electronically, Peter Morris (National Sheep Association) is quoted by the Northern Echo: "to make it compulsory for all sheep and all sheep keepers was "totally unnecessary, disproportionate and impractical" and "If this does not happen and it is introduced, then it will be an unmitigated disaster and it will never be with the blessing of NSA." Mr Morris said the NSA was "sick and tired" of trying to establish why EU officials felt there was any reason to introduce EID, given all the measures already in place to control the spread of animal diseases.
      "The extra costs that will be incurred will not be picked up by anyone else in the food chain and, with virtually every sheep farmer already losing money, for many it will be the final straw. If the EU is determined to see off once and for all the critical mass of the sheep industry in the UK and all food, environmental and rural infrastructure benefits that the industry brings with it, then it should carry on and make every sheep farmer in the UK have EID."
    He said the Government must tell EU ministers that EID cannot be forced on the UK sheep industry without doing irreparable damage.

December 12 2007 ~ "...male dairy calves should be reared in the UK"

    The export of unwanted calves is set to resume. Those who are concerned about this should look at CIWF's page about calf exports. There will also be CIWF demonstration outside DEFRA (Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR) on Friday December 14 from 12-2pm.
    Meanwhile, Farming Weekly asks in its current poll, "Are live animal exports good for farming?" Please also see here and here. supports British livestock farmers and agree with CIWF that consumers should be vocal in influencing the practices that are the most welfare friendly.

December 11 2007 ~ " .. an improved provision of services in disease control in surveillance, diagnosis and the provision of vaccination to keep our livestock healthy"

    Lord Soulsby in last Thursday's debate:
      "An increasing number of farmers are leaving the industry without knowing where to go and what to do.. .Unfortunately, a few have taken the suicide route to end their considerations. This cannot be good news for the countryside as a whole. If a greater burden is to be placed on farmers by sharing costs and responsibilities I think that the farmers expect Defra to be prepared, as a quid quo pro, to assist by way of an improved provision of services in disease control, as my noble friend Lady Byford indicated, in surveillance, diagnosis and the provision of vaccination to keep our livestock healthy. "
    (Full debate pdf file in new window)

December 11 2007 ~ "Like all farmers in Norfolk, and no doubt up and down the country, I have to deal with at least TWELVE different Defra offices. ..."

    Lord Cathcart in last Thursday's Lords debate :"The mapping is done in Bristol. I correspond with the headquarters at Reading. Northallerton administers the single farm payment but the Newcastle office pays it. Environment schemes are agreed in Norwich but administered in Cambridge, and another office in Newcastle makes the payments. Livestock matters are administered in Bury St Edmunds. One has to inform Cumbria of movements but Worcester of long-distance movements, although to get the movement licence one has to apply to the Norwich trading standards office. There is another office for farm waste.
    That is absurd. As things stand, there is total confusion, not just for farmers but for Defra staff. It is high time that Defra was reorganised ......
    the system that is too rigid and inflexible, obsessed with form-filling and box-ticking." (Debate in full - new window)

December 11 2007 ~ "If hill farming were to fade away, the Cumbrian fells would become wild and the well cared-for landscape would change dramatically, as would biodiversity..."

    Members of the House of Lords who understand farming have been trying (Thursday's debate) to explain why the present DEFRA policies are leading to disaster. Here is the Lord Bishop of Carlisle:
      "....estimated profit for the year ending next April is an average of just £2,000 per farm family, which compares with £18,000 two years ago. That £2,000 includes the single farm payment. In other words, a huge loss is being made on the livestock. There has been a large increase in applications to farming charities, because the bills cannot be paid. The farmers are borrowing more and getting deeper into debt..."

December 11 2007 ~ " the world will need to double the production of food, triple yields per hectare, and do so on less land, using less water"

    Introducing the debate, Baroness Shephard gave the same timely warning that has been trying to urge in the face of government disdain for farming. She said, ".... Over the next 40 years, farmers in this country and across the world will need to double the production of food, triple yields per hectare, and do so on less land, using less water....suddenly there is less food than people thought. .... (the government) must have the courage to change their attitude to the farming industry. They must reorder some of their priorities, especially in research. Above all, they must afford to Defra the resource, clout and respect across government that it will need to meet this challenge. Will the Government do so?"

