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Crisis in the Countryside

As per usual farmers blame everyone but farmers. Wasn't it a farmer who started this crisis? I don't hear them saying anything about that. They have got so many subsidies over the years....and still you have a farmer's wife moaning about struggling! Does she not realise a lot of folk have to struggle to make ends meet? and without all the subsidies farmers get. They have been pampered too long, methinks, they need to get into the real world. It is a farmer who has caused this present crisis which is affecting other folk's livelihoods, I bet they don't think of that, they are too busy moaning.

Insensitive, propaganda, appalling, naive, sad are just a few words that come to mind in referring to this programme. How can Richard North talk about cutting subsides to agriculture when so many other areas of the UK economy are subsidised. Perhaps we should cut his University subsidies and see what he says about that. Secondly how can he complain about middle England when he is sitting in the comfort of his home and epitomises middle England. If ever I wanted to describe someone who was middle England it would be him, someone who sits in the comfort of his own home talking about something he blatantly does not fully understand. Nick Brown and Richard North are obviously both from the same land, cuckoo land!!!

Never before have I been prompted to air my distaste for a programme which was at its worst biased and misleading. Why were there no dairy, hill sheep and beef farmers represented? The examples shown were not at all representative of the majority of farmers in this country. Panorama has sunk to an all time low in terms of sensitivity at a time when farming is facing a formidable future. As one farming magazine so aptly quoted "the only thing farmers have to laugh about at present is the idea of BBC journalists being holier than thou about state subsidies."
Brenda Mcfadzean
Maybole, Ayrshire

In reply to Alba from Perth, British Farmers would be more than happy to farm without any subsidies whatsoever but I am afraid the actual effect of subsidies are even cheaper food for people like herself. Currently we produce milk for 10.23 pence per pint when it actually costs just over 11 pence per pint to produce. Why should I and all other UK dairy farmers get up at 5 a.m. to produce cheap milk for the likes of you? I am afraid if you think we want to get in the real world then I suggest you wake up and start talking to a few actual farmers instead of believing some of the rubbish that you see on programmes like Panorama. In an uncanny way I hope British farming does end and I just hope you enjoy the dire situation that it will bring to your lifestyle, and perhaps you will one day think back that maybe I shouldn't have criticised British farming with my mouth full.
Dennis Jones

As a conservationist, organic farmer and a human being, I found the Panorama programme, distressing, divisive and biased, and the contributions of Richard North and Marion Schoard narrow and hurtful. We are ALL PEOPLE AND CONSUMERS and most of us are tax payers. Nothing is inevitable in life except that we die. We CANNOT expect cheap food if we want health-giving food, cared for animals, and a healthy countryside. The type of farming we have in the UK is up to ALL of us to choose and ensure through caring, sustainable long-term policies.

I came away wondering whether or not this show had been written by MAFF. Like so many pundits you ignore the gradual erosion of farming by so much intervention. BSE, foot and mouth, animal welfare, daft and irresponsible intervention from Europe and the unsatisfactory way that supermarkets remunerate the trade have all had the affect. What about taste? What about imaginative new food products? What about the expansion of farm sales to cut out the supermarkets? This is not the end of farming despite the government's attempts at trying to oust the farmer so that they can get their greedy hands on the farming land for building purposes to stoke up the economy in the short term. When farmers come to their senses and see how much marketing clout they cut, things will turn round. Farmers have more outlets than the supermarkets and by aiming at speciality, organic, home produced, traditionally produced items they can knock the supermarkets into a cocked-hat!
Malcolm Turner

I'm afraid Richard D North proved once again how disconnected from the real world "economists" are; what is it about these people? His comments on 'if you want butterflies - buy them' was so crass I couldn't believe it! Do these people live in a world where resources are infinite, and controlled only by supply and demand? Sure - cut all the subsidies to farmers, but ensure to a man they all put their prices up to a "middle class income" that Mr North supposes they enjoy. If he looked further than the end of his nose, his simplistic approach to "economics" would suggest that taxpayers are actually subsidising the supermarkets. As for his comments on importing food from the 3rd world - surely by definition 3rd world is a people than cannot - for economic reasons - afford to feed themselves! Take note, Mr North, the world would not be a lot poorer without economists, but a damn sight poorer with farmers.
Paul Nash
Ashington, West Sussex

I wish the farming community would stop bleating about how hard life is for them. They've had it so easy for so long that they just couldn't do without their subsidised Range Rover or Merc (For the wife). The pathetic measures taken by farmers in the main, by dipping feet and car tyres in disinfectant in the hope of killing off any trace of the virus, seem to reflect the thought that the virus lingers by the roadside waiting to hitch a ride on an unsuspecting delivery van. What about the tens of thousands of migrating birds that trample through the fields every day, at this time of year? Where do they dip their feet? Perhaps it's about time to look at alternative usage of the countryside, like the programme advocates. The only problem is, the countryside will still be controlled by those who control it presently, Mr Range Rover & Mrs Merc-Estate.

