This section contains articles written by Richard North PhD for UKEPRA News
25 October 1999
Although the French "sewage in feed" scandal is shocking to some, the use of sewage sludge in animal feed does in fact have its internal logic. Selective breeding over the centuries has developed strains of cattle which have the capability to put on weight so fast that they cannot eat enough natural food - like grass - to fuel their growth. The very essence of modern cattle husbandry, therefore, has become the science of nutrition, developing high protein "rocket fuel" diets that enable the animals to reach their genetic growth potential.
Equally, with world-wide competition, it is essential that farmers are able to provide these specialist diets cheaply. This is not so much a matter of profit, as survival in the marketplace. For instance, French - and British - farmers with their tiny fields, their miles of hedgerows and fencing, and high welfare costs must complete with Australian ranchers, some of whom run farms the size of Wales, with not a fence in sight. They can use one man, a dog and a light aeroplane to do the work of the hundreds of labourers needed in the traditional European farms. If an animal dies, there is no question of calling in the vet. The animal rots where it lies.
With their higher cost base, the way European farmers "square the circle" is to use highly productive breeds and to feed them intensively, providing them with rations which include a high proportion of protein to sustain their rapid growth. That way the animals are brought to market sooner, improving the productivity of the farm.
And therein lies the rub. In intensive farming, feed becomes the most expensive item on the farming balance sheet, accounting for up to 60 percent of running costs. Of that, the protein element is the dearest. Therefore, the race has been on for decades to find cheap protein sources.
A traditional source of protein has been fishmeal. That is not only ruinously expensive, but limited in its use. Cattle can only be fed very small amounts as they do not like taste and too much imparts a fishy taint to the meat. Another alternative is the notorious meat and bone meal, the rendered-down remains of animals which many sources cite as the cause of BSE. Despite popular perception, however, this source of protein is not cheap. With the greater controls imposed on its production it has become even more expensive, even in France where its use is still allowed.
That leaves vegetable protein, particularly soya meal, the raw product favoured by vegetarians as a meat substitute. Because of its high processing costs and fickle world prices, this can be the most expensive option of all and is not even the best source of added protein. The product lacks some of the essential elements found in animal proteins, which must then be added at even greater cost.
As a result, farmers - or, to be more accurate, their highly industrialised feed compounders - are always on the look-out for cheaper sources of protein. And it is not only the French who have been looking at sewage sludge. In the seventies and early eighties, animal nutritionalists throughout the world were realising that animal manure contained a significant proportion of undigested protein, and the digestive bacteria which were excreted in the manure were also a source of protein.
It was then discovered that, if the material was dried, ground and heat processed, and then compounded with larger amounts of more natural feedstuffs - such as grain - animals could be tricked into eating it, putting on weight which could be translated into profit a minimal costs. For some years, British chickens were fed on this fare, the base being known as DPM or dried poultry manure. Its use, however, was discontinued when fuel costs made drying too expensive, and other protein sources became more competitive. Increased animal feedstuff regulations then made it impossible to resume the practice.
In France, however, with a lighter regulatory touch, and the famous Gallic attitude to obeying the law, the practice has evidently continued, driven by competitive pressures and the increasing difficulty of obtaining cheap sources of alternative proteins.
But, at the heart of all this is the drive to produce cheap meat, sacrificing quality for volume. There can be no doubt that the traditional breeds, like Prince Charles's Aberdeen Angus steers, which are grass-fed and allowed to mature slowly, and are then killed in a traditional slaughterhouse, with the meat being allowed to hang for two or three weeks before cooking, yield a vastly superior product.
Tradition, however, does not equate to profit. The multiple stores treat meat as a commodity, selling on price rather than quality. They pile their shelves high with bright red slabs of meat, tastefully wrapped in cling film and white plastic trays. These sanitised lumps bear no relation to the real animal from which they were derived, and all too often cook out-like cardboard. No wonder the nation is swearing off meat. Its taste is hardly worth the trouble.
The irony is that this sanitised meat has come from government-approved slaughterhouses, where it has been mauled by meat inspectors, supervised by ruinously expensive vets. This adds so much to the costs of production that it drives still further the cost-cutting on the farm. In a very real sense, there are so many government inspectors to pay, that the farmers - when, like the French, they can get away with it - feed their animals on manure to make ends meet.