December 11 2007 ~ 'Bluntly, the headline is “Supermarkets seize massive opportunity of foot and mouth outbreak to boost profits and hammer the sheep industry into the ground”...'

    The Lords debated agriculture and Defra last Thursday. Lord Livsey of Talgarth's speech pulled no punches:
      "We Liberal Democrats have advocated for the past 10 years to the nation, the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission the importance of installing an independent ombudsman to ensure that the prices paid to primary producers are fair. It should be illegal for purchases to be made at less than the cost of production.....Defra has a moral obligation financially to support the sheep industry now in its hour of need.......The efforts of the Secretary of State for Defra to get farmers to absorb disease control costs at this time should be dropped immediately. He should stand up to the Treasury’s demands and face it down; I really mean that. The evidence of the Pirbright outbreak, the Brazilian imports and bluetongue should surely persuade him of that. The point will not be lost on Defra’s staff, who have had a very hard time and who have been working very hard indeed..."
    His speech (and many others, which are as excellent, as we have gratefully come to expect from the Lords) can be read in full in our pdf file of the debate or here as HTML. Warmwell agrees that the rank and file of DEFRA's staff have, in the main, been the unsung heroes of the past months - and is sorry that we cannot extend that praise to those in the heirarchy who are as ill-informed as they are inflexible.

Dec 11 2007 ~ "I looked up some of the paperwork that I received in the past few months...."

    Lord Willoughby de Broke, "farmer and assiduous DEFRA form-filler":
      "The latest single payment scheme book runs to 100 pages; the cross-compliance handbook to 47 pages; the cross-compliance soil management handbook to 40 pages; and, in a little light reading, the set-aside update for 2007 is 9 pages. And, one I seem to have missed, the SPS handbook, is 90 pages. That is not allowing for the waste management paperwork, the ELS—the entry level scheme paperwork—or the countryside stewardship. I do not blame Defra for this paperwork; it is simply doing Brussels’ bidding. It is the implementation agency for our master in Brussels, the Commission, which is responsible for the shambles of the common agricultural policy. It is a shambles, is it not?..."
    ( full debate)

December 10/11 2007 ~ "The plan draws on lessons learned from disease outbreaks earlier this year .."

    Without waiting for any response from the Anderson Review, Defra laid its yearly Contingency Plan (147 pages) before Parliament again today. In 2005 the SAC Epidemic Diseases sub-group, in their review of that year's Foot and Mouth Disease contingency plan, made 20 recommendations. DEFRA responded to them. Warmwell commented upon them. That was 2 years ago and we'd welcome comments about whether readers think things have changed for the better since that work was done. The Summer of 2007 , as we commented in October, showed that many of the failings of six years ago were simply repeated. Poor funding led to an accident - but lack of vaccination turned it into a disaster. Because on-site rRT-PCR has been shunned in the UK, animals were subjected to repeated blood tests instead of rapid non-invasive swabs and quick results on site. Over two thousand were killed - most of which were healthy.
    Merely tinkering with animal health policies - changing the odd thing here and there in the Contingency Plan - is not going to get farming out of its deep crisis. We read that the Farmers Crisis Network helplines are jammed not because of disease itself but because of the policies applied to them that seem only to make matters worse - TB, foot and mouth disease, avian flu - slaughter and inflexible standstills seem the only things DEFRA knows. Other support agencies are reporting similar increases. (At least Bluetongue can be treated only by vaccination and we look forward to the outcome of the EU meeting on January 16th)

December 10/11 2007 ~"It may be of interest that an area in Normandy Surrey near Pirbright has been taped off."

