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Private Eye

Muckspreader Nov 27 2007

One thing you have to hand to those goons at Defra is that their timing is immaculate. Their latest wheeze is to revive the idea of charging livestock farmers £40 million a year to help defray the cost of combating animal diseases, on the grounds that, because farmers benefit from controlling these diseases they should jolly well pay a special tax for the privilege. So let us just consider why Defra has chosen this moment to resuscitate the idea of imposing such a levy.

First, this idea originally came into the goons’ heads in the wake of the foot-and-mouth epidemic in 2001, which cost the nation’s taxpayers around £3 billion and rural communities, including the livestock industry, a great deal more. By far the greater part of that cost was in fact created by the government itself, in its crazy mishandling of a crisis which should never have been allowed to get so out of hand. All the experts who at once called for ring-vaccination to control the spread of FMD were ignored. Instead, thanks to Prof. Roy Anderson, with his gang of computer modellers, the Blair government tried to control the disease by launching an unprecedented killing spree, illegally killing a sixth of all the farm animals in the country, the vast majority of them entirely healthy.

Secondly, the reason why the idea of taxing farmers has now been revived has been the fast-escalating cost of all the animal diseases which have recently hit southern Britain. The latest foot-and-mouth outbreaks were entirely the responsibility of Defra itself, for failing to look after its site at Pirbright (cost so far to the sheep Industry alone in lost sales, £520 million). 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.

Thirdly, the reason why Defra has suddenly become so penny-pinching is that it had its annual budget slashed by Gordon Brown as a punishment for the shambles Mrs Beckett made of the system for handing out EU farm subsidies. Brussels withheld £350 million of subsidies, Brown said that Defra must make up the shortfall out of its agreed budget, and the goons, after slashing the money due to be spent on flood defences, vital canal maintenance and various other unnecessary items, 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.

Finally it is now announced that Defra is making a further £300 million available to enable the goons themselves, those selfsame officials who were responsible for all this havoc, to take early retirement. With their usual exquisite judgement, Defra’s officials have decided that the best way to save taxpayers’ money is to spend even more of it - on themselves, offering anyone over 50 to retire on £40,000 a year for life. There is nothing the goons enjoy more than slaughtering large numbers of animals (so long, of course, as they are not foxes or badgers). But perhaps the time has come for the culling to begin nearer home. At least it would save us £300 million.