Flogging diseased meat is part of our proud rural tradition

'That's your trouble: you don't understand the multinational agribusiness industry'
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The Independent Online

What I love about British farmers is there's not a scrap of remorse. One of them, interviewed on Farming Today, said the latest CJD statistics were disastrous because they've already reduced the price of his cattle, until "confidence comes back". Do they view every news item with the same magnificently self-centred attitude? Maybe the report in Farmers Weekly on the rail crash went, "Fortunately two of the dead were vegetarians, so the impact on beef sales will not be as great as was originally feared."

What I love about British farmers is there's not a scrap of remorse. One of them, interviewed on Farming Today, said the latest CJD statistics were disastrous because they've already reduced the price of his cattle, until "confidence comes back". Do they view every news item with the same magnificently self-centred attitude? Maybe the report in Farmers Weekly on the rail crash went, "Fortunately two of the dead were vegetarians, so the impact on beef sales will not be as great as was originally feared."

When the potential scale of BSE was revealed a few years ago, the response of the Tory government was to complain that the revelations were damaging "confidence" in the beef industry. You could imagine ministers sitting at the bedside of the victims, yelling, "Sit up straight. If you're seen on the news lolloping about like that you could knock another fiver off the price of a cow."

Virtually every statement they made on the issue condemned not the problem, but the fact that reporting the problem was affecting sales. Despite all available information indicating the opposite, every day for weeks they repeated the mantra, "British beef is the safest beef in the world." Perhaps this is to be the Tory strategy on all issues. In flooded villages, Tory councillors will condemn reports of burst rivers for "undermining confidence in the riverbank" and insist that, "Lower Marshton is the driest parish in the world." The Israeli Tourist Board can run an advertising campaign claiming that "Gaza is the safest place in the world."

Their next trick was usually to assert that no matter how many reports proved otherwise, there was "no conclusive scientific evidence" of any danger. This from the same people who wave any bit of paper they can find suggesting that dope shouldn't be legalised because "according to this report, written by some bloke in America, apparently cannabis may or may not cause you to bump into things". Surely to be consistent, the next time someone complains about the dangers of drugs, Tory frontbenchers should scream: "How dare you undermine confidence in the British heroin industry? British smack is the safest smack in the world."

There was another argument: that it was our fault for "demanding cheap and available meat". I seem to have missed these uprisings, directed by townies against jolly farmers in tweed hats who were happy making just enough to live on by growing organic asparagus.

In any case, what sort of a defence is the food-industry line that they were only trying to keep their costs down? How far would a mugger get if he said in court, "Obviously my condolences go out to the old woman who now has a broken hip, but to not mug her would have cost me £8.50, a book of second-class stamps and a hearing aid, so I was faced with little choice"?

Then, as the BSE crisis became public, the farming industry's main concern was compensation. Even Fred West didn't try that when he was caught. This is where he slipped up. To win sympathy he should have complained that he'd only just bought a whole new bundle of floorboards, and now he was going to have to chuck them on a skip. So unless he was compensated he was going to park his cement-mixer in the middle of the high street. But those responsible for BSE won't end up in court, partly because the report that's been published, like all such reports, avoids saying anything clearly. Reports on government scandals can always be interpreted in whatever way anyone wants, because they use language like, "As guardians of perfunctory and perambulatory responsibilisation towards sanitation, ministers may or may not have obfuscated their Ipsythicosaurus potential towards flora and associated fauna."

Instead of 16 volumes taking five years, anyone normal would after 10 minutes have produced a one-page report that said, "Bloody Nora, they were pumping cows full of mangy sheep carcasses. No wonder your average pie in a plastic bag that you buy from a petrol garage is likely to send you doolally." So the farmers will continue to insist that the main issue is "confidence". Maybe they should take it further and demand that they be allowed to carry on as they were, as stuffing cows full of gunge and flogging diseased meat is "part of our proud rural tradition".

"Around these parts, the annual festival where the squire blows a bugle and we all make a cow go mad goes back to Ethelred the Unready. It's perfectly humane, and people who complain haven't seen the amount of damage a cow can do to a field of grass. Besides, abolishing CJD would put the stable boys who train the spongeybrain germs out of work. But that's the trouble with you lot who get annoyed by poisonous beef; you just don't understand the ways of the multinational agribusiness industry."

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