    An emailer writes, " This is the site of the original outbreaks. Maybe something to do with the heavy rain we have been having? Oh by the way, very shortly after the last 'leakage' from Pirbright (see below) they started bleeding sheep in the neighbourhood. It is a wonder that some of them have any blood left.
    All a bit strange because we were told that the virus hadn't leaked into the environment. I have a feeling that we are not being told everything or perhaps it's because the authorities are not really sure what is going on?"

December 10 2007 ~"Industry experts are said to believe that the public has become immune to food scare stories"

    So says the Telegraph in an article today reporting increased demand for turkeys. The executive officer of the British Poultry Council, said: "In the main, everyone understands there is going to be no problem sourcing the 10 million turkeys eaten by the public this Christmas."
    It rather depends how you define "problem".
    Scares tend to pick on the wrong target. (See article here about the new book "Scared to Death- From BSE To Global Warming - Why Scares Are Costing Us The Earth" - Amazon link)
    Those of us who buy meat should indeed be concerned, not first by the possibility of catching disease but at the way our species exploits some animals - and poultry in particular - in a way that encourages disease to thrive in the first place. In his book, Colin Tudge writes, "If modern livestock production had been designed by a crack team of pathogens, they could scarecely have done the job better....even people who can see the horrors and absurdity of the present-day food supply chain are apt to make excuses for it. Doesn't it provide us with cheap food - at least in the West? Wouldn't food be more expensive if run along more enlightened lines? In an age in which routine mendacity is merely a tactic, this is still the most pernicious of all lies."

December 8 2007 ~ "....confusing results and statements by the Commission as to whether there was or was not an epidemic of FMD in Cyprus."

    The Cyprus Mail (quoted by ProMed) reports on a letter sent to the EU's President Jose Manuel Barroso by MEP Marios Matsakis. He asked Barosso to clearly state whether or not there is, or is not, an epidemic in Cyprus, could there be an epidemic with a "non-active" virus and if so was what was the purpose of taking restrictions if the virus was non infective to other animals.
      "...The farmers of Cyprus and the Cypriot public in general are fed up with the way the apparent 'outbreak' has been handled at Commission level and at the Cyprus Ministry of Agriculture level. ..."
    The ProMed moderator has " questioned the interpretation of the positive serological reactions in sheep as being indicative of disease" Today he adds, "no clinical evidence for FMD could be discovered in cattle and pigs in the vicinity of positive sheep; neither could antibodies be demonstrated in these species." (See Dec 4, and Nov 27 and Nov 18 and Nov 16 on this page. Also Blog for November 8th. The attempt to impose rules on disease from afar has once again caused far more grief than the disease itself. A rethink about the EU response to FMD is surely well overdue.)

December 8 2007 ~ "epidemiological data from 2007 did not detect infection in local wild birds before infection in domestic flocks..."

    said the Eurosurveillance weekly release, 2007 12(12) quoted on ProMed. Nevertheless we also read, " This is open to various interpretations, one being that EU wild bird surveillance, although extensive, has not been sufficient to trace infection in wild birds. .." and, perhaps ominously, "...ECDC's risk assessment is that those most at risk are people with small domestic and hobby flocks, rather than those working on large 'industrial' farms [11], although it is important that the prevention messages reach both. "
    (One looks in vain for the logic here. Any informed comment welcome.)

December 8 2007 ~ £270m dairy price-fixing scandal. Supermarkets accused of “corporate greed”.

    The Daily Post says, "Retailers such as Asda and Sainsbury’s and a number of major dairies yesterday agreed to pay combined fines of more than £116m after admitting fixing the price of milk, cheese and butter following a probe by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The Farmers Union of Wales believes something similar is now happening in the UK lamb market...."
    As Colin Tudge writes in his book "Feeding People is Easy"
      "We should question the sanctimonious argument that food must be cheap for the sake of the poor....The antidote to poverty is to give a damn and create economies with fairer shares. The answer is not to be cruel to animals, or to screw farmers into the ground, or to fell forests and pollute rivers. These are the methods of the scoundrel..."
    Farming is in deep crisis. If - as many politicians (and the forces of corporate darkness that inspire them) seem to want - Britain gives up the ability to feed itself and depends more and more on cheap food from abroad, disaster awaits. We cannot recommend Colin Tudge's book too highly (see also below) - except on his ignorance of the efficacy of modern FMD vaccines. He has accepted the official line that vaccination is unreliable because it "can mask latent infection", which is a great pity for a book likely to be so influential. The risk is negligable and what is more, by testing the vaccinated animals for antibodies against non-structural virus proteins (a-NSP tests) to demonstrate the absence of infection, this risk, if it exists at all, can be reduced even further.

