(The writer's own website is www.redpollbeef.eu )
SLEEPWALK TO STARVATION
With hindsight, it was the late 1990’s and the first decade of the 21st Century when farming went into irreversible decline as it lurched and staggered like a perpetual drunkard from crisis to disaster. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy was followed by the grossly mishandled Foot and Mouth Epidemic of 2001 and another isolated, but financially damaging, outbreak in 2007, and these in turn were pursued by Bluetongue Disease. In spite of the best of efforts of cattle and sheep farmers to vaccinate their charges, ultimately this last all but wiped out sheep farming in Britain. Commodity food production was stifled by the illogical and inexplicable decision of the European Union to ban most of the crop sprays used in Britain, resulting in an immediate cut in production of arable, fruit and vegetable crops of around one third. Coupled with the predatory pricing practices of the major supermarkets, this led to many livestock farmers over the following decade simply giving up the unequal struggle for survival. The signs should have been seen during the mass exodus from pig production in the years 2008 – 2012. Perhaps they were, but no action was taken because it was felt that food could always be imported and, anyway, that was what “The Market” had dictated. As food prices rocketed skywards, the public perception was that farmers were profiteering at the expense of consumers, a view strengthened by the propaganda issuing from the publicity departments of the major supermarkets, aided and abetted by government ministers who were keen to spin the message that they understood people’s concerns and were addressing these problems. The people didn’t believe them, and booted them out in the general election of May 2010, but such a continual barrage of powerful propaganda permeated the national consciousness, and the disparate farming organisations could do little to challenge it effectively.
Then there was the issue of Bovine Tuberculosis. Successive governments dithered and prevaricated over solutions to controlling the disease, being more concerned about the welfare of badgers and the votes of the animal rights lobby than the welfare of productive livestock, food security and the rights of farmers to earn an honest living. A massive budget cut for DEFRA’s successor, the Countryside Department, in 2012 saw compensation being withdrawn for cattle which were still compulsorily slaughtered for T.B. in a misguided attempt to balance the books. Thousands of beef and dairy farmers therefore sold their stock for slaughter to take advantage of high beef prices in Continental Europe, where beef was in short supply after Brazil and Argentina had banned exports to ensure an adequate food supply for their own populations. British beef by 2014 was a luxury item, and those few farmers who still kept cattle refused to supply the major supermarkets, selling instead through up-market delicatessens and straight from the farm.
The arable sector had merely entered a gradual spiral of decline since the E.U. had passed its controversial law banning so many pesticides and fungicides, and the government saw no reason to intervene since official policy was to encourage and promote vegetarianism. More crops would be grown to feed the domestic population, never mind the fact that much of the land formerly grazed by cattle was totally unsuited to arable production. And then it, too, began to suffer. A succession of abnormally wet summers from 2017 to 2024 saw flooding on an unprecedented scale and the loss of much of the country’s grain, potato and vegetable crops. Prices soared again, and imported food had become prohibitively costly because of a combination of floods in much of Europe and drought in North America. The summer of 2024 will be remembered as the summer of food riots in many of our towns and cities, and for troops firing on civilians to quell rampaging mobs, in scenes reminiscent of St. Petersburg 107 years earlier.
To make matters worse, by 2025 it had become clear that climate change was indeed happening, and happening at a galloping rush. The Gulf Stream had by this time shifted northwards in the Atlantic Ocean and become significantly weaker. In Britain the trend was thus towards colder, harsher winters, and the growing season was shortening. Those who could afford the time and the money had taken to growing their own fruit and vegetables, and many landowners on the urban fringes were making a comfortable living from renting allotments to town and city dwellers. Those who relied on the major supermarkets for their provisions had become hardened to seeing huge gaps on the shelves. Queues for bread were common, and households were by this time spending on average 35% of their income on food. The cost of fuel swallowed another 35% of average incomes, leaving little for anything else that used to be taken for granted. Dwindling oil reserves and an ill-conceived American-led invasion of Azerbaijan, in which Britain participated, were chiefly to blame for this.
As I write, in early May 2028, we are on the eve of a general election, where the issue of food supply and security has been dominant in the campaign. Hungry stomachs have bred huge popular discontent, and the pollsters are predicting a 95% turn out on Sunday, the day of the election. The current Conservative government appears doomed, and a far left administration is expected to take office. The populist leader of the revitalised Communist Party of Great Britain, himself a descendant of Russian immigrants and named Joe Djugashvili, has promised to fill the shelves and nationalise the land to ensure that never again does the population have to starve. He is also promising to withdraw British forces from Azerbaijan. His winning election slogan, “Peace, Bread, Land,” has taken hold of the public’s imagination. I must find out where he got it from.