Private Eye May 17 Muckspreader

Down on The Farm

Officials in Mrs Becketts Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) are certainly tireless in finding new ways to pursue what seems to have become their policy: to close down British agriculture.

Until now one sector has generally escaped their Blitzkreig: the countys scores of agricultural shows. But Defra has made up for this with its "animal gatherings (interim measures) order 2002".

This ingenious law, which should have been called "the Crap, Piss and Wind Order", lays down that whenever bulls, cows, pigs, llamas or any other animals appearing on a show ground discharge their bodily functions, an army of cleaners must rush in with pooper-scoopers to clean up the mess.

All over the country show committees are now looking in horror at the cost of recruiting thousands of extra staff to perform this vital task and wondering how long they can afford to stay in business. The purpose of the edict, Defra solemnly explains, is to "prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth". What it doesnt seem to have noticed is that, according to Defra itself, Britain has now been free of FMD for eight months. Logic suggests that either the risk of FMD no longer exists, in which case this new law is unnecessary. Or there still is a risk of FMD, in which case we should not be having agricultural shows. But logic is scarcely Defras strong suit. The result may well be that we soon wont have any agricultural shows anyway.

Defra is also under fire for the cunning wheeze it has used to get round its recent humiliation in the House of Lords when peers chucked out the notorious Animal Health Bill. What angered the bills critics was the unprecedented powers it would have given officials to enter the premises and to kill any animal they wished, while removing from the owner the right to object.

It has now come to light that Defra has craftily got round peers rejection of the bill simply by introducing many of the powers in the form of a statutory instrument on scrapie and BSE. This passed automatically into law on 19 April without anyone noticing. Its excuse is that it had no option because these regulations came from the EU. But it is certainly an ingenious way to sidestep any tiresome need to consult parliament before bringing in yet another ridiculous and unpopular law.

Meanwhile the arch-bully Lord Whitty, the food and farming minister, has found an equally clever way to avoid having to admit that Maff/Defra did not have the legal power to kill nine million healthy animals last year under its "contiguous cull" policy.

When asked in the Lords for evidence that the cull was legal, he simply stated yet again as an accepted fact that it was, Government whips then ensured that enough sycophantic Labour Peers were ready to ask the minister to agree that the Maffia officials had done a superb job to ensure that more informed critics were given no time to point out that Whitty had not answered the question.

The last thing Defra ministers can afford to admit is the truth: that the contiguous cull, although never properly tested in the courts, was a straightforward criminal act committed by a British government on a massive scale.