December 7 2007 ~ "If all the UK farms that were slaughtered out in 2001 had been tested in a pooled sample from 10 animals it would have been £100,000 for test kits at most..."

    Roger Breeze writes, " ...It is not necessary to differentiate between FMD serotypes on the farm since this is not a time-sensitive decision. The response in USA, EU and UK to all FMD serotypes is the same until a vaccine is deployed based on the serotype and subtype. The exact virus type can be determined by sequencing the entire virus genome within 24 hours of first identification by on-farm PCR.
    By the way, USDA (and probably Pirbright) make their FMD PCR tests in house in facilities that are not FDA or USDA licensed for diagnostics production and they do not follow good manufacturing practices. USDA encourages the state labs to do the same thing and not purchase quality test kits ..." Read in full

December 7 2007 ~ Dairy-bred bull calves born on Waitrose milk suppliers’ farms are to be finished for beef and veal in the UK

    As we note below, the vast majority of bull calves are either summarily shot as unwanted or, when live export is allowed, are shipped abroad to become white veal. Both the journey and the treatment in crates and abattoirs fail to take account of their status as sentient beings. Now the Farmers Guardian reports that Waitrose wants all aimals raised in its farms to be "reared within the existing fully integrated supply chain." If trials prove successful, Waitrose aims to roll out the scheme across all the 65 dairy farms that supply it.

December 7 2007 ~ Compassion in World Farming wins Derek Cooper special award 2007

    The news from Waitrose will please CIWF, winners last week, warmwell is very pleased to see, of this year's Derek Cooper Special Award for Best Food Campaigner/Educator 2007
    As one of our most eminent emailers remarked yesterday,
      "the powerful men in grey suits (aka David King et al) are all supporters of cheap, welfare unfriendly/GM food for the burgeoning world population. They seem to have no ability to look into the future and see the unsustainable nature of their views - or the necessity to address human population growth. It looks as if the battle lines will be extensive/welfare friendly (smaller numbers/less money/sentient animals) versus intensive/factory (powerful people/lots of money/livestock as units) and I'm not at all sure that the intensive lobby will ever see reason as they are seduced by power and short term gains."
    This is why Compassion in World Farming and the initiatives by those such as Waitrose and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall "Chicken Out" deserve the wholehearted and practical support of those of us who think ethical production is a matter that goes far, far beyond simply being kind to animals.

December 6 2007 ~ Mass produced "free-range" poultry for Christmas

    A timely article from the Daily Mail shows that even animals touted as free-range, such as the "free range" Norfolk Blacks inspected for the article, can live in conditions that would appall people who, aware of the cruelty involved in mass production, buy them for Christmas. But free-range does not always mean ranging freely - as we saw in the H5N1 outbreak at Redgrave Park Farm in Suffolk where 5000 turkeys on the same premises might be considered rather more than "low stocking rates". The Mail article is rightly relentless in its exposé
    . Very few turkeys are truly free range, raised on organic, additive-free cereals, and spending their days "roaming around cherry orchards and maize fields" and "humanely slaughtered on the farm, rather than being transported to a slaughterhouse - which research shows is a hugely stressful experience".
    Attitudes to poultry production are - very slowly - changing, to the dismay of the intensive producers. Readers might consider signing up to the "Chicken Out" campaign by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall of River Cottage. Every time someone signs up there is a celebration on the page.