It is distressing to hear and see Panorama presenting arguments against agricultural subsidies in a way which is myopic at best and a dirty lie at worst. Cheap food is one of the cornerstones of our democratic system, as it has been of every democratic system which has worked since that of Ancient Athens. Julian Petiffer and your writers have simply chosen to ignore - or at best to deny all knowledge of - the price which would have to be paid for unsubsidised food. It is meaningless to present a critique of agricultural subsidies without acknowledging that the actual cost of food production far outweighs the level of subsidies. This is only too clear from the meagre return which accrues to the vast majority of farmers. Many of them are bringing up their families on incomes which are well below the national minimum, in many cases families with young children are living on less than £7000 per annum. This is about what J. Petiffer and other (outrageously over-subsidised) employees of the BBC would spend in two months on their comfortable lifestyles. If we abolished all subsidies, as some deviant economists advocate, the food which we would have to import would very soon be considerably more expensive than ours is at present. You have displayed mendacity, bias and ignorance in this programme and not much else.
Martin Wilkinson
Craven Arms, Shropshire

What a real pleasure it was to see Julian Pettifer back again on Panorama, and still with his hallmark balance and integrity. An excellent programme showing his skill for objective analysis, précised to fit the schedule without sacrificing detail. Yet he made it all the more relevant by relating it to his own youth, with the authority of someone with a reputation for environmental issues. Would that more reporters understood their subjects as well, instead of pretending to be 'expert' in diverse subjects. Welcome back.
Peter Hendy-Ibbs

Subsidies keep food prices down and give Europe food security. Without subsidised exports from EU and US world market prices would rise as they have done in recent years. Among the many glib comments Richard North made was one about Chinese and Indian farmers wanting to access EU markets - NONSENSE. They are large food producers but not exporters as their production costs are often higher than ours. China is one of the most protected markets in the world. The BBC is the national broadcaster and has a responsibility to present factually accurate and balanced programmes.
Michael Stuart
Newtownards, Co. Down

So much nonsense is talked here. 1. Small farmers should be helped. The fact is that the farmers have traditionally been so right wing that they won't even protect their own. Hence our countryside is being taken over by the six major global farming interests. 2. The idea that consumers are to blame because of their "desire for cheap food" is bunkum. Because of the introduction of agribusiness in the forms of the multinationals prices have been forced down (via the multinationals economies of scale) and small farmers have had to undercut each other to survive, eventually driving each other out of business. This is an economic model that works around the world. 3. Read the Economist from 12 months ago. They predicted that within a decade there would only be six farmers - globally ! That's right, in the end the farm industry will be the same as the motor industry, the steel industry, shipping etc with around 5-7 global companies and that is it. The whole process, just like the Euro, just like the divides in the Premiership, is a result of Globalisation. Either go along with it or oppose it but to stand around blaming each other - which is what the Multinationals love - is pathetic. However, it is too late now.
Antwerp (expat)

Isn't it interesting? Everyone thinks they are a "special case"; Farmers, Miners, Teachers, NHS workers, Train drivers etc. What does that say? It says that EVERYONE works hard and has an important part to play in the welfare of our country, and no one should be a "special case". I thought that Julian Pettifer's report was neutral and fair to all sides. I think farmers should re-stock and carry on, but deal with local markets. The distances that some of these animals are reported to be transported is just plain stupid.
Phil W
Bristol, UK

I enjoyed the Panorama programme on the Farming crisis, but was disappointed that the extreme market views of Richard North were given such prominence. Such a view is very much a minority view among UK economists. The problem, is not support per se, but the method of support. This is unfortunately dictated by the CAP: until this is reformed, UK farming will remain in crisis. The really bad news is that the prospect of CAP reform is about as remote as pigs flying.
Eric Pentecost

How can it be said that we don't need farmers? Do people not realise that the plastic-wrapped, sanitised meat they buy in the supermarket was once an animal that was born, cared for and slaughtered? The only reason we have to subsidise farmers is that the said supermarkets hammer down the prices they pay farmers to a ridiculous level for the benefit of their own profits. If we were to vaccinate and lose our precious export status then surely it would make more sense to regulate the import of all the cheap'n'nasty meat we get now. Supermarket customers have been given some food for thought by the crisis and most would pay a reasonable price for good home-grown meat. Of course the farmers should re-stock, but they shouldn't be seeing their livelihoods destroyed in the first place.
Lisa Skinn

