Monday, 25 February 2008

"...if we go the way of the coal and steel industries, there will be no way back.."

"if you want to see the future, just look at the west coast of Scotland .. the farmers had no other industry to rely on, ...all the animals have gone..." In the New Year, Alistair Davy and other farmers from Yorkshire were quoted in an article in the Yorkshire Post
" .... if the sheep and the cows are no longer grazing, it wouldn't take long for it to become impenetrable with bracken and bramble. For the last few years, the true picture of the problems facing agriculture have been masked...
"This is the last push," said Mr Davy. "I'm not doing it for me, I'm doing it for my son and for all those future generations who want to work. We are the last of the great industries to be wrecked, but if we go the way of the coal and steel industries, there will be no way back."

It is no longer a secret that the present UK government would like to be shot of farming altogether. On the January 3rd Today programme we heard that meetings convened by Defra had discussed whether UK farming was needed at all. Defra has dropped the word 'farming' from its title and, as global recession is at last being openly talked about, the UK government still talks glibly of being in a "post agricultural era" and seems to be worrying about one problem only. As British Wool Chairman, Frank Langrish, has said
"It's all part of Defra's policy to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases. The UK government believes a reduction in livestock numbers will have a marked effect on the statistics. This is the logic of the asylum, where the lunatics are now completely in charge."
The Treasury has no apparent interest in supporting farmers in a particularly difficult time and what little money there is for DEFRA is not going to be spent on helping to ensure the supply of safe home produced food. Instead, as Christopher Booker put it in Sunday's Telegraph, our leaders are committing us to a range of measures whose economic effects will be without precedent, particularly the astronomically costly "carbon trading" schemes - put in place at the very time when many now believe that global warming has considerably more to do with unusual sunspot activity than with CO2 emissions. And the newspaper put it like this
:"Environment Secretary Hilary Benn last night signalled a significant shift away from supporting farming and rural areas as his department vowed to focus its funding priorities on tackling climate change. Support for rural and farming businesses will be scrapped in favour of funding eco-projects in Africa and bankrolling inventions to provide alternatives to fossil fuels...."
One disastrous consequence of DEFRA's obsession with such things is that they have virtually lost the plot in controlling the animal diseases that threaten our livestock and our own, already dwindling, self sufficiency. The Bluetongue page catalogues a long series of blunders in the UK and EU as well as the inevitable march of the viral disease itself - a disease that appears to have spread as a result of global trading rather than global warming. What we are seeing with Bluetongue now is the result of a dithering ignorance and political game playing from the EU and from the governments of Member States that threaten the livestock industry of the whole of Northern Europe. It is an international problem, not - as one might believe from the brief insoucient articles in the UK press - merely a temporary problem for the farmers of England.

Once again, as with foot and mouth, we are seeing the results of
"... the unfounded suspicion that somehow vaccination allows animals to be infectious whilst concealing signs of clinical disease."
In her talk to farmers on the subject of Bluetongue last Friday, the virologist and farmer Dr Ruth Watkins spoke, with all the well founded frustration of the expert, about "the redundant rule" that vaccination is not allowed in the surveillance zone nor outside the surveillance zone in uninfected areas.
"... Why should we be afraid of using vaccination to prevent virus infection from spreading and establishing itself in new areas? Is this because of an unfounded suspicion that somehow vaccination allows animals to be infectious whilst concealing signs of clinical disease? We are back in the mid 20th century if we continue to act as though we are unable to diagnose virus infection unless we wait for a clinical case to take samples to the virology laboratory."
Her talk (new window) is clear and informative, should be printed out and read in full. What she says is an eye-opener too about why we are having to play catch-up with the disease, why vaccine production in Europe has been so long delayed and why vaccination is going to be incomplete until far more vaccine can be ordered and obtained and 95% coverage of domestic ruminants achieved. On the subject of DEFRA's decision to make cash-strapped farmers pay for vaccine and costs themselves, Ruth Watkins simply quotes the example of Jenner and the elimination of smallpox.
Jenner who was a country doctor, a general practitioner, was the first person to use a live vaccine virus to protect humans against smallpox in 1876.... The original live virus vaccine was taken from the udder of a cow called Blossom whose hide is framed and hangs on the library wall at St George’s Hospital where Jenner trained. Jenner foresaw and wrote that it would be possible to eradicate smallpox entirely from the world one day, and he was proven correct in 1977 when global eradication was declared complete. Global eradication would never have happened if each person had had to pay for their vaccine and their tests for smallpox."

