Pig farmers deserve more help in their latest crisis

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The plight of Britain's farmers just gets worse. After BSE and the European ban on beef exports came the swine-fever outbreak last year. Now there is the far more worrying foot-and-mouth disease; memories of the 1967-8 outbreak are still vivid for many people who lived in the country then, with animals having to be scrubbed daily with disinfectant, and sterilised straw having to be used to cordon off farms.

The plight of Britain's farmers just gets worse. After BSE and the European ban on beef exports came the swine-fever outbreak last year. Now there is the far more worrying foot-and-mouth disease; memories of the 1967-8 outbreak are still vivid for many people who lived in the country then, with animals having to be scrubbed daily with disinfectant, and sterilised straw having to be used to cordon off farms.

While Tim Yeo, the Tories' agriculture spokesman, has been quick to condemn the possibility that the Ministry of Agriculture is "dithering" (something he would surely deny ever happened when he was countryside minister in the last government), the fact is that modern agricultural diseases, like us, enjoy travel. Get on to a jet aircraft and, these days, you will know that you may be risking (besides deep vein thrombosis) catching all sorts of diseases, including TB, from your fellow-passengers.

Fewer animals get the chance to travel on jets, but their diseases certainly do; and on other transport systems, too. The same transportation techniques that let us eat out-of-season fruits are bringing a growing number of foods into Britain whose provenance is uncertain. As one farmer pointed out this morning, the swine-fever outbreak was traced to an Asian country by "strain typing" the virus.

The farming industry is already hurting badly from the effects of swine fever, while BSE has damaged huge swathes of it. It is a grim joke to find that the same foreign markets that are destroying your business are also the ones that are infecting it, and thus destroying it a second time.

But it is hardly a new experience: the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 1967 was eventually linked to a similar transcontinental source. It is reckoned to have originated in frozen lamb carcasses imported from Argentina. Dogs on the Shropshire farm where the outbreak began dragged those carcass bones to pigs, which became infected.

What message for the farmers confronting a bleak future as another set of export markets slams its doors? Only that they, like the steelworkers and car-makers, face the same globalisation of their work. If the Government sets its face against compensation, the problems would go on: infected food would still reach our plates. Foot-and-mouth will be a terrible problem to eliminate. But the farmers need support, just so that we can be sure of what we are eating.

Comments