If we as consumers want to continue to buy cheap, British produced food then we have to keep some form of subsidy in place. Without subsidies the farmgate prices would rise which would provide some short term relief for farmers but they would soon be undercut by foreign producers with lower costs. However, the form of subsidy needs to move away from the current system to one that encourages and rewards safer, sustainable and more environmentally sensitive methods of production. Many farmers would be more involved in environmental schemes now, if only there were more funding available.
Graham Aldrich
Laxfield, Suffolk

1. A lot of things are supported by grants/subsides etc. Most of the arts are not sustainable, run of the mill sport is heavily subsidised, inner cities get massive grants, and training programmes for the unemployed and adult education. 2. The government would provide support for an industry if it had lost 40,000 jobs in one year. If farming goes down, a lot of support industries go down too. More than a million people would joining the dole. 3. We risk imported infected products far worse than F & M e.g. brain worm from imported pork. It would seem that imported infection is the cause of this. We should try to retain a disease free, high quality industry. 4. Perhaps we would not need to subside farmers (aka prices in the shops) if the supermarkets/middlemen paid a proper price to the farmer. Look at the price of milk when costs have been going up in production.

I had the curious feeling of being simultaneously pleased and dissatisfied with Panorama¿s report. It was good to hear positive suggestions about how farmers could improve and change their farming manners ¿ I think many people would appreciate more organic food produced here in the UK. However I was disappointed with the bias shown against the farmers themselves. I cannot understand why people blame the farmers for all the problems that have occurred over the past few years. Farmers have benefited from good times but they did not deliberately charge us, the consumer, more for their foods even then. In current times, it is the supermarkets who are the "bogeymen". They pay the farmers a pittance for their foods, while charging us extortionate prices for our food. I was glad to hear Panorama showing that out of a supermarket price of 47p per litre of milk, 33p or thereabouts is profit for the supermarket. Unlike some of the commentators on the programme, I know that farmers are not all snobs with middle incomes and middle educations, as my family has strong links to the farming community. Indeed their incomes are below the national average ¿ they are subsidising the food we buy, rather than the other way around, as it costs more to produce their products than they get back in return. In any case, farmers would much prefer a fixed, fair price for their produce than subsidies. Oh and Alba from Perth is wrong. It was not a farmer who caused this crisis but the government, because they did not ban imports from countries where foot and mouth is widespread. This disease has been absent from British livestock so long that it had to have come from overseas.
F.C. Arnold

What drives me mad about farmers is not the subsidy per se, I would be in favour of funding for high welfare standards for example, but the hypocrisy of voting en bloc for right wing parties whose basic philosophy is usually based around crude market theory ,whilst at the same time demanding endless relief themselves from the impact of those same market theories. My home region was laid waste by Conservative policies voted in by subsidy stuffed farmers. I have farming relations who are asset millionaires paying no tax yet receiving subsidy complaining bitterly about a Labour government that is to "blame" for the foot & mouth crisis !! I believe their attitude is typical & explains in large part public hostility.
David Capper

I thought the Panorama was a dreadful sham of one-sided journalism. Surely the big problem facing agriculture, and food production in general, is that farmers are being driven to over-produce, using a variety of destructive or untested technologies (e.g. BSE and animal feed) in the name of cheap food and market forces. Time and again, the future of food was rationalised as a question of the market dictating what we eat. Are we really supposed to believe that the peasants of China, rather than trans-national corporations, are the ones trying to end EU trade restrictions. Is it too much to ask for the UK to have a countryside providing a subsistence level of food for the country with additional or non-indigenous foods (e.g. bananas) imported from elsewhere.
Paul Kent
Padstow, Cornwall

Farming is a dying trade anyway, this crisis will at last kill it off completely and the we can concentrate on the service sector!
Chris Sherriff
Lichfield, Staffs

I appreciate the hardship that the current crisis is causing our rural communities but I very much hope that this crisis has shown that it is time to get back to more traditional methods of meat production. If we are to avoid this disease again, we should enable animals to live their lives in a natural manner, not farmed intensively, eating a diet that is not stuffed with chemicals and animal products against nature. In turn, when they reach an age whereby they would normally become part of the food chain, ensure that they are humanely killed locally, not transported miles in conditions that do not bear scrutiny. I speak as vegetarian who would prefer that animals were not used by humans in this way but as the industry exists and will continue to exist, at least let us behave in a humane way towards them and not treat them as a commodity without senses and intelligence. This crisis was caused by human behaviour, and will occur again if we do not learn some fundamental lessons from it.
Aimee Logan

