Dept of Enviroment, Food and Rural Affairs - what is it for??

Given the scant comments of both Tony Blair and Margaret Beckett regarding agriculture, etc, at the Labour Party Conference I wonder if it would be timely to ask has this new dept really joined up the dots, and can and does the Govt really appreciate the inter-dependent and inter-related nature of the rural UK and its communities..

Despite the new name there is nothing of substance to suggest that the Govt has understood that without a sustainable, viable and robust agricultural base many of the other elements of the rural economy and its diverse environments will not survive.

Already ungrazed pasture in the wake of FMD is starting to change the appearance of the countryside.  Farming practices generally and the pattern of land use has shaped and evolved the rural landscape.  Without sustainably farmed land; grazed, cropped or managed in some other way, the face of the countryside will alter dramatically.  As it becomes unkempt and uncared for it is obvious to see that pressure for land to be taken out of farming and used for housing and other development will increase.   Is this really the aim of the Dept of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs?

As stated at the Labour Party Conference the way ahead, as described by Mrs Beckett, would seem to revolve around reduced subsidies and a globalisation of food production.  Given the imbalance between health and welfare standards of UK produced food and imported food - which leads to much cheaper imports - the future of the farmed landscape looks increasingly bleak, and with it the many related industries, not least tourism.

I do not know how we seek reassurance from this administration, or any other, that this will not be the outcome.   As you will see from the accompanying Press Release issued a Year on from Foot & Mouth after 18 months of involvement with FMD this is the picture which increasingly comes into focus.


Co-ordinating Office:  3 The Common, Siddington
Cirencester, Glos.   GL7 6EY
Tel: 01285 644319 / 01285 656812


7 No Lessons Learnt from Foot and Mouth 2001

7 An Animal Health Bill set to make the same mistakes again

7 No Government Blue Print for a Sustainable Future for Rural Britain

A Year on from the Foot and Mouth Crisis the Government has no Contingency Plan in place to deal with another outbreak any differently than it did in 2001.   The Royal Society recommendations have not been acted upon, no provision has been made to use Vaccination and the Government has given no indication that it intends to do so.

Instead the Animal Health Bill is due to proceed without debate. A Bill that will even further extend and increase the Minister's powers to seize and slaughter farm animals and livestock, purely on the grounds that the Minister 'thinks' such animals "should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of disease".  The Bill has not been founded on substantive scientific or empirical data and information.

A Year on there has still been no critical, independent analysis of the epidemiological data about Foot and Mouth; and there has been no proper, independent, transparent Inquiry.

The future of farming, the rural economy, its landscape and communities is at stake.  Critical decisions need to be taken by the Government if the Lessons of Foot & Mouth are truly to be learnt.  But the recent suspect case in Cornwall has shown nothing has changed.  There appears to have been no advancement in rapid FMD testing devices, only farmers in an 8km zone were put under temporary movement restrictions, and clearly there is no provision to respond to a possible outbreak with the modern vaccines and differential tests recommended by the Royal Society Inquiry.

Another outbreak of Foot & Mouth would be responded to with exactly the same horrific mass slaughter and cull that was the hallmark of the barbarity witnessed in 2001.

As far as we can discern Government policy relies solely on the far reaching and draconian powers of the new Animal Health Bill.  In addition, the Government appears content with an increasing and unfettered globalisation of food production, which does not distinguish between the animal welfare or health standards of imports and UK produced food.   With a food supply chain which no longer delivers a living wage to many farmers, and with supermarkets having ever increasing power and control to determine how food is produced, distributed and marketed. 

What is needed is sustainable agriculture and food production which protects the unique countryside of the UK and ensures the survival of a rich and diverse environment, a thriving rural economy and dynamic communities.

The complex, inter-related and inter-dependent nature of farming, tourism and rural life needs to be urgently addressed.  More draconian powers to slaughter animals - due to be adopted in the Animal Health Bill - are not the answer.

The Countryside is our most vital resource.  With its vast diversity, its capacity to feed us and its ability to be the green lungs of the nation we cannot afford to squander it.  But a Year on from Foot and Mouth the Government appears to have done nothing to ensure that this resource would not again be devastated by another outbreak of Foot and Mouth.