(From Private Eye)


From: BOOKER/12 sept 2001

Even Newer Muckspreader

When it turned out that Professor Roy Anderson's computer hadn't brought the FMD epidemic to an end by July after all, and that new outbreaks were still popping up in Northumberland, Leicestershire and heaven knows where, Defra in panic announced it was planning to introduce all sorts of draconian new licensing regulations to prevent farmers moving their stock around. Since this will make it even harder for the farmers to earn a living, it was quite important for them to know what these changes to the licensing system might be.

Ben Garratt, who runs a pedigree herd of Blonde D'Aquitaine cattle near Ashford in Kent, first learned about the new restrictions when he was reading the 32-page-long August edition of Defra's 'FMD Update' (including a particularly exciting section on grouse-shooting). The ministry was hoping to have its new licensing system firmly in place in September, presumably when the Great Caravanner Mrs Beckett finally got back from her holidays. But as yet there were no further details. Nevertheless, Mr Garratt was pleased to note that the 'latest information' was available from Defra's FMD helpline, which happened to be on a number up in Cumbria ('which I knew already'). He told his partner, a doctor who needed the telephone for her own work, that he would just make 'a quick call' and she could then have the phone.

When, after 10 minutes, he finally got through to 'Julie' in Cumbria, she said she couldn't advise how the new rules would affect Kent, but suggested he should ring his divisional veterinary office in Reigate, Surrey. She gave him the number ('which I knew already') and a switchboard operator explained, 'very slowly', that no one in that office could help. Mr Garratt should try Defra's FMD experts for the south-east in Chelmsford, Essex. But since Mr Garratt is acquainted with most of the vets at Reigate, he asked to be put through anyway. The duty vet told him that he knew nothing about any proposals to change movement licenses, but suggested that Mr Garratt should try Reading, Berks, who had a whole department dealing with that sort of thing ('definitely not Chelmsford').

Mr Garratt was given the number ('which I knew already') and was eventually put through to a man in the licensing department, who said he didn't know anything about new proposals from HQ, but why didn't Mr Garratt speak to the people who actually make the policy, who are up in Glasgow. A chap in Glasgow said he knew of no new proposals for movement licenses, but probably the best way for Mr Garratt to keep in touch was to ring the FMD helpline in Cumbria. To arrive back where he started had taken Mr Garratt the best part of an hour, keeping his doctor friend away from her lifesaving work. Listening that night to the BBC News, Mr Garratt was interested to hear that Defra was "proposing changes to the way farmers are permitted to move animals round the countryside". But no further details were forthcoming. Mr Garratt did briefly wonder whether it might be worth beginning the whole exercise again the next morning. But only very briefly. No doubt if the Great Caravanner could have been told all about this in some French trailer park, she might have cackled her head off at how ingeniously her officials were still managing to give those farmers the runaround, even while she remained on the longest holiday in history.