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The rich will always be with us: and they are buying up our farms

Increases of up to 40 per cent in the price of UK farmland in 2007.
This Times article The hedge fund manager who bought a farm
(Feb 1) shows that big investors are "hurriedly moving their wealth out of stocks and shares and into farmland...."
For the rest of us, recession looms. Once again one is tempted to repeat in the tones of Cassandra the wise words of Richard Heinberg:
"Get thee to the productive side of the economy. Grow something, or learn to make or repair something useful."
The Times article suggests that, "Across the world, hedge fund managers, property developers and other investors" are all ready to buy up British farmland. The government's short-sightedness is allowing livestock farming to fade away, leaving the UK dependent upon cheap imports that may soon become very much scarcer - but the rich will always be with us, ready to profit from the situation.

Barton Briggs, one of Wall Street's most legendary investment strategists, is advising the rich and powerful to buy up farms and stock them with "seed, fertiliser, canned food. wine, medicine. clothes etc." (and the "etc" would seem to mean guns to keep away the rest of us. See also below)

"The key is going to be agriculture"

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph on Thursday was one of the first mainstream journalists to point out the grim corollary between oil depletion and famine. He quotes Jeff Currie of US investment bank Goldman Sachs:
"We have never seen this before when commodity prices were already at record highs. Over the next 18 to 36 months we are probably going into crisis mode across the commodity complex.
The key is going to be agriculture. China is terrified of the current situation. It has real physical shortages," he said, referencing China still having memories of starvation in the 1960s seared in its collective mind...."
The graph in the article showing the projected increase of land use for biofuels gives a stark picture of how biofuels made from grain, oil seed and sugar are drawing away food supplies at a time when the population of the world is still expanding by 70 million a year. Goldman Sachs forecasts that oil will be priced at $105 a barrel by the end of 2008.

Meanwhile, DEFRA is increasingly deprived of funding and the UK government is shrugging off its responsibility towards home grown food, farming and food safety. Relying on cheap imports that may become ever scarcer seems unwise.

One sure sign of the coming world food crisis brought on by environmental problems and increasingly scarce water supplies is the ever reducing major grain supplies - and China's present trauma.

The monetary system upon which Mr Brown relies is really just a reflection of our energy system and that is designed for one thing: growth. Growth requires a constantly increasing supply of energy. And now, peak oil is more and more referred to by those who pooh-poohed it only a few months ago. The dash to produce biofuels is pushing up food prices and, it seems, even adding to carbon emissions - as do giant wind turbines.

In denial of the urgent challenges
The report, Realizing Britain's Potential: Future Strategic Challenges for Britain purports to "outline the key long-term strategic challenges facing the UK"
Gordon Brown says,
" the real success stories in the coming years will be those nations that harness the skills of their people, attracting more than their share of the top global jobs and mobilizing the talents of all. I have referred to this as the Skills Race - a race we can win, and we must win."
As the world lurches towards recession (quite impervious to the pronouncements of the Prime Minister), we do indeed need fast, urgent action - but cooperative action, not a race. It's going to take more than "top, global jobs"; it is going to take a new direction from the bottom up.

To deny the desperate real global challenges faced by human beings in Britain as well as worldwide - energy, food and the environment - is simply to hasten civilisation's destruction. We have never been so urgently in need of good, safe, home grown food (and never less in need of empty political rhetoric harking back to a system that is more and more irrelevant.)