I felt that the Panorama programme lacked balance. The majority of farmers are not like those featured. They are small concerns who have been facing financial difficulties for some time now. FMD is just about the last straw for many of them. Most farmers would prefer not to rely on subsidies but the CAP makes the present system inevitable and unless and until there is major reform by the EU this will continue. The hardship that farmers are facing is genuine. You only have to see the figures for suicides to see that. Let's have a balanced and sensible debate on the future of agriculture and not this kind of one-sided reporting which only confirms people's prejudices. If public support for our farmers evaporates, we are all in trouble.
Rev. Simon Foster

Thank you for your excellent programme. We need your objective appraisal of this lurking catastrophe. Could you please turn it into a series but with emphasis on the consumer.
Brian Green

This may be a shock to a lot of people, but farming is NOT subsidised. For every £1 a farmer gets in subsidy the hugely powerful supermarkets/middlemen flex their muscle and say that's £1 less you need. How many shiny new supermarkets have gone up near you in the last 10 years. What does a litre of milk cost compared with a litre of water and what is the difference in production costs? Work it out and tell me that's not cheap food.
J. Nightingale

All we seem to hear about today is whingeing farmers, farmers who do not complain when they get set aside payments for doing and growing nothing. They will be compensated for their losses when all this is over, by the taxpayer. They have already told us via the NFU that prices will rise. Remember the coal miners - who bailed them out?
Ray O'Connor

AT LAST SOME HONESTY ABOUT FARMING. Well done, I was about to report the media to the Broadcasting Standards Authority because they seemed to be agents purveying the economic case pushed by the NFU. Why does farming have a ministry which promotes farmers interests at the expense of the rest of the rural economy? Why did the press not exercise independence and investigate the facts behind the issues? How do sophisticated countries cope where the disease is endemic eg much of South America, South Africa, Russia and East Europe? The cattle recover and the products are eaten without harm to humans. Are you aware that Animal Rights nutters are supposed to have said that they will keep the disease going - possibly because they see it as a way of stopping animal farming (no logic for nutters!). Now do a story on how the press stopped being an independent examiner of truth and reality and became an agent for the economic policy of the National Farming Union.
Peter Nicholson
Cockermouth, Cumbria

It was logical in the sixties to drain land for agricultural production. Now it is reasonable to reverse the drainage and restore wetlands. The logic has changed with the times. I should like to take issue with the notion that to let land revert to woodland (scrub) is always deplorable. This is just what has happened in the eastern US and we have the beautiful forested landscapes of New Hampshire as a result. Nature is a great healer!
Paul Ramsay

I can't believe that Alba from Perth thinks that farmers are over subsidized. Yes, farmers do get benefits, but don't a lot of people? Maybe we should stop child benefit, after all they weren't asked to have kids?! As for the accusation that farmers moan too much, does she have any idea the kind of hours that a farmer puts in? I live and work in the capital and even I as a ¿townie¿ realise that they have one of the hardest jobs going. We should be supporting them, not whinging about their subsidies.

The Panorama programme was a considerable disappointment, giving the impression of having been put together in a rush. This is hardly the time to try to stir up unjustified anger against the farming community. The implications about the current Foot & Mouth outbreak were incorrect and no mention was made of the serious drop in income over recent years, particularly among the farms involved in the current outbreak.
Gill Old

Having followed the FMD crisis from the south of France, I was interested to watch this programme. The French, as well as the rest of the continent, feel vindicated in their opinion that British farmers are costing them what they tend to think should be their share of the CAP, as they have more agricultural land and activity. Unfortunately, the programme failed to assess the different remedies to the FMD crisis, in particular, the wide-scale vaccination that is preferred by the French authorities. The major question of subsidies is one which will no doubt be tackled by Blair and followed up by criticisms from Hague, regardless of whether the proposal proves to be fair or not. I don't personally feel that raising prices of food is a good move, nor do I feel that the consumers are to blame for the low prices on offer in the supermarkets. It is clear to me, though that in this age of misinformed, politically disinterested and wary public, free trade should be just that. The option to buy food that is of a high quality, organic, and healthy should be open to everyone, regardless of their budget. Good food must be available to everyone. Could subsidies be given to people on low incomes instead of farmers, so that the resulting rise in food prices prejudice those who are less well-off.
Alison Carter

