BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 17:25 GMT
Modern farming under scrutiny
Farmers say intensive farming is not to blame
By science and technology correspondent Christine McGourty

Modern agricultural practices are coming under intense scrutiny in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped into the fray last week, calling for a national debate about agricultural practices and food production once the immediate crisis is over.

His comments were welcomed by groups such as the Soil Association, which represents the organic food movement.

The reality is that we cannot afford the real cost of cheap food

Patrick Holden
Soil Association
The association's director, Patrick Holden, says more must be done to lessen the vulnerability of British agriculture to the spread of infectious diseases such as foot-and-mouth.

"The continuous drive to produce ever cheaper food has created an unsustainable system of food production and farming, where disease organisms can be rapidly spread around the country," he said.

'No link'

"Over the last 10 years, 75% of Britain's small abattoirs have been forced out of business, leading to enormous increases in the distance livestock travel, increasing the stress and reducing the effectiveness of controls."

But the National Farmers' Union (NFU) says the foot-and-mouth outbreak is no reason to put intensive farming in the dock.

NFU policy director Martin Howarth says there is "absolutely no link between intensive farming and foot-and-mouth disease".

Farmer ploughing field
The relationship between farmers and supermarkets is under scrutiny
"It's beyond belief that people are saying this," he said.

It was the drive to improve hygiene standards that helped make many of the smaller ones uneconomic, he added.

"It may seem like there is a case for saying that the geographic spread of the disease across the country is down to abattoir movement.

"But only one of the spreads has been caused by abattoir movement, that is, from the farm thought to be the source of the outbreak in Northumberland, down to Exeter.

"That involved the slaughter of sows, which is a big job because they're bigger than ordinary pigs. There have only ever been a few abattoirs that have the facilities to do that."

Corners cut

He said most of the disease transmission had been through live markets - a traditional practice, not an intensive farming practice.

"If you want to talk about bigger farms, look at a country like Australia. They have big farms and they've had no outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since 1857."

Tony Blair said supermarkets had farmers in an "arm-lock"
But many remain convinced that consumer demand for cheaper food has meant cutting corners in food production.

The Soil Association argues that it has left animals more vulnerable to disease.

Mr Holden said: "The reality is that we cannot afford the real cost of cheap food. We need a new deal to enable UK agriculture to be based on sustainable principles."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories