Shadow of Death over the Countryside    
    Ian Buckley asks: Is the farm crisis the result of incompetence, or something worse?    

Almost seventy years ago, Stanley Baldwin spoke of the following:-

‘The sounds of England, the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, the corncrake on a dewy morning the sound of the scythe against the whetstone, and the sight of a plough team coming over the brow of a hill, the sight that has been seen in England since England was a land, and may be seen in England long after the Empire has perished and every works in England has ceased to function.

‘How well does Baldwin's prediction of the future for the British countryside bear up? Well, the Empire is long gone and while the free-market Thatcherites had a damned good go at closing every works in Britain - they didn't quite succeed in shutting them all. But today the time-honoured vision of the eternal Britain has been replaced by the fouler sights, smells and sounds of a self-inflicted calamity.’

So Baldwin was quite poetic, but ultimately wrong, and rural Britain is to be forced into change, by a combination of market forces and disease. Rider Haggard and Henry Williamson were to be rather more correct with their regretful prophesies that retribution would eventually come to a country that despoiled its land and people. And so it has proved. The sealed-off countryside seems in tune with New Labour's despotic streak - as if it were not bad enough having a finance-driven one-party state, we now have to put up with police on roped-off roads, like something out of a tinpot African or South American dictatorship. By the way, the risk of transmission of foot-and-mouth from a walker or tourist not in regular contact with animals is minimal.

Making things worse

Though we have naturally not been informed of the fact by "official channels", burning cattle and sheep on vast pyres is actually quite a good way of spreading the virus. The tame scientists and vets of MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) know all about this, of course. But they have kept to the silence imposed by official diktat - for otherwise they would rapidly become unemployed scientists!

Oddly enough, in the Victorian era foot-and-mouth disease wasn't any great danger. In those days the complaint was known as "murrain" and was cured quite easily by careful husbandry and application of zinc oxide. The death rate was under 1 per cent - a big difference from the 100-per-cent death rate of today - even for uninfected animals - caused by the ghoulish mass slaughter perpetrated by the Ministry of Agriculture. This policy can be seen as even more ridiculous when one considers that vaccine has been available, but unused. The ostensible reason given has been that this would endanger food exports. But what on earth is the point of exporting, when imports and exports roughly balance out? Why is there such a bias against self-sufficiency, especially when foot-and-mouth disease was brought into this country with imported meat from China, which ended up in pigswill? The public have never heard of autarchy, and it's a dirty word to the android civil servants of the Treasury.

It's more than just agriculture, you see. It's the failure of an entire political class and system, a system which has abandoned its people and sold out to "the market". As Hugo Young has commented: "Gazing up at Big Ben these past few years, I've begun to see it as the icon of a theme park. Is that where power in Britain actually resides? The big stuff is decided by a tiny cabal in the light of agreements and forces and networks and markets..."

Hm - arch-liberal begins to sound like a nationalist! Strange times, indeed!

Origins in "free market"

As with BSE, when one looks closely, all details of the current outbreak are directly related to the manic free-marketeering inflicted on this country for two decades. The practice of making pigswill from catering waste should have been outlawed under recommendations made in the wake of the previous BSE disaster. Instead, the men from the Ministry decided the cost would be prohibitive, thus unwittingly unleashing another highly expensive disaster. If this were a fictional novel, everyone would think it was too far-fetched to be published.

Tons of illegal and contaminated meat arrives every week through the ports, and especially the airports: a trade which has carried on all through the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The desire to make a quick buck overrides all other considerations. Farming in the globalised economy, against cut-price imports, is not healthy competition, but rotten competition. When margins are so tight, a trivial disease can become a deadly matter. A few farmers may have made foolish decisions, but on the whole they have been forced into an unenviable position, trapped into a corner by forces they mostly don't understand.

The larger farmers may now be reduced to dependency on state aid and grants, while it may be the final end of hundreds of smaller farms, including many which have been run by the same families for centuries. This is not to mention the hauliers, dairy workers, auctioneers, shopkeepers and hoteliers who'll all be badly affected by the debacle. Is it all an accident - or is there a more sinister explanation?

As ever, opinions will be evenly divided between the cock-up and conspiracy view of events. Maybe the conspiratorially-minded will see it as revenge for the fuel protest and Countryside Marches. Those who fondly imagine that such things don't happen should consider the example of the miners, when an entire industry was virtually destroyed for no compelling economic reason, but just to satisfy a desire for vengeance amongst the "high-ups" in the Tory Party.

Fast track to a Third World economy

Not many readers will be familiar with Broadway Market in Liverpool and certainly fewer still of the"security" officials who routinely leaf through these pages as part of their job will know the place. When I pass through there, I'm always reminded of a photo-feature an Australian friend sent to me. This showed two pictures of Singapore, one old and one new: one of shacks and the other of gleaming skyscrapers. The headline above read: "In the time it took for Singapore to go from this to this, Australia went the other way." I think this sums up the situation perfectly.

The inhabitants of the Liverpool inner suburbs are generally crucified by debt, and die eight years earlier than those of the favoured areas of South East England, where the media and public relations types dwell. The self-same system degrades and destroys both the farm animals and people of Britain. It's not the cattle and sheep who are diseased; it's finance capitalism that's pox-ridden and useless. Surely the time grows near when it will join its communist twin in the dustbin of history. And the sooner the better!

    Spearhead Online