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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Do urban Europeans care about the countryside?
With the on-going problems in the countryside - BSE and now foot-and-mouth - those who live in towns and cities have mixed feelings about farmers and country people.

Town-dwellers view burning carcasses with horror as their idea of the rural idyll is shattered. But for them is the countryside just a source of cheap meat and a drain on the state?

Does the countryside in all its forms have the right to the same consideration and support as our towns? Do urban Europeans care about the countryside?

Europe Today presenter Mark Reid put questions to the Swiss journalist Martin Alioth currently working in rural County Meath in the Irish Republic and Jeremy Burckhardt of the University of Reading, and author of "Urban Perceptions and Rural Realitities".

This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.

The countryside belongs to all of us!

Anthony Walmsley, Germany/ UK
This issue is too important to be trivialised into "Townies" v "Country bumpkins". Nothing will change if we generalise and point fingers. Each one of us has a responsibility: farmers and consumers. For example, if enough of us eat less meat (or no meat at all, if you like) then we wouldn't need the intensive farming methods that most of us object to (and which must damage the health of farmworkers). The countryside belongs to all of us! Let's all take care of our natural environment so that we can continue to enjoy it for generations to come. I don't just care about the countryside: I love it!
Anthony Walmsley, Germany/ UK

There was little sympathy from the rural communities when the manufacturing industries in the cities were left to rot. Now they are getting the same sympathy they showed us.
Steve J, UK

Everyone must share the blame. Agriculture is in crisis and that is the fault of consumers demanding ever-cheaper prices and the large supermarkets who have an enormous hold on the food market. The multi-national agri-businesses must also share the blame for their arrogance in dumping GM crops on the world without consultation and without proper labelling. Beef markets in Europe have collapsed due to BSE; in the USA meat and dairy products are being shunned due to the use of growth hormones and the list of bad practices is endless, for which farmers themselves are to blame. In Europe the CAP must be reformed because the taxpayer is no longer prepared to fund unnecessary food surpluses whilst so many parts of our planet have starving populations. Our present farming methods are bad for the environment and bad for animal welfare. The crisis will only be overcome by getting back to natural organic farming methods on a sustainable basis, with produce being sold close to the point of production.

The latest foot and mouth crisis is a wake up call to farmers and food importers to put their house in order. It also serves notice on politicians to direct future subsidy towards sustainable agriculture. In the meantime consumers must get used to the higher meat prices now being seen in the shops because that is what the future requires.
John, UK

I live in a big city, and to be truthful I feel nothing for farmers or countryside issues. I understand the importance of farming alongside all of the other important industries in the UK, but I just think farmers have always moaned too much and as a result there is not too much sympathy for farmers or farming issues.
Jeff Scholey, UK

It seems to me there are a lot of people who pertain to have 'lived all their lives in the countryside', but who actually have very little idea about what the countryside is actually about and how is became and remains the way it is. Domestic animals are bred for the specific purpose of feeding people, without that requirement why would anyone be stupid enough to farm animals. The same goes for the wellbeing of the countryside, farmers have a vested interest in keeping the countryside the way it is for their livelihood. Do city dwellers have the same vested interest in the countryside? Or is it just a convenient place to let their dogs run free and chase a few sheep for exercise? City people always cite BSE as a "farmers' disease". Do they really know that it was a change in government regulations of rendering plants that allowed the bacteria to be passed on in animal feed, which farmers innocently fed to their animals, with the results we all know too well. It was the farmers who paid the price, faced all the public scorn and once again saw their way of life, not just their "job", ruined by others.
John Herbert, Canada

Is it any surprise that we care very little for many farmers

James Fisher, Scotland
Of course most town dwellers care about the country. That is often the reason why we don't much care for farmers. We hear that they have to use pesticides, herbicides and factory farming methods which destroy the wildlife and hedgerows, then we hear that the poor dears need more subsidies, then we hear "get off my land" then in this crisis time we don't hear farmers asking what they can do to contain this disease, we hear them shouting about compensation, about how it can't be their animals and we have two legged political farming animals declaring "all out war on the government"- us. Yes town dwellers do care very much about the country, but is it any surprise that we care very little for many farmers?
James Fisher, Scotland

Seems most of the city dwellers and suburbanites in Western society tend to disregard and actively insult rural people, their interests or concerns. There also seems to be a rather snobbish city-based ethnocentric attitude, where somehow living in the city is "more advanced" or "culturally superior" to living in the country. And let's not forget the wonderfully friendly and courteous people in the cities... yeah, right!
Stephen Kenney, USA

I agree with Tom Cacy that US urbanites do not understand or appreciate the needs or lifestyle of rural America. This becomes more evident as urbanites move into agrarian areas to avoid city congestion, then complain about the smell of fertilised fields and being awakened by the cock crowing.
Otis Johnson, Virginia, USA

It is not surprising that farmers receive little sympathy from town-dwellers

Mark B, UK
There is definitely a communication problem. I have yet to hear a convincing argument in favour of the current hysterical response to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, given this is a disease which neither kills the animal nor affects the quality of meat. In other issues, farmers have been perfectly willing to disrupt the lives of others in their own interests and seem to be under the impression that they have the right to be subsidised by tax payers and the EC. Considering all of this, it is not surprising that farmers receive little sympathy from town-dwellers, and I say this as someone who has spent most of my life living in the countryside. I care about our countryside, it is farmers that I have a problem with!
Mark B, UK

As an American living in the middle of our farm belt I think it is a correct statement that town dwellers do not understand or care about their rural counterparts. We have had to pass "Right To Farm" laws here to protect some of our agricultural areas. People move out to the countryside and then begin to raise all kinds of a fuss about noise and odours. Most people living in towns have no concept of where their food and clothing come from. Meat comes from animals raised and slaughtered for that purpose. Eggs and poultry require the same. The meat and vegetables everyone eats are not made in a factory or store. Too many people have forgotten what it takes to feed the world.
Tom Cacy, USA

Listen now both sides of the debate
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