For the British public, however, this is a form of "mushroom management". Like mushrooms, they are fed on shit and kept in the dark.
11 October 1999
Perhaps one of the most abiding public images of the veterinary profession is the James Herriott character, that stalwart Scots vet braving the rigours of the Yorkshire Dales to treat his patients - and their owners - with humour, dedication and skill. But if that is the public image, the reality is somewhat different, and about to take a turn for the worst, courtesy of a malevolent combination of EU regulations, the British lust for bureaucracy and American corporatism.
The end result of this will be a further blow for the farmer, deepening the crisis in the countryside which is already hitting the ancillary trades and professions. Amongst the growing list of casualties will be the veterinary surgeries which rely on farm animal practice for some of their income. They are now threatened with extinction.
The problem is that, in the main, these practices usually rely on a mix of business. Farm work is balanced - and often cross-subsidised - by the treatment of small animals, animals which used to be called pets but which are now, in the litany of political correctness, called "companion animals". It is this work which is under threat.
Perversely, the threat comes from a third income stream, government work. Many veterinary surgeons sign up with the Ministry of Agriculture as local veterinary inspectors (LVIs), carrying out a range of tasks from tuberculosis and brucella testing, to export certification and other administrative
duties. Additionally, with the introduction of the red meat and poultry meat directives in 1992, many became official veterinary surgeons (OVSs), taking advantage of the lucrative fees for inspecting and supervising slaughterhouses and poultry processing plants. Many a spanking new animal hospital was funded from the proceeds.
However, with the establishment of the Meat Hygiene Service, the pressure was on for cost reduction and veterinary contracts came under review. Into this process came a number of specialist veterinary practices which made it their business to tender for MHS work. Their speciality was - and is - recruiting cut-price foreign vets, mainly of Spanish origin, to enable them to undercut the competition.
The particular attraction of Spanish vets is that they are EU citizens and their qualification have to be accepted under mutual recognition protocols. More to the point, they are dirt-cheap. They work for as little £8.00 and hour, and put up with difficult working conditions, yet can be charged out to slaughterhouse operators at an average of £40 and hour, with the MHS only taking a nominal sum for its overhead. With over 300 such vets currently being employed, and more on their way, the business is highly profitable.
For the vets themselves, there are particular advantages in working for the MHS. In Spain, unlike in the UK, vets are traditionally oversupplied, way in excess of the domestic need. But the veterinary schools are generally regarded as being of low quality, so much so that in 1988 the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons was actively considering withdrawing recognition of Spanish veterinary degrees. All this means that Spanish-trained vets have little opportunity for overseas - or any - employment. In fact, for the majority of vets, the degree was a ticket to the dole office.
But with the need for cheap vets to supply MHS needs, all this changed. Spanish vets are suddenly welcome - by the MHS, at least - and, with their appointment as OVSs after a basic three-week course without examination, they automatically qualify for membership of the prestigious Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. At one stroke, a second-rate veterinary degree becomes of meal-ticket for life, which opens doors to jobs anywhere in the world. Many of these vets are not particularly interested in meat inspection but are prepared to do two or three years of mind-sapping work with the MHS to kick-start their careers.
What makes this particularly insidious, however, is another development. The largest provider of Spanish vets to the MHS - a Leeds-based firm called Eville & Jones - has been bought out by an American corporate giant in the veterinary field, a firm which goes by the name of Companion Care Inc. This firm, with its eye on the lucrative pet market, is the Wal-Mart of the veterinary business. Its aim is to put veterinary surgeries in every major supermarket in the land, creaming off trade from the traditional veterinary practices. The benefits for pet-owners are obvious, but the supermarkets are equally enthusiastic as the presence of an in-store vet opens up the highly profitable veterinary medicines market.
Key to this endeavour, of course, is a ready supply of cheap vets, which is where Eville & Jones comes in, having brought in willing recruits, courtesy of the MHS and the meat industry. With their "statutory vets" in place, the in-store surgeries can run on similar lines to the in-store pharmacies. Like with the pharmacies, most of the work can be done by even lower-paid assistants, working under the "supervision" of the qualified person. Incidentally, the US-based owners cannot employ American vets, who are well-trained and highly regarded, as there is no recognition of the qualifications in the EU and they have to go through hoops to get RCVS certification.