December 6 2007 ~ "government departments too often cut long-term research investment"

    The Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir David King, architect of so much that has gone wrong with animal health policy in the UK, has been speaking to the Select Committee now called the "Innovation, Universities and Skills" Committee. The Times reports that he told them that though the IAH has outstanding scientific staff, they need better facilities to do their jobs. Absolutely right - but who was in the perfect position to ensure that pressure was brought to bear on the Treasury to give them and their facilities proper support?
    What the Times does not report this morning is what Sir David said he considered the highest point of his time as CSA. He chose the 2001 foot and mouth crisis. He said it was demonstrating that "science could offer a solution". It had showed how complex phenomena could be computer-modelled, he said - in other words that science was at the heart of the policy in 2001 foot and mouth crisis. If Sir David, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, still believes this - one must really wonder what planet he inhabits. Certainly one where suffering, anguish and continuing trauma happen only on paper. (See Seven Pillars of Piffle, the latest Blog.)

December 5/6 2007 ~ " the time has come for the culling to begin nearer home. At least it would save us £300 million."

    Private Eye's Muckspreader this week is calling the DEFRA heirarchy "goons"
    "....Defra have now decided to squeeze a further £40 million out of the farmers themselves to pay either for blunders created by Defra itself or for accidents made infinitely more costly by the goons’ absurd over-response to them" he writes, ".....The latest foot-and-mouth outbreaks were entirely the responsibility of Defra itself... Bluetongue, brought in by midges from the Continent, is hardly something the farmers could have avoided. But the crazy over-reaction to it by Defra and the EU, in imposing all sorts of crippling restrictions on animal movements, is costing farmers hundreds of millions of pounds more, and there was absolutely nothing the farmers could have done to persuade Defra or Brussels otherwise. Ditto bird ‘flu...."

December 5 2007 ~ "at some point over the next two weeks the UK will be able to rejoin the international market, including live exports"

    Scotsman. "... especially welcomed by dairy farmers who have for many months been prevented from exporting their surplus bull calves. ..the shipping of sheep, mostly older animals, to ethnic communities and specialist abattoirs .... That aspect of trade might not sit easy with some UK welfare organisations, but it was formerly worth many millions of pounds to UK farmers."
    The implication that compromising animal welfare is acceptable if it results in large profits may also "not sit easy" with farmers with ethical standards. CIWF research shows that journeys that can take up to 20 hours and young calves travel particularly badly - and the organisation suggests alternatives to the trade with high-welfare alternatives, such as extensively-reared beef and rosé veal for sale in the UK (e.g. that reared by Helen Browning at Eastbrook Farm. It appears that Rosé veal is also popular at Buckingham Palace and, as the Independent's Mark Hix says, "the good thing is that all English veal is totally natural: the veal calves don't spend time in crates..I think it's about time we encouraged our farmers to produce more British veal.")

December 5 2007 ~ Lack of information about FMD vaccines - in the US

    A recent paper predicts a "devastating economic impact" should foot-and-mouth disease come to Kansas - but no mention at all is made of the effective vaccines that are available. Instead, "researchers predicted that 1.7 million head of livestock would have to be destroyed and that an outbreak would last nearly three months." Our attention was drawn to one article about the Kansas paper that even told its readers,
      "And there’s no vaccine, no way to stop such an attack."
    One wonders if the foot-and-mouth disease summit to be held on Wednesday, Dec. 12 in Montana (which representatives of at least ten states will be attending) will make any mention of the technology that can effectively and rapidly both diagnose and combat the disease.

December 5 2007 ~ US farmers have until December 14 voluntarily to register for NAIS

    The Wikipedia entry for NAIS links to several newspaper articles, five sites in support and thirty five sites that are against it. It says "The National Animal Identification System, otherwise known as NAIS, is a government-run program in the United States intended to permit improved animal health surveillance by identifying and tracking specific animals." but adds, " The NAIS is the result of extensive lobbying from large factory farms "agribusiness" to protect themselves against possible liability when an epidemic occurs." The USDA site explains what they want from the NAIS. The US Government Accountability Office (pdf) identifies several key problems that "hinder USDA’s ability to implement NAIS effectively.....Without a reliable cost-benefit analysis, stakeholders are unlikely to participate in NAIS due to their uncertainty about whether program benefits outweigh the costs."

