Sir, - I am a small organic beef farmer. In my view Mr Nick Brown and MAFF have failed British agriculture completely.

I wish to make it clear the NFU does not speak on my behalf, despite Mr Nick Brown's daily assertions to the contrary. I do not care about Ben Gill's desire for a knighthood.

Mr Brown has been advised that he must ban the import of meat from countries that are affected by disease and that he must ban the import of meat from countries that do not meet our standards of welfare. He has not done this and he has then failed to fund the inspection of substandard, in some cases rotting, meat at the point of entry. He has also failed to properly inspect the preparation of swill production.

The problem is not supermarkets, the problem is not intensive farming, the problem is not swill feeding, the problem is not meat preparation or some poor butcher in Scotland, the problem is not the movement of livestock, the problem is not the CAP. The problem is Mr Brown and MAFF.

To deal with the present disaster Mr Brown must:

l ban the import of meat;

l ban the slaughter of livestock;

l ban all movements of stock and pay compensation where necessary;

l vaccinate all stock;

l spend some time and money supporting British agriculture;

l keep the public at large out of the countryside until the vaccination programme is complete;

l cancel the General Election;

l pay compensation to the tourist industry;

Mr Brown's policy of slaughtering stock unaffected by FMD is obscene, MAFF policy is outdated and misguided and designed to increase the number of farmers leaving the land.


Firtree Farm,



Import question

Sir, - As the foot-and-mouth crisis has unfolded and the extent of the infection has become clear, the only thing that surprises me is that this tragedy did not occur sooner.

As soon as the infection was discovered Mr Nick Brown quite rightly banned exports of meat from this country. Why then do we continue to import sub-standard meat from other countries in which foot and mouth is endemic?

Cases have also come to light in recent weeks of meat imported from abattoirs in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain with the spinal cord still attached. This poses a risk from BSE.

The only action taken was for the EU Commission to write to the countries involved. Surely exports should have been banned. If the situation wasn't so serious it would be farcical that our politicians are ensuring that our exports are safe, but the fact that so many imports are unsafe doesn't seem to matter.

This outbreak has highlighted just how agriculture underpins the British economy. Many aspects of life have been disrupted, not just for farmers, but for many other businesses. Am I being naive in hoping perhaps now politicians will realise that the British public deserves to be protected as well as those on the continent?

The local community deserves our warmest thanks for the support they have shown in curtailing any activity which may spread the disease. At the time of writing North Yorkshire has only four cases. Let us hope that the situation starts to improve soon.

Please, let's make sure we don't import anything as horrendous as this again.


Home Farm,



Take care, Mr Blair

Sir, - Mr Blair should think very carefully about the dates of the general and local elections. Many parts of the countryside are in a state of crisis due to the effects of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

This may not be apparent to the government based in London, but there can be very few country people who are not affected by this crisis. Many people will not be able to play a full and active part in the electoral process. If Mr Blair is re-elected, they will know that they have not been able to actively oppose him, which can only widen the gulf between rural and urban communities.

The general election need not be held until May 2002. The government should concentrate on the issues affecting all members of the community in large parts of rural Britain. It is not just a few farmers who are suffering, both emotionally and economically, by this.

If Mr Blair is so desperate to call a general election one can only suspect that he expects something to go wrong in the next twelve months that will reduce his chances of winning in May 2002.

The local elections should also be postponed. Many councillors in rural areas are from the farming community. They cannot be expected to put their hearts and souls into getting elected in the current crisis.

If Mr Blair talked to the farming community in his own constituency, he would realise how they feel about the crisis, which is not under control.


The Old Rectory,

South Otterington,


Pet sheep farce

Sir, - I refer to the farcical situation involving a pet sheep with suspected foot-and-mouth in Borrowby.

Blood tests taken on Sunday, March 11, proved the animal was negative. When I arrived at work on Monday morning we were within a 8km movement restriction imposed by the trading standards department. This put us, and all other farmers in this zone under more unnecessary pressure. We are left in the dark by lack of communication between government departments and ourselves as farmers.

If we rang trading standards, we were passed to MAFF at Northallerton, then they passed us on to either the Veterinary Inspectorate in Leeds, or the foot-and-mouth helpline, which told us it's MAFF we need to speak to. It said MAFF should have all the answers.

Well, why doesn't it? If I was as inefficient in management as MAFF is I would have been out of work a long time ago.