Richard D. North is naive to suggest that third-world peasants can benefit from the Westerner's food 'dollar'. Crop production for foreign cash rarely benefits the peasant farmer. They will become manipulated by multinationals, or by their own currency hungry government. They will find themselves unable to grow their traditional crops, or lose their lands altogether. E.g. In Malawi, where farmers were encouraged to grow an export quality hybrid maize they ended up half starved because the retained portion of the crop was not resistant to weevil attack in their primitive stores.
Richard Thurley

I was appalled at the attitude taken by Panorama last night. The first priority of farming should be to feed the nation. Tourism is secondary. Suggestions that farmers are well off as a result of the 'subsidies' is a joke - except for the very few enormous conglomerates who benefit from this. We need to stop this vast movement of livestock - and other products - and concentrate on locally produced food which is properly checked and controlled. If necessary we should restrict or even stop cheap imports which, in the main, are nothing like the quality our own farmers produce
Farnham Common

This problem still affects a tiny proportion of businesses. Votes are cast in schools, which are still open. Why, exactly, is the election being delayed if schools are open. Aren't we seeing the same farmers now which we saw flouting the law during the fuel protests? Perhaps farmers should examine the practices which caused this epidemic in the first place. What else are they keeping quiet about? Which animal will we next discover to suffer from some industry-inflicted problem? And in reply to the person who mentioned 'animal rights nutters' earlier - anyone who was watched the news in the last month alone will see exactly how 'resources' are 'managed' in the countryside. Complain all you like about losing your jobs, but if you had an ethical, sustainable policy in the first place, then hardly any of this would have happened. Maybe you'll learn for next time? Or is it cheaper to just do nothing and hold your hands out for cash next time as well?

The Panorama programme was a revelation for many people who have been brainwashed by the conventional NFU espoused by most of the media. Most journalists have failed their duty to produce balanced reporting in this and many other farming crises. Farming is an industry uneconomically supported by subsidy in this country. There is no good reason that their jobs and livelihoods need protecting more than workers in any other industry. So what if the "bullying" supermarkets drive down market prices, when has that ever been a bad thing in a capitalist economy? The more inefficient farmers will suffer and lose their jobs, the better farmers will prosper. Exactly the same rule as applies to everyone else in this country. Through one-sided media reporting, most people have become more sympathetic to the plight of farmers than they were to those in the manufacturing or mining industries. I'm very happy to see the BBC finally producing some analysis and presentation of the facts to put that right.

If farmers are having all these subsidies, why are actual farm incomes only a pathetic £4500.00 per annum. Farmers are being robbed daily by the supermarkets we all support.
John Jones

The idea that farming practices must change to accommodate increased trade ignores the fact that global trade is much more environmentally damaging and therefore costly than our current subsidies could ever be. Global trade as pursued by this government and the WTO is not inevitable as they'd have us believe. There is another way. Small is still the answer - small farmers taking organic produce to sell in local markets. It is totally lunatic to suggest we shouldn't't grow our own produce and rely on the third world for food imports. And you say the small farmers there will benefit? That's a joke! It'll be the multinationals with their patents who'll reap the rewards.
Maureen Luchini

Community preference: Your programme illustrated the urgent need for a radical but compassionate study about the future of European agriculture which should lead a new Common Agricultural Policy, including a new definition of the farmer's role as custodian of the rural environment and biodiversity ("multifunctionality"), together with the gradual elimination of production subsidies. However, to preserve something of our rural heritage for future generations, we do need above all to maintain the principle of Community preference. This means we must, through the operation of EU customs import tariffs, continue to maintain a guaranteed preference for food produced locally in small-scale enterprises, over imported food.
Andrew J Black

Here in Argentina they cannot believe the slaughter being carried out in England!

I have downloaded the transcript of this thought provoking programme for my social science students on the OU course 'An Introduction to the Social Sciences' because they are just about to start a month's reading on 'The natural and the social: uncertainty, risk, change'. I feel this is brilliant case study material with a fascinating range of views expressed which will generate much debate. The Panorama programme also unsettled my own unquestioned notions about conservation etc
Dr Richenda Power

In response to IAN COOL-WILKY, OSSETT: As a veggie you should be more aware WHY the farmers and everyone else are crying over the destruction of these animals. These animals have lost there purpose in life. Maybe it isn't right to slaughter animals for food but at least everyone can see that that has some kind of logic and dignity. These animals are being slaughtered and burned or thrown into huge mass graves - this is even denying them a purpose to their short lives. PLUS, people are so upset by the cull of healthy animals as they wouldn't be slaughtered for food this year since they are intended to breed from etc. No one thinks 'look at that cute little lamb - quick let's slaughter it and serve it up on a plate'. You have expressed a surprisingly ignorant attitude for someone who professes to care about the future of animals.
Hazel Haywood
Calne, Wiltshire

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