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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
How should our countryside change?
The face of the British countryside could radically change as a result of the foot-and-mouth crisis.
A survey of British farmers affected by the disease found that six percent of them were planning to abandon farming altogether. More than a third will scale down their business.
The head of the farmer's union said foot-and-mouth could prove a turning point towards "quality not quantity" in farming methods, and an industry more responsive to consumers.
He called for a national debate on the sort of farming industry that would emerge from the crisis.
What sort of industry should that be? How can something good come out of the foot-and-mouth disaster? News Online starts the debate here.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
My family and I returned to New Zealand in January, having lived in Northumberland for five years. We can only imagine - through your reports and letters from friends - the fields devoid of all animal life. What we should learn from this tragedy is that human wants cannot always be satisfied without considering the natural environment. For too long man has been blinded by profit and export issues, forgetting the responsibility we have to preserve the environment as it is. Surely this is an excellent opportunity to return to more localised, sustainable agriculture - no more intensive rearing of animals in unnatural conditions, or feeding animal remains to herbivores. In short, more organic farming, before it's too late.
"Local produce should be grown for local people" is a frequent comment, but most small, local abattoirs have been forced to close. Unless they are reopened, long distance travel for live animals will continue.
John B, UK
It's quite clear from the attitude of the farming community during the current foot-and-mouth crisis that the livestock farmers were only interested in a return to a 'disease free' status so that they could resume exports as before. Any attempt at introducing a vaccination policy was aggressively opposed. In view of this, I can't imagine there will be any change in farming methods after this crisis is past. Everything will be ' back to normal' and the whole episode will be neatly forgotten - until the next outbreak of the disease - at which point everyone will start shouting "Why weren't the lessons of the last outbreak learnt?"
Something appears to have been forgotten - farmers feed this country. Anyone who thinks we don't need farmers because they can pop down to Safeway/Tesco have the same grasp on reality that Marie Antoinette is reported to have had.
Let's see cows and sheep free to roam in fields and get out of "factory" farming altogether. I personally would rather pay five times as much for my meat if I knew it was safe to eat and the animal had something of a "normal" existence rather than being rolled out of a production shed.
Agriculture needs people who care! Until those are in place then the next government will only continue to deal with disaster rather than being pro-active. It's just a shame that the farming population now makes up such a small proportion of the electorate. If foot-and-mouth disease had been an inner city problem you can bet your life that the Labour Party would have been jumping around with a great degree of alacrity.
There will always be demand for niche agricultural products, but it will always be cheap to produce most produce in the second and Third World.
By fighting and spending so much trying to avoid this fact we are playing a large part in consigning the Third World to poverty.
Would it not be better to use more land for recreation and tourism and make the rest into habitats for our wild animals.
Yes let's go organic but don't moan about the size of the queue or the price of the food.
It is environmentally damaging to fly or ship in foods taken from countries hungrier than us. Nobody likes to kill animals, but it is a reality that mature people have to accept. This country has the highest animal welfare in the world due to demands by the public. Why then do they buy pizza topped with Italian salami meat made from horses and donkeys transported live from Eastern Europe? Because it is cheaper than anything we can produce here. If we decide that our countryside is more valuable as parkland and we import more food from less valuable countries as previously suggested by others, this will make our overpopulated island very vulnerable if we fall out with our suppliers. We will be held to ransom and milked dry.
If land is uneconomic to farm, let it be used for other things - industry or housing - that will bring prosperity to rural areas. Promote the movement of people out of cities into rural areas by letting farmers develop their land how they see fit.
Farmers need to hear the words "No more subsidies, no more handouts, stand on your own two feet". The basic problem is that we have too many farms that are not viable and they have to go. Contrary to farmers' propaganda, the countryside isn't going to disappear when they do. We need more open land, more common land, more wild land. We'll get it when we pull the plug on the handouts.
Those correspondents who want change need to understand that unless the EU agrees the changes - we won't be allowed to make them! The EU dictates how we farm, not MAFF or our elected representatives in Westminster.
Sensible people wanting sensible change have to first understand that withdrawal from the EU may be the only way to achieve the change.
Such an action would of course bring us enormous financial gains as well, and give us the opportunity to rescue our fishing grounds and rebuild our fishing industry. Not a bad decision to take I'd have thought.
Farming in this country is largely economically non-viable simply due to the scale of the operations. As a leading member of today's global economy why don't we simply buy our food from those who produce it cheaper and leave British farmers to grow fresh goods for immediate consumption (things which don't travel well) or speciality foods (cheeses, cider etc). Then with cheaper land prices we can live in decent size houses, build better infrastructure systems and concentrate on our national competitive advantage, the knowledge economy. At the end of the day there will be a lot more free space which will encourage the development of wildlife sanctuaries and forests which will be nicer for all of us.
