WHO EXACTLY WERE THE NFU FMD ADVISERS?
28th March 2002
When Prime Minister Blair stated last year, during the greatest tragedy to hit Cumbria and one of the greatest to hit the UK, "We are talking to the farmers." what in fact Blair really meant was he was actually talking to The National Farmers Union; or to be more precise, their undemocratically elected officers. There is a very distinct and very important difference.
The NFU purports to represent UK agriculture with a membership of 65ê% of all farmers. Various County Chairmen have told me that this figure is actually around 35%; 37% here in Cumbria. The only way to get an accurate figure is to compare total membership with the number of farms in the UK, but I know only too well that this could present complications. The point is though, that Blair was talking to senior representatives of the NFU and NOT the farmers and that the NFU could not be regarded as representing the majority. Senior representatives are placed in a position of influence by a very undemocratic process.
I have for many months now, having been informed that "The NFU has received the best scientific advice on matters appertaining to FMD." (Where have I heard that phrase before?) been attempting to find out who exactly advises the NFU on matters relating to FMD. I have asked various representatives of THE NFU who these advisers were. Until today no one would/could tell me! I have been given the distinct impression the NFU are beginning to realise what a horrendous "cock up" they have made in FMD policy.
So, I rang the affable Mr Peter Rudman, NFU Animal Health & Welfare adviser since 1975. Mr Rudman is a qualified Zoologist and Bio-Chemist. He has been described as the NFU`s veterinary adviser and told me he has a number of "vet contacts".
I briefly asked Peter if he could tell me who was the scientific adviser to the NFU on matters of FMD? Basically he told me that the NFU has no specific and independent scientific adviser in this field, or any other it seems. Apparently the whole policy making process is conducted through a democratic structure where grass roots members can influence key decisions. "No one is whiter than white!" Peter told me. "The decision whether to vaccinate was not ours, it was based on independent veterinary advice. We talked to, among others, The BVA, RCVS." What others, I politely asked?
"The CVO, Jim Scudamore, and epidemiologists." Go on, what epidemiologists?
"You will know the names Nick as well as me, Dr Anderson and his team!" Oh you mean Dr Christl Donnelly & Dr Neil Ferguson, I questioned. "Yes that`s them."
Oh that's all right then, top scientific advice available to the NFU then! The Governments Chief scientist who, we are told advised the NFU, is a chemist (surface scientist) an expert in the corrosion of metals! Anderson's team of epidemiologists are mathematicians and statisticians not hands-on practising vets.
So how much better was the advice from the BVA?
President of the British Veterinary Association, David Tyson enjoined farmers to
"Stick with the control measures that worked in 1967/68, vaccination would end the UK's disease-free status."
Keith Baker, past president of the BVA went on,
"There were 50 different virus types with no cross-immunity. If the wrong vaccine were used, animals would have no protection. Moreover, there would be no guarantee that all animals were protected. 'Stamping out the disease by slaughtering infected animals wins hands down, every time", he declared.
Yet more TOP advice for the NFU then!
So now, perhaps we get a better picture of why the NFU were so poorly informed and so very myopic with regard to modern methods of FMD control. It is simply scandalous that, to all intent, the Government is representing the NFU farming member on the ground! Pure and simple! That is, of course, the 37% the NFU represent!
So, as we suspected, the NFU is firmly in Blair's pocket, mirroring any FMD policy that Blair decides to take.
For Blair to suggest, "We are talking to the farmers." Was incorrect, totally, and for the NFU to suggest that they relied on the best independent scientific advice was also clearly wrong!
To have more evidence of the NFU`s association with Blair's government, remember this statement from Ian Gardiner, deputy Director general of the NFU.
"Farmers who resisted the cull spread the disease!" Now, where have we heard that before? Oh yes, Mr Elliot Morley, ex. head of special needs at Greatfield High School, Hull and now Under Secretary for State (DEFRA).
Mr Gill, NFU Chairman, however, claims credit for saving Mr Thomas Everards pedigree stock in Devon. So, did Gill then think his brave action actually spread the disease? Despite both Mr Gardiner and the infamous Mr Morley both being given direct challenges to prove that farmers who resisted the cull, spread the disease, not surprisingly neither of these "experts" have to date offered evidence! A "Shameless act of scapegoating!" as reported in the excellent Western Morning News.
Further claptrap from the NFU was Ben Gill's outrageous comment concerning BBC helicopters: -
Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, raised the spectre again this month when he accused BBC helicopters of fanning the disease by ignoring no-fly zones - an allegation the corporation has denied.
I questioned Gill on another highly contentious statement he had made,
"Pregnant sows will abort when injected with FMD vaccine"
I asked him where he had obtained this nonsensical information, "I read it on a label of vaccine!" he mockingly stated! I asked what label but he did not answer. I put it to Gill, that in a recent conversation I had had with world renowned FMD expert Dr Paul Sutmoller, I asked Paul what he thought of Gill's comment. "How many sows has Mr Gill vaccinated?" he replied, "I have vaccinated pregnant sows and none have aborted!" When I mentioned this to Gill he said, "Who is Paul Sutmoller?"! Later on that evening, after Gill had given various press interviews and apparently consumed some alcohol, I approached him again. But now he was slurring his words, avoided serious debate and dismissed me by saying, "Who are you, what do you do, oh yes, you are the Mountaineering Instructor! What do you know."! A level of arrogance only reached by Blair and his Ministers and so VERY similar!
It is often questioned how an undemocratically conducted Union was able to influence government policy on FMD so easily! Based on my evidence, perhaps that should read, HOW EASILY THE GOVERNMENT WERE ABLE TO INFLUENCE THE NFU?
I heard from a reliable source today:-
"The EU is investigating the NFU due to its 'cosy' relationship with HMG. It is suggested that the EU are not going to part with any Euro's for FMD - due to HMG incompetence etc etc. I also think that there is another hidden agenda here re. EU v HMG".
It appears that it is not just the NFU in Blair's pocket. Mr Richard Eccles, assistant editor to the Cumberland News, recently suggested, "The forgotten farmers who opposed the cull deserved a bigger and more credible voice from within the farming establishment." He had lambasted Dr Richard North, Dr Ruth Watkins and myself despite the fact that none of us ever suggested we did represent farmers who had resisted the cull. Eccles had conveniently forgotten to mention other Heart of Cumbria representatives such as Chairman and farmer Mr Tom Lowther, farmer Chris Woods who was part of the Judicial Review procedure and our Patron Viscount Lowther who has 14 tenant farmers on the Lowther estate.
Very conveniently overlooked Mr Eccles! Would you prefer the NFU to represent these farmers? Now that would be a disaster!
A farmer who was resisting the cull of his healthy animals last year, told me he was continually harassed by NFU representatives to give up his stock!
Heart of Cumbria
"Campaigning for the Truth!"