The implications of the changes are profound. With their more profitable small animal work creamed off, few independent veterinary practices will be able to survive. Those which use the profits from this sector to subsidise large animal practice will be hardest hit, and will be first to go under. For most livestock farmers, the effect will be that veterinary coverage will be impossible to obtain or prohibitively expensive. Not only is the veterinary profession under threat, so is livestock farming.
The irony of all this is that increased veterinary involvement in the public health field - viz meat inspection - was seen as the saviour of the veterinary profession, affording major new career opportunities for ambitious vets. In fact, it has turned out to be the Trojan horse, undermining its robust independence and turning practitioners into corporate, salaried drones. A once-proud profession will be sadly diminished. To borrow from the title of a certain book, it shouldn't happen to a vet.
6 October 1999
Conferences are about the big idea, the big speech, the big issues. That is the very stuff of conference speeches. That is the stuff that stirs the troops.
And the latest "big ideas" from William Hague at the Conservative Party Conference this week is that we should renegotiate the EU treaties, telling "Europe" that we want an opt-out from new laws. "People are sick and tired of their powers and rights in this country being handed over to Brussels and I say we have to draw a line and we have to stop that", says our William.
|"the meat industry has lost over 1000 slaughterhouses in 10 years and over the next few months will lose anything up to 200 of the 400 remaining. In five years time, the Soil Association - guardian of organic food standards - estimates that there may only be 75 left"|
But there is just a tinsy winsy little detail that Mr Hague might possibly have overlooked. What about the 80,000 or so directives and regulations which have already passed into UK law?
Just the list of the legislation fills a manual the size of a telephone book. The actual laws would fill every shelf in a sizeable room. What is Mr Hague going to do about them?
Of course, little details like 80,000 or so regulations aren't the stuff that is going to set the Conservative Party conference alive, or stir the troops. For instance, speeches about tiny little details like EU directives 89/48/EEC; 85/432/EEC and 75/362/EEC are not going have the nation lighting beacons, or fire the imagination of an oppressed population.
These directives, of course, as you will all know, have been implemented in the UK by the Cosmetic (Safety) Regulations 1996. Good stuff you might think, if a tad boring. But, one delicious detail is that - on ingredient labels - the regulations prohibit the use of the word "water". The only officially approved term is "aqua".
In the litany of legislation, shampoo is a cosmetic - here is a bottle. And, on the side is the list of ingredients, and there you will find the description - "aqua".
Now this is a tiny point of detail. But there is more fundamental issue at stake here. To use the word "water" - or anything other than the officially approved term "aqua" - is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of £5,000. Courtesy of the EU therefore, the British government has made it a criminal offence for an English manufacturer to tell another Englishman that his bottle of shampoo contains water.
Of perhaps more significance, come 1 January 2000 - the dawn of the new millennium - we will be greeted by the implementation of directive 89/617/EEC which amended directive 80/181/EEC. That, of course, is the units of measurement directive, which - when they come into force on 1st January - will make it a criminal offence for one Englishman to sell to another Englishman one pound of apples, against the familiar penalty of a £5,000 fine.
Now, these are but a tiny fraction of the 80,000 new laws which William Hague has apparently overlooked. They are behind the line he has drawn. Let's look at another one. Directive 89/336 - the Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive. This requires all electronic components to be tested for radio interference potential before a CE marking can be applied, without which components cannot be legally sold.
Again, good stuff you might think, except that if you are a "one-off" component manufacturer, you might be selling gismos for £100 but it will cost you up to £2000 for each of them to be tested. You can imagine the scene in a back-street electronics shop. Here you are guv - £100 for the kit. And £2000 for the CE mark. Plus VAT of course.
"Even the MHS itself acknowledges that these useless vets make no contribution whatsoever to the hygiene of meat"
Recently, I asked the managing director of a small electronics development firm in the North East why this regulation was not having the devastating effect on the British electronics industry that was predicted when the directive was implemented. Simple, he said. We're all ignoring the regulations. That is what it comes to. In this man's words, "we are all criminals now", courtesy of the EU.