If farming is to survive as a viable business use of the countryside then it has to adapt to the economic realities which face it.
Land in this country is highly pressured by our population density, making it a valuable and expensive resource.
If farming is to gain the kind of return on its assets which would enable it to survive as a viable business, then it must begin to produce goods which reflect the costs and value of the resources used in its' production.
I'd like to see a start made in eliminating all subsidies to farmers. Quite why this industry alone warrant the billions that are poured into it, I've never quite worked out. When they are not paid to farm in the appalling ways that they currently do, maybe the consequential shake out will result in fewer people performing more effectively and efficiently -and more humanely.
We could make a start by telling politicians who've
never been near a farm in their lives
to shut up and listen
to someone like The
Prince of Wales, who
Farming in this country, and indeed in much of Europe, just cannot compete globally, so why waste tens of billions in trying, doing great damage to the environment in the process?
The biggest favour we could do the so-called "third world" would be allow their food free access to our markets. We keep their food out, so the farmers who would otherwise be growing it, either starve or become illegal immigrants. Madness!
As for the areas in this country which would no longer be farmed? Housing, myriad leisure uses, proper national parks, or maybe just let it gradually return to its natural state.
A move to a more sustainable, less intensive and locally based agricultural economy would be a wonderful thing. But, to accomplish this, we need to support the families who live on and work the land. One, more nightmarish, result of more farmers going under could be the land becoming concentrated under the ownership of large scale, mono-cultural mega-farms. That is what has happened to much of American agriculture and it would be an ecological and cultural disaster for Britain.
Farming is so vital to the life of the UK that two things may need to happen:
However, what is also very important is the preservation of the beauty of the countryside, for tourists and farmers alike.
Maff are supposed to protect the farming communities, but it has not done its job. Let's be courageous and become the first nation to be completely organic; subsidise the small farmers during the transition. The outcome would be a healthier, happier nation.
My family have decided to become vegetarians until the farming policies have changed. i.e: no live exports; more organic methods of farming; no intensive farming of poultry.
The farming community will stagger from one crisis to another until as a nation we see the startling hypocrisy and unending misery inherent in the modern intensive farming of animals.
We are being told that far less than 5% of live-stock has actually been lost, so we still need the farming space. We need to supply stock for local food needs and not transport live animals for miles before slaughter.
It is time to put total support into our farming. There should be a greater support to go organic. Put a stop to supermarket chains having the monopoly on cheap meat This is a national crisis. We should unite and support. After all we have the best beef herds in the world as well as sheep and pigs. Let's all back British and be proud again.
This is a wonderful opportunity to start again. We could have many more organic farms, and a reforestation policy for unused land. Why don't British farmers rethink their practices and do what the French farmers do - sell good quality local produce in local markets?
I think everyone would like to see more organic produce and humanely reared meat (i.e. non-intensive) but at the moment, it's far too expensive.
We should definitely start using less intensive methods - everyone would benefit, from countryside users through to wildlife and plants.
Ben Cornwell, UK
The solution to this problem and that of immigration to rich countries can be solved at the same time.
Let the immigrants into Britain and let the farmers sell their land to the developers.
We have to have a farming system that meets the needs of the coming century where there will be 12 billion people on the planet. Since they cannot be fed on a meat-centric diet isn't it time we scaled-down our raising of animals for slaughter and grew more crops? We'd have better health as a result.
Clive Mitchell, UK
Quality not quantity. Let's revert to
practises friendly to native fauna and flora.
Subsidise the range of species growing
land accessible to the public, not the
crazy system we have now where sometimes
the subsidy is linked to the volume of
produce and sometimes to the amount of non-
Stamp out unhealthy and environmentally
damaging practises like long-distance
transportation of live animals and the
spraying of slurry onto pasture.
Encourage small units rather than giant
Local produce should be grown for local people wherever possible. Enough of transporting 500 miles if it can be sold locally.
Guy Robinson, UK
How can we change the countryside? We could start by paving it. All that mud ruins my 4x4.
I'd like more emphasis on quality of both product and environment and if I had my way there would be more organic farming.
Well first cull MAFF and replace it with an agency to look after the interests of the consumers and even the farm animals themselves. That would mean also getting rid of factory farms and stopping live transport and turning herbivore animals into cannibals.
27 Apr 01 | UK
Many farmers plan to 'scale down'
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