December 4 2007 ~ " I am astounded and baffled as to why the government is allowed to continue to practise obsolete veterinary medicine that is clearly contrary to the welfare of animals"

    One does rather wonder how many of the people whose stock response to any mention of the rapid diagnostic tests that perform RT-PCR in the field is "Ah, but they are not validated" actually realise that they do not have to be validated in order to be used. A country can use any means it wishes to control foot and mouth disease whether or not OIE approves. Can anyone challenge this ? And it not, why on earth is the resistance to using such technology still allowed to carry such weight?
    What do have to be "validated" are the tests used to resume international trade in animals and animal products. As Roger Breeze wrote in September, " As a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons of almost 40 years, I am astounded and baffled as to why the government is allowed to continue to practise obsolete veterinary medicine that is clearly contrary to the welfare of animals that the government has decided shall be solely in its care. There can be no other branch of veterinary medicine where modern science is totally ignored yet veterinary surgeons retain their licences to practise. ..."

December 4 2007 ~ " The new Rapid Test evaluated in this study achieves relatively high diagnostic sensitivity and provides results within about 30 minutes.."

    Warmwell readers may well share a certain frustration at seeing the rapid diagnostic test for chlamydia so praised as a breakthrough (See yesterday's when similar technology to detect animal pathogens on-site and within the hour are consistently ignored with the mantra "not validated". DEFRA seems entirely uninterested by the fact that these "non validated" machines, far more lightweight and easy to operate than the machines assessed by the Pirbright team (pdf), are being successfully used in former Soviet countries such as Uzbechistan and Azerbyjan. The Chlamydia Rapid Test developed in Cambridge is so welcome because results are available within 30 minutes, which would allow all patients testing positive to be offered treatment while still at the clinic. But this is precisely what the rapid RT-PCR diagnostic machine (the size of a toaster) in the former Soviet Bloc countries mentioned above is already doing with both human patients, (tested, for example, for papillovirus in a mobile clinic), and the screening of animals in the field for pathogens. How extraordinary that the EU, which considers itself so sophisticated, should be so far lagging behind in life-saving technology, leaving people at risk from zoonoses and farmers a prey to the viruses and bacteria - the policies against which, as well as the pathogens themselves - threaten their livestock and their livelihoods.

December 4 2007 ~ EU lifts foot-and-mouth disease restrictions on Cyprus pork - leaving questions about the Cyprus "outbreak" unanswered

    Cyprus is now allowed to resume exports of unprocessed pork - and the statement in the Cyprus Financial Mirror that this is because pigs are " considered to be less susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease" is a very odd statement. The ProMed Moderator says that the lifting of the export ban from nearly the whole island, "means -- de facto -- that the EU recognizes Cyprus as a territory free of circulating FMD virus." In other words, as we have noted below, the positive serological reactions in sheep were not necessarily indicative of disease. The moderator continues:
      " in view of the unconvincing clinical description, absence of circulating virus, and negative serological reactions in susceptible cattle and pigs in the vicinity of the "affected" flocks, combined with the absence of any disease signs in these susceptible species.... past vaccinations could have been the cause of positive sheep serology. To sum-up and clear this unusual event, a follow-up or final report to the OIE deserves to be submitted." (Read full posting)
    The situation in Cyprus led to much unnecessary killing, unhappiness and anxiety. It all emphasises how important it is to have the most up-to-date testing technology in the hands of knowledgeable and responsible people in all Member States when the consequences of suspected disease are so draconian.