The reason he and his colleagues get away with it is because the law is enforced by local trading standards officers, who have neither the time, the inclination or the resources to wage a campaign of terror on the electronics industry.
But other industry sectors are not so unfortunate. For instance, owning to the depredations of directive 91/497/EEC the meat industry has lost over 1000 slaughterhouses in 10 years and over the next few months will lose anything up to 200 of the 400 remaining. In five years time, the Soil Association - guardian of organic food standards - estimates that there may only be 75 left.
What makes this disaster unique is the combination of the EU directive with a unique British invention - the Sefra, which stands for Self financing regulatory agency. Effectively "son of quango", these are new agencies which are licensed by government to make a business out of regulation and to charge those whom they regulated for their "services".
For the meat industry, their sefra is the Meat Hygiene Service, which imposes on them ill-trained and ill-experienced vets - mostly of Spanish origin - to stand in slaughterhouses at up to £60 an hour, to supervise the work. Even the MHS itself acknowledges that these useless vets make no contribution whatsoever to the hygiene of meat, but since an EU directive requires it, we implement the rules, and the regulators profit hugely from it.
The funny thing is that William Hague probably doesn't even know what a sefra is, and he is hardly likely to get rid of this one. The last conservative government created it in the first place. So much for drawing a line. While William doodles with a stick in the sand, yet another British industry goes down the tubes.
Now the destruction of the British meat industry serves as an object lesson for all of us - the same lesson that can be learned from the fishing industries and many others, not least agriculture which is in its biggest crisis in living history.
For years now, and with increasing desperation over the last few months, I have been traipsing the streets of Whitehall and Westminster, warning MPs, civil servants and officials about the impending disaster in the meat industry. I have seen every food minister since the post was first established - excepting fatty Soames - and the current agriculture minister.
By and large, they all agree with me, that the directive is wrong - it is not the answer to meat hygiene, and it is causing entirely unnecessary damage to the industry. But when I ask them what they are going to do about it, they tell me that there is nothing they can do. Richard, they tell me, this is European Law, there is nothing we can do.
So, as I traipse the streets of Whitehall, one abiding image begins to dominate my mind. I see those ministers sitting in their gilded chairs, surrounded by their softly-spoken civil servants, each with their wrists bound by silken threads. It seems to me that the only serious activity being carried out these days in Whitehall is group bondage.
And there it is ladies and gentlemen. When you see a minister of state these days, occupying a great ministry of this our nation, what you are seeing is a charade. You are not seeing men or women in charge of their departments, but apologists for them.
You are talking about ministers who do not have the power to allow an Englishman to write the word "water" on the side of a bottle of shampoo, ministers who will stand idly by as the first Englishman is sent to prison for selling a pound of apples to another Englishman, ministers who are standing idly by while the meat industry, while farming and fishing bleed to death - all because their hands are tied.
Mr Hague may now want to draw a line in the sand. He might want to go thus far and no further. But we have already gone too far - or not far enough. We need to break out of the straightjacket that is the EU and forge our own identify, restore our own right of national self-determination, and leave the dross of EU laws behind us. Above all, we need a government which can govern, which can cast off its silken bonds and lead us to the future.
Is William Hague up to the challenge? I somehow doubt it.
UKEP to UKIP
28 September 1999
As far as I can work out from my faded back-copies, I first appeared in the pages of UKEPRA News in January 1989, having addressed a crisis meeting of egg producers in Stoneleigh. This was only the second time in my life I had been there in my life. The first had been 20 years earlier, in a battered old Auster, flying out from an airfield in Essex acting as a navigator for farmer who wanted to visit the Royal Show but did not have the confidence to find his way to Coventry - the nearest airport.
My life had changed somewhat over the previous twenty years. Acting Pilot Officer North became a failed RAF pilot and then a ticket clerk with British Rail in a busy suburban station. That was followed by a spell in Israel working in a Kibbutz and thence, after a short period as a wages clerk paying temporary teachers, to student public health inspector in Croydon. Qualification as an environmental health officer took me first to Halifax and then to Leeds where I became a specialist food inspector, followed a year later by an abrupt departure from local government after a disagreement over kitchen hygiene standards in NHS hospitals.
