Another TV Programme on Farming Production and Demand
Bleak countryside truths charting the farmer’s ruin have elicited attempts at redressing rural disasters. The electorate’s concern over activities and topics such as intensified high-input production, pesticides, diseases (some zoonotic), killing and cullings of livestock in slaughtering of massacring enormity, and of belated and misapplied farming subsidies intended for environmental purposes, are receiving PR dollops of free ranging and premium VAT (Virtue Adding Tricks) misinformation lulling an electorate into disremembrance of disasters, especially from stubble burning on, that blemish our green and pleasant land. A miasma of cruelty and rapacity hangs over the countryside. We reiterate the need for “green” campaigners to thrust their views and solutions into the political arena. We call attention now to a Channel 4 programme beginning at 21.00 on Thursday, 3rd May 2007. It’s entitled The Lie of the Land.
The producer of the programme, Molly Dineen, declares at the outset her anger that “our countryside” is being destroyed and that so many of our farmers and their way of life are suffering too. While admitting that some farmers are “doing very nicely”, she concentrates on the strugglers, “like Ian Williams from Cornwall, who earns his living from killing animals for farmers and then selling them, sometimes for just £2 a cow, to the local hunt for the dogs to eat. It’s a practice known as the flesh run”. The agents rejoice in names such as knackers, fellmongers, renderers and kennelmen salvaging fallen stock – casualties, poor doers, and sick animals). “It is a gruesome but increasingly common practice”.
In brief, we can cite statements from our database that give the lie to Molly Dineen’s presumptions. They reiterate much material contained in our output since the launch in 1976 of our Green Plan for farming, food, health, and the environment. “The real problem in the milk market is overproduction. Dairy farmers’ woes can’t be pinned on supermarkets or global commodity prices”, proclaims John Lingard in a Response in the Guardian this weekend (27/04/07) to a big article entitled Why British dairy farming is in crisis (24/04/07). Dr John Lingard is a senior lecturer in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University. Dr Esslemont, an agricultural expert at Reading University, has sounded similar warnings and corrections and he has upbraided animal welfarists for failing adequately to expose the shortcomings of the dire dairy/beef/veal industry. (It has been hard for VEGA to have to agree with such admonitions, although our history, website, and database give some idea of our efforts at education and action).
Molly Dineen was initially thinking about making a documentary on hunting after the ban. As she began filming the hunts she became more interested in the way farm animals are shot as meat for the hounds and the wider consequences impressed her as destruction of the farmers’ way of life (We wonder if similar concerns had obsessed her over communities who mined for coal and built ships or motor vehicles and are now joining the list of casualties or beneficiaries of reform and the consequence of change, such as workers in the fishing industry).
Consumer or Supermarket to Blame?
She therefore approaches the completion of a trite rant on the supermarkets and the government that spent 700 parliamentary hours on a foxhunting ban that in her view clearly does not work. “That legislation was about class and what Labour thought their supporters regarded as a feudal and cruel system”, Molly Dineen states; “or a countryside which is just a place where townies can come for paintballing days”. As a self-confessed townie she approaches her film with a complaint that a government worshipping the supermarkets has brought prices of food down. So she “hates supermarkets; they have destroyed British farms”. (We might murmur that the countryside was rid of some or illegalized pursuits such as bull-, badger- and bear-baiting and cock-fighting as such spectacles became as objectionable as public hangings; and the continuing riddance of countryside atrocities sets an example to campaigners elsewhere to act likewise in activities on their patch, such as bull-fighting).
As a “full-on townie” and a “bit of a hypocrite who does not live entirely by my principles”, Molly Dineen says that “in a way it’s quite hard to make the walk or drive to a butcher’s or greengrocer’s to get what you really want.” In a lament for the past, Molly Dineen claims a common loss as a nation. Would that her documentary deals more informatively and critically with this pressing topic! At least this film and the trailers for it will alert campaigners to challenges that must entertain and then overcome without the facilities for an individual and already acclaimed documentary; at best, we hope our website and database will furnish viewers and people stimulated to write to their councillors, MPs, MEPs and candidates, as well as the press, program makers and phone-in debates, to present worthy reactions to Molly Dineen’s testimony.
BSE and the Upshot – Blame Somebody Else
This weekend saw VEGA in action in a meeting in Newcastle on Food Issues – Production, Safety, and Welfare, attended and addressed by officials of the Food Standards Agency, DEFRA, the State Veterinary Service and vets from various countries and representatives of the pig, beef, cattle, and sheep industries. Treatment of casualty animals and suitability of their meat for “humane” slaughter and human consumption of for consignment to knackers’ yards and hunt kennels raised issues of welfare and the decline in vets’ farm practices for more congenial work caring for the townies’ pets.
The pig industry’s representative (of the “unsupported sector of agriculture”) reported a 40% decline in production in the UK since 1997, “due to a multitude of factors including the introduction of unilateral welfare legislation, exotic disease outbreaks, increasing global trade in pigmeat products and a highly sophisticated and aggressive retailing environment.”
“The British beef industry is under huge economic and disease cost pressure. It is difficult to exaggerate the chasm between costs of production and market income”. The speaker bemoaned the “battering the industry is getting from bovine TB and the residual cost hangover of the BSE crisis which continues to strangle margins in the processing sector – which then results in inspection charges and the devaluation of the fifth quarter products being passed back to producers who cannot possibly stay in business unless incomes rise.” These concerns connote efforts at relaxing control on the welfare and transport of unwanted dairy calves and culls (averaging an estimated 150,000 a year from the UK), development of feed-lot farming along the East coast (near to ports that bring in the feed), with herds of up to 10,000 animals), threats of new diseases (blue tongue and Johne’s for instance), and of appropriation of land to grow biofuels instead of feedstuffs.
The vets cheered a questioner at the meeting who suggested that British farmers have grown complacent over subsidization, especially after the BSE epidemic, and they should indemnify themselves for the consequences of breakdowns, recalls, culling and damages due to poor husbandry. A topical contrast sets the treatment of the outbreak of suspected avian flu at Bernard Matthews’ turkey factory with the “culling” of stocks recalled as a result of an outbreak of contamination with salmonella (over which further litigation is expected) in Cadbury’s chocolate.
Little account was taken of consumers’ reluctance to pay more for less, in the manner of Ben Bradshaw’s advice to reduce consumption of meat and milk for various reasons, although the cattle expert dismissed many environmental and dietary concerns over commercial production (Ben Bradshaw MP is a Minister at DEFRA).
Programs and articles such as The Lie of the Land offer and alert citizens to redouble their efforts and opportunities to register their interpretations to farmers and retailers in proving their feelings by choice, purchase, and testimony at the cash-point and in their cogent responses to the media. Go for it on Green on Thursday!