December 4 2007 ~ Marks and Spencers wins 'Compassionate Supermarket 2007' award

    M&S narrowly beat Waitrose in Compassion in World Farming's award. The Farmers Guardian says CIWF considers that although " many supermarkets were improving their welfare practices, many animals producing food for the supermarket shelf still ‘face unnecessary suffering’...and used the ceremony to urge consumers who want to shop compassionately to look at its guide recommending high welfare products on sale in supermarkets.

December 3 2007 ~ The energy of children at play provides the community's water pump

    Every hour that a specially designed merry-go-round turns, it draws up 1400 litres from the borehole below and channels it into a large storage tank in a village in Kenya - thanks to Practical Action, formerly the Intermediate Technology Development Group, founded in 1966 by Dr E F Schumacher, ( ‘Small is Beautiful'), fighting poverty from the bottom up rather than imposing from above. A one-off donation, however small, can be made here to help support more ingenious, low-cost solutions like the merry-go-round. Sending communities gifts of animals, clean latrines, taps, agricultural supplies and so on ( I chose alpaca food) on behalf of a loved one at Christmas seems also a refreshing antidote to excessive consumerism at this time of year.

December 3 2007 ~ Funding for Biotech research amounts to around £50 million per year; Support for organic farming: £1.6 million last year.

    (Gloucestershire Green Party obtained these figures under Freedom of Information.)
    In a valedictory speech at the Royal Society last week, Sir David King urged: "To date, the government has taken a broadly neutral approach to GM issues.... I believe that it's now time to revisit this issue." (See Guardian) and the Guardian reported in September that ministers believed public concerns over GM had "softened".
    The Farmers Weekly is running a poll to see whether farmers' attitudes have indeed "softened". (It would appear not)
    Interesting that today, Dino Adriano, the former chief executive at J Sainsbury plc wrote (Guardian) , "The suggestion by some, who should know better, that the absence of legal challenge in the US over a 10-year period is evidence of GM's safety to humans is puerile. How can members of the public be expected to challenge the biotech companies in the absence of sound epidemiological evidence on the effect of GM in humans. Such research does not exist because neither the US government nor the biotech companies have wanted it."

December 3 2007 ~"Currently available (GMO's) mostly contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security and positively to the stock market."

    It is unfortunate that a lot of the GM debate tends to proceed on all-or-nothing lines. As warmwell's recent Blog commented,
      " an advocate of vaccine production involving some degree of genetic engineering I can hardly want to throw the baby out with the bath water. But this is not an all or nothing issue. Nothing need stop me from being glad that human insulin can be grown in GM yeast. The baby can be kept happily in the tub and still the question of the possible biotech monopoly of the food chain be raised with deep misgivings."
    So it is good to read informed comment from a contributor to the FAO's Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture, Professor El-Tayeb, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Industrial Biotechnology at Cairo University: "..currently available (GMO's) mostly contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security and positively to the stock market."

December 3 2007 ~ "When you industrialize food and farming too much, there will be outbreaks of disease. People will want local, organic food as a secure supply."

    Any interview with Vandana Shiva is always well worth reading in full. In this one, she explains:
      "... My fight against patenting and genetic engineering is a fight against the enclosure of the biological and intellectual commons that is the basis of survival of the large majority of the people of the world. It’s also the basis of cultural diversity and cultural richness. Water is being enclosed through privatization. Water is a commons. The atmosphere is a commons that has been privatized by pollution from fossil fuels and the oil companies. They are taking what doesn’t belong to them, using it as their private sink. They are destabilizing the climate for all of us."
    However, she sees a ray of hope from the fact "the system will crack. When you industrialize food and farming too much, there will be outbreaks of disease. People will want local, organic food as a secure supply. Alternatives are built into the very logic of the system because it’s designed to fail and will lead to environmental catastrophe." Dr Shiva's farm is reintroducing traditional grains, more nutritious than a lot that are grown now and that will grow with tiny amounts of water. In Frontline (India's National Magazine), Volume 22 - Issue 02, Jan. 15 - 28, 2005 we read that Orissa, Kerala and Karnataka grow a wide variety of salinity-resistant rice cultivars. These varieties, unlike the genetically engineered. ones, are eco-friendly too. "After all, farmers have tried and tested them over hundreds of years, while the effects of genetically engineered rice varieties on the ecology are not yet understood," says Vandana Shiva.