We're bleeding

Sir, - I wish to draw your attention to the very real hardships now being endured by the membership of our association, all of whose livelihoods are directly or indirectly threatened by the draconian, though necessary, measures taken to contain the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The limits placed on all tourist activity in rural Britain are having a devastating effect on our enterprises, since virtually all of us are entirely dependent on visitors to the countryside. This debacle has descended on a tourist industry already weakened by the issues of an over-valued pound, high petrol prices and poor weather.

Some of our member businesses have already laid off staff or placed their workforce on short-time working. The pressure from meeting fixed overheads and legal obligations whilst income has been stopped is unbearable: some businesses now face collapse within a few weeks.

This will mean the permanent loss of jobs with all the attendant social implications for an area already suffering severe difficulties in farming and loss of local facilities. Financially for the Exchequer there will be the loss of business rates, tax revenues, and NIC.

The foot-and-mouth outbreak is not solely a farming crisis, but a catastrophe which has enveloped all rural businesses many of which stand to be destroyed with no recompense whatsoever.

We wish to join with the farming community to seek the justifiable and equitable compensation which is due to all whose livelihood has been ruined by this tragedy. Whilst we welcome the measures announced by Michael Meacher, the Minister for the Environment, these are very limited and will, on their own, do little to assuage the real hardship being endured now.

We should like to exert the greatest pressure on government to urgently take a global view of what is happening to rural Britain, press for compensation for the affected enterprises and to foster a culture of support from all government agencies through this very difficult period. We look forward to learning what contingency plans district, county and central government have to save our businesses.


Upper Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Business Association

Red-tape folly

Sir, - With every sympathy for the beleaguered upland community affected by foot-and-mouth, I fail to see how the somewhat haphazard and piecemeal prohibition of footpath use in the lowland arable areas achieves anything. Not only is there no foot-and-mouth in these areas, there are no animals to contract the disease.

There is even a closure on the town centre footpath in Thirsk running alongside the football field to the local swimming pool.

Closure of safe paths across arable land can lead - as in one village near Thirsk - to people being forced to walk their dogs past a local intensive pig unit, a real focus of potential transmission if ever there was one.

Festooning the countryside with miles of red tape brings the regulations and the bureaucracy into disrepute, damages the tourist economy, and prejudices the impact of the regulations where there is a genuine need to prevent the spread of the disease.

After all, to quote Michael Meacher, the minister in charge of the new Rural Task Force, "the object of the regulations is to protect livestock, not to keep people out of the country".


St Oswald's House,



Within the rules

Sir, - As a member of Barnard Castle golf club I write in response to your front page article last week. It seems to me the article, and the prominence you gave it, are based largely on two emotive words from Phil Barber, branch secretary of the National Farmers' Union. He describes the club's decision to reopen during the foot-and-mouth crisis as "absolutely indefensible."

While most of the club members are country dwellers and have every sympathy with the farmers' dreadful plight, the words "absolutely indefensible" are the opinion of one man. In fact, the decision to reopen is easily defensible.

I understand from the golf club captain, Sid Lowes, that Mr Barber was one of the people consulted before reopening the course, and like MAFF, Teesdale District Council and Raby Estates he gave his approval, subject to the necessary resrictions being put in place, as they duly were. The golf club played it by the book and it seems unfair that they were singled out at a time when other golf courses within foot-and-mouth restriction zones were open. Penrith is a case in point, while Bishop Auckland has outbreaks much closer to its boundaries than Barnard Castle.

I agree it seems odd that we are allowed to play golf when walking in the country is being discouraged. But the government has been at pains to point out that the countryside is not closed, it simply wants to keep people off agricultural land. While golfing I have seen joggers, probably on their lunchbreak from Glaxo, running on a roadside footpath adjacent to a field full of sheep. Are their actions "absolutely indefensible" as well?

The club consulted all the necessary people and stringently followed the guidelines. All any of us can do in these lamentable circumstances is abide by what the experts tell us. Had the advice been not to reopen then I am sure we would have lived with that. But to label our actions "absolutely indefensile" seems grossly unfair.




Sir, - I am outraged at comments attributed to local politicians and farmer representatives in your report about Barnard Castle golf club.

We are deeply saddened by this epidemic and support all necessary action to bring it to a speedy conclusion. But, this does not include bringing the entire country to a halt as only this will satisfy the farmers and their representatives.

Not only are they the most pampered, subsidised and irresponsible members of our society, they will not stop until they get all other members of society into the same miserable state as them.

Normal life must go on in the present crisis wherever possible. Golf is no different to football, rugby and many other sports which continue to function in the current climate. Every effort must be made to maintain a balanced position in these difficult times with the desires and requirements of all members of society taken in to consideration.


Reeth Road,