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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 18:20 GMT
Head to head: Intensive farming
Farming countryside in Britain
Britain's foot-and-mouth outbreak has brought with it new questions about how we care for livestock, how far food travels before it hits our plates, and how much we are prepared to pay for what we eat.

Here, Green MEP Caroline Lucas takes issue with the intensive farming methods of recent decades, while farmer Oliver Wolston defends the modern way of agriculture.


Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for South East England

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Once again we are faced with a crisis in the farming industry.

Globalisation, the free-market, increased trade and unsustainable food production methods have caused problems like this to be far more widespread than they should be.

Agriculture is now organised in a way that makes transmission of disease very easy, now that we have a global food distribution system.

The transport of live animals over long distances is cruel and it is unnecessary. The majority of small locally-based abattoirs have closed down in the last decade. This trend must be reversed so that animals can be slaughtered close to the farms on which they are reared.

Food should be consumed much closer to where it is produced, decreasing the spread of infection and also reducing lorry traffic on our roads. The export of live animals should be stopped permanently.

Vaccination

Regular vaccination against diseases such as foot-and-mouth has been suggested by some.

But this is not a good solution. While there is a global market in meat and animals vaccination may be necessary but it would be much better to keep production local.

Then vaccination, another unnatural process, can be avoided except in local areas where there is known to be a problem.

The big supermarkets, who control much of the food business, are constantly demanding cheaper produce.

But this leads to corners being cut, as we have seen with BSE and now again with foot-and-mouth.

Our food must be produced in a much more sustainable way, as the Green Party has argued for many years.

Ending factory farming

In the wake of the spread of BSE from the UK to the continent of Europe, the German Government has appointed an Agriculture Minister from the Green Party.

She intends to end factory farming in her country. This must be the way forward and we should end industrial agriculture in this country as well.

Agriculture needs local, sustainable solutions based on farmers and the needs of consumers and the environment rather than corporations and further globalisation.

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Oliver Wolston, farmer

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A lot of rubbish has been talked about the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain recently.

The green movement, which loves to whip up food scares as part of its campaign to show modern British farming in the worst possible light, claims that the disease is a direct result of intensive agriculture.

The solution, they say, is for farmers to turn the clock back to a golden age when food was more expensive but, they claim, more natural.

The old-fashioned way

Strange, isn't it, that the Northumberland farmer whose pigs first contracted the disease was himself farming in exactly that good old-fashioned extensive way?

He was one of a tiny minority (1.6%) of pig keepers who still feed swill, just like everyone did in the good old days. And it was through this swill that the infection seems to have come onto the farm.

These pressure groups also claim that the reason the disease spread so fast was because there are today so few abattoirs that the farmer, who lives near Newcastle, was forced to send his pigs 250 miles away to Essex to be slaughtered.

Strange, isn't it, that there are actually two abattoirs within fifteen miles of this farm which would have been happy and able to deal with these pigs?

But an abattoir in Essex paid the farmer a better price and so he - quite naturally - accepted their offer.

Debate needed

Strange, isn't it, that the only parts of the world where foot and mouth is endemic are the Third World countries where the agriculture is extensive? And virtually organic?

It is an excellent idea that there should today be a public debate about British farming and its future.

But this debate will only be valuable is everyone sticks to the facts.

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See also:

05 Mar 01 | Europe
France bans animal exports
05 Mar 01 | UK
Livestock back on the roads
05 Mar 01 | UK
Meat sales break records
04 Mar 01 | Scotland
Pigs moved as disease spreads
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