December 3 2007 ~ "a genetic problem from a narrowed base, husbandry systems and susceptibility related to more intensive farming"

    New Zealand hosted an OIE Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania last week. Discussions were held on Bird Flu and included debate on controlling foot and mouth, emerging diseases in pigs, food safety challenges for developing countries and an update on the disease status of all countries. The part in animal disease played by a narrowing genetic base, changed husbandry systems and intensive farm practices was discussed. Foot and mouth is endemic in South East Asia, with about 400 outbreaks each year. China took part in the conference for the first time last week and has agreed to host the next one in 2009.
      "The highlight for me was the commitment from the countries accepting we need to work together to be able to control these serious diseases,"
    said New Zealand's biosecurity head and President of the OIE, Dr. Barry O'Neil. ( More detail in theNew Zealand Herald)

December 3 2007 ~ Deepening concern about water shortages is reaching the world's press.

    Professor Asit K. Biswas, an expert in water use and the 2006 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, wrote in a report released by the Asian Development Bank (Bankok Post):
      "If the present unsatisfactory trends continue, in one or two decades Asian developing countries are likely to face a crisis on water quality management that is unprecedented in human history."
    Underwater aquifers are running dry in China - the consequence of rapid industrialisation and water pollution in China's dash for economic transformation. Aquifers are running dry in India too. Major water diversion schemes are spoken about but are not a reality - and attempts to create more dams or desalinate water are in danger of being as destructive of ecosystems as the droughts themselves. The US state of Georgia and the southern part of California have suffered serious shortages during the past year due to unusually severe droughts and poor planning. Pollution and profligate consumption patterns point to a coming desperate situation.

December 3 2007 ~ Peak Oil is now talked about everywhere - but a lack of water is of even greater significance

    At least 700 million people among Asia-Pacific's 3.7 billion population don't have access to safe and affordable water and more than 1.9 billion don't have adequate sanitation, according to statistics compiled by the UN and other agencies. (See Bloomberg)
    Last year, the BBC reported that in London leaks from ageing water mains are wasting 300 Olympic swimming pools' worth of water every single day; elsewhere in the world mismanagement of water means an increasingly desperate situation. Intensive industrialisation - particularly of farming, with its exploitation of animals and natural resources and its effect of exiling vast numbers of people into cities - demands a price to be paid that must outweigh any advantage in the long run. Human ingenuity in making profits is of little value if the wellbeing of the planet is put in jeopardy.

December 1 2007 ~ "In hyper-'efficient' Britain, policy makers continue to urge that we should abandon farming altogether.."

    Highly and urgently recommended is a book by Colin Tudge; "Feeding People is Easy" He says we need a renaissance world-wide in which - contrary to the pressures exerted by the powerful - small, mixed, labour-intensive farms are the norm, the default position.
      "As John Maynard Keynes pointed out 70 years ago, there is no relationship between the Gross National Product and human wellbeing...In hyper-'efficient' Britain, policy makers continue to urge (I have heard them doing so) that we should abandon farming altogether and buy from abroad, which these days largely means Brazil and Africa. Yet the money we spend in those countries does the population little or no good - merely speeding their exodus from traditional farms...we cannot allow the people who have the most influence in the world ...and all their attendant battalions of bureaucrats, economists and scientists - to perpetuate a system that is clearly based on nonsense and is threatening our entire survival.."
    Colin Tudge applauds the many signs of renaissance already from farmers' markets to 'transition towns' like Totnes and Stroud setting out to run their own affairs differently. Anything short of a renaissance - fiddling with the CAP, trying to get Tesco's or Sainsbury's to stock half a shelf of local produce - is a waste of time. (Links to other writing by Colin Tudge on warmwell.)

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