Over the Gate - Red tape and moving goal posts

By Jeff Swift

IT WILL come as no surprise to you that I read a lot of reports; I even understand some of them. I have to say that the ones I do understand hardly ever come from DEFRA. No surprise there.

Most of the reports that I have come across recently make some reference to the pathetic handling by Government of a crackdown on the entry into the UK of illegal meat. Every week we hear about people encountering the most rigorous checks when passing through points of entry abroad, yet when returning to the UK they claim to meet with checks to see if they are bringing in illegal meat, varying from non-existent to poor.

How can the Government justify draconian measures like the 20-day rule to its farmers, when it makes such a puny effort at keeping out illegal meat.

Besides filthy stuff like bush meat, huge containers of meat find their way in because, as I understand it, there are just occasional spot checks, so most of this illegal meat gets through undetected. When these importers are caught, the Government should throw the book at them.

Everybody likes a bargain, that is human nature, but as a country we should not become obsessed with cheapness. The government already is.

In the wake of foot-and-mouth DEFRA declared itself in favour of money being channelled away from production and into environmental schemes. Take the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme. Money from this is compensation for carrying out the requirements of a ministry scheme and don't let anyone tell you any different. The scheme is taken out by the farmer and he or she is responsible for carrying out the requirements, therefore the money is paid to that farmer.

Now to return to my point, post foot-and-mouth many farmers decided to go along with what DEFRA was looking for and, if they were already in the ESA scheme, decided to increase the area of land say of herby meadowland in tier 1 and perhaps the area of fell for heather regeneration. They signed up with DEFRA's agreement and guess what happened next? You're probably ahead of me. Good old DEFRA cut the payments per hectare. I don't know what you call it, but I call it wanting environmental benefits on the cheap.

I have every confidence in the people who administer the ESA from Cumbria and, after all, the very first Environmental Sensitive Area was in Dent. But there is worse to come. Most of the administration is done from Cheshire. So that's all right then. Not a bit of it, they make more mistakes than some folk have had hot dinners.

I'll tell you what happened to us. We sent the duly completed application form, which had been agreed by the Field Officer in Cumbria, to Cheshire. It came back with someone else's name on. When you have a properly completed form in front of you, how can you copy some else's name on it? On telephoning DEFRA in Cheshire, a lady said: "I've got your form in front of me and

your name is there as you state. Please accept our apologies and we will make any correction necessary". To the name that is!

Hey ho, we received the form back. I said: "I don't believe it!" It still had the other farmer's name on it. Another telephone call then back came a form this time with the correct name, but missing a required field, size and number. Telephone again, this time a supervisor gentleman said: "Destroy all those papers and leave it to me". This time it came back correct. Farmers can do without that sort of work. Needless to say we did not destroy any of the papers, I may want to wave them under someone's nose some day.

I understand that the Prime Minister's decision to award a knighthood to his chief scientific adviser on foot-and-mouth disease has come in for some angry responses. His name is Professor David King. He based his advice on his computer models. He was blamed for both the 3km and contiguous culls. Even the EU has cast doubt on their legality. It is said he was plotting the course of the virus on his computer. Minister Nick Brown claimed the outbreak was under control, and then he had to admit it was not under control. Did King deserve a knighthood? I'm saying nowt else or I might find my way to jail is being plotted on the computer.

Dialect word: Lig meaning to lie down or to lay.

Thought for the day: The butcher drove into the farmyard in his van and, spying the farmer, said: "Hey Bill, come and buy some of thy own lamb off me." Bill had a look and said: "That's not MY lamb!" "How canta tell?" asked the butcher. "Cos thou's never bought any off me," said Bill.