FMD - UPDATE 20
It would thus suit Mrs Beckett fine if the hills were stripped of livestock, and trees were planted in their stead, helping the government to meet its Kyoto obligations. This would explain DEFRA's enthusiasm for slaughtering the hefted sheep on the Brecons and the mass slaughter of Cumbrian and Scottish sheep. It also augers ill for the flocks on the North Yorks Moors.
Richard North (Dr)
Research Director EDD (European Parliament)
29 July 2001
There have been many rumours, not least following a recent report in Farmers
Guardian, of the existence of an EU livestock depopulation fund, that there
is a sinister EU plot to wipe out the UK livestock industry.
While it is easy to believe that any manner of evils emanate from the
European Union, it has to be said that there is no evidence of such a fund
existing. Should there have been, there would have had to have been Council
approval, promulgated by way of a Decision. No such Decision has been
published and it is unlikely that it could have been made. This type of
'support' to member states is highly contentious - both the Netherlands and
France have applied to the EU for similar funds and have been refused. Had
the UK been granted additional funding, I am sure that both these countries
would have kicked up an enormous stink, which could hardly have passed
Furthermore, it should be remembered that, at the last but one Agriculture
Council meeting, measures were put in place to reduce the beef surplus, not
least of which was decreasing the permissible stocking rate for the beef
extensification premium. However, the Council exempted the UK from the
provisions, because of its FMD crisis.
What makes the rumour that much more implausible, however, is that there is
no need for the EU to promote a reduction in UK livestock when Her Majesty's
Government seems to be quite keen on doing the job without any external
In this context, it should be remembered that, just over two years ago, a
mass cull of sheep was on the cards because of the collapse in ewe prices.
In September 1999, the Meat and Livestock Commission presented MAFF with a #6
million ewe slaughter plan which the then minister, Nick Brown, considered
had 'some merit'. Private storage aid was also being proposed.
As it was, the slaughter plan did not go ahead because permission was not
given by the EU. But the problem did not go away and the UK was left with a
structural sheep surplus and no means of remedying the situation. Thus,
foot-and-mouth disease actually presented HMG with an opportunity of reducing
the sheep population, paying compensation to slaughter animals which in more
normal times would have been declared illegal by the EU. One wonders whether
this is one more reason why the government was so reluctant to vaccinate.
Furthermore, one can also see in this a reason why the NFU should also have
been against vaccination, and so very much in favour of slaughter. As late
as 11 February 2000, Bell Gill - alongside economist Sean Rickard - in a
presentation on financial support for farmers (published on the FWI website)
- argued that 'Ultimately, supply must be reduced which means less farmers,
and the sooner the necessary adjustment is made the more security there will
be for those better managed, lower cost enterprises'. Clearly, Gill would
be quite happy to see a number of small farmers driven out of business, to
leave the pickings to his 'low cost' - i.e., bigger - enterprises. FMD has
provided the opportunity.
But there is quite possibly another, as yet undeclared agenda. Although many
people have remarked on the uneasy fit between agriculture and environment,
with their shotgun marriage in DEFRA, a certain commonality of purpose
emerged earlier this month.
On the 22 July, Mrs Margaret Beckett, the nearest thing we have to an
agriculture minister, was in Bonn. But she was not on agricultural business.
Instead, she had been at the all-night climate change talks where, amongst
other things, amendments to the Kyoto protocal were agreed, not least of
which were the use of 'carbon-sinks' as a means of offsetting carbon dioxide
emissions in order to reduce 'global warming'. One mechanism for providing
carbon sinks is, of course, massive forestation.
It would thus suit Mrs Beckett fine if the hills were stripped of livestock
and trees were planted in their stead, helping the government to meet its
Kyoto obligations. This would explain DEFRA's enthusiasm for slaughtering
the hefted sheep on the Brecons and the mass slaughter of Cumbrian and
Scottish sheep. It also augers ill for the flocks on the North Yorks Moors.
Another 'straw in the wind' is the recent Royal Society for the Protection of
Birds report entitled Futurescapes: Large Scale Habitat Restoration for
Wildlife and People - featured in the current edition of the Observer. This
calls for 400,000 acres of farmland to be 'returned to nature', and the
creation of 250,000 acres of new woodland. Interestingly, nothing of this
was mentioned earlier this month at the RSPB conference on agriculture and it
seems just too much of a coincidence that the report should appear so soon
after the climate-change summit.
How convenient it is that the RSPB should ague that, 'rather than paying
farmers to restock uplands, such as the Lake District, with sheep that nobody
wants to buy, large parts of it should be returned to its natural habitat of
woodland, heather and gorse for tourists and visitors to enjoy'.
One wonders if public opinion is being softened up. With the right 'spin'
from NuLab about reducing global warming and saving the environment, and the
overt support of key conservation groups - plus the drip of anti-farmer
propaganda, such as the current publicity on farmers spreading FMD- and there
is a distinct possibility that the elimination of hill farming could become
acceptable to the general public. Instead of farmers being linked with the
'environment' they would be linked with global warming and habitat
destruction and their elimination would be seen as a 'good thing'.
Perversely, this would explain the sudden rush of interest in vaccination to
create a firebreak around Thirsk, thus protecting the pigs of Humberside and
Lincolnshire - these areas would not be on the list for forestation.
Putting two and two together - and possibly making five - there begins to
emerge an interesting - if not sinister - possibility that foot-and-mouth
disease is being used as a cover to depopulate the hills. But this is not an
EU conspiracy - albeit that the Community would be happy to see it happen.
The plot - if it exists - is entirely home-grown.