The following years saw me as a food hygiene consultant working for a number of well known hotel groups. I combined this with developing a kitchen cleaning business, eventually employing eight people, including another EHO. A slave to cash-flow, I tired of going hungry in order pay the weekly wages bill and went to work for an entrepreneurial company developing a unique disinfectant product and then graduated to a project management company taking charge of multi-million design and build projects for the NHS, developing massive cook-chill kitchens.
By 1988 I was back in hygiene consultancy and thinking of developing a specialist hygiene publishing company, dabbling somewhat in the politics of food alongside Prof Lacey with whom I shared a common concern about the then worrying increase in listeriosis. Eggs could not have been further from my mind and it was only my interest in publishing that brought me to address little Edwina's statement in December 1988, with a view to selling a monograph on the dangers of salmonella and eggs.
It was at that point that I started looking carefully at those few, so-called "egg associated" food poisoning outbreak reports which had been released. I quickly realised that the evidence did not stack up, which led me to writing a highly critical report. Details were published in Farmers Weekly, following which a certain Keith Pulman contacted me with an invitation to address egg producers at the meeting in Stoneleigh.
Having led such a tedious and unadventurous life to that date, if I was ready for a challenge, I certainly found it in the egg industry, on the brink of destruction facing the newly introduced compulsory slaughter programme for laying hens. No sane, fair-minded person could fail to see the injustice in this policy, which was wiping out sound, well managed businesses for no reason at all. The way forward seemed crystal clear. The policy had to be opposed by every means possible.
With the support of Keith Pulman, a steadfast, reliable rock in a maelstrom of uncertainty and doubt, backed by his newly-elected, redoubtable chairman, Andy Oatley, possible courses of action became definite plans and, with the growing support of increasing numbers of egg producers - too numerous to mention - the MAFF was challenged at every opportunity.
Four years later, after action on the farms, in the courts, in the newspapers and on television, in a campaign which gained the support of MPs and even the tacit support of ministers - with the battle of the Nuns of Daventry on the way and myself gathering three High Court injunctions and a criminal record for the heinous crime of taking 30 eggs out of a hen house - we finally saw the Heather Dick report. This did what was intended of it, and cast doubt on the slaughter policy. Ministers abandoned the killing within days.
Shortly afterwards the NFU, with the splendid Anne Smith, got producers a well-deserved £3.5 million in compensation from MAFF for what a Parliamentary Committee called "maladminstration underlined three times".
Although were not to know it at the time, this was the high point for UKEP. We had won a classic campaign, fair and square, and had seen sense prevail. Public attention, however, had moved on. We had seen, in addition to the salmonella scare, the excitement over listeria but a dreadful new disease by then had taken over in the headlines - BSE.
But there were other, more subtle changes in the wings, which became grossly apparent when, in March 1996 Stephen Dorrell, the then Secretary of State for Health, announced a possible link between BSE and CJD. This precipitated a world-wide ban by the EU on the export of British beef - a power which few people realised the EU had. A massive political row followed, but the outcome was that the ban stayed, demonstrating graphically that the UK's political power and influence had gravitated to that grubby little town between France and Germany, to the headquarters of the EU in Brussels.
The egg industry meanwhile had been battling with the new cage-size regulations and after the election of the first Labour government in 17 years in 1997, was facing an EU-wide ban on battery egg production. The writing was - and is - on the wall for the industry as we know it, with scores of egg producers looking for the nearest exit.
This time, there was to be no campaign against a threat more serious even than salmonellosis and MAFF's insane slaughter policy. No longer was there any value in lobbying MPs and Ministers. In the face of the insidious growth of EU power, even Ministers were powerless - their hands were tied. The battlefield had moved on, to Brussels, the heart of the anti-democratic movement that is the European Union, where Britain is but a small voice amongst many.
Nevertheless, the battle continued. Armed with a doctorate, gained with the generous assistance and support of UKEP, I had become involved in yet another disaster area - the meat industry, and the EU-inspired destruction of slaughterhouses. But this is a battle, like the battle for the survival of the egg industry, which cannot yet be won. As in so many areas, our government is no longer master in its own house. We are ruled by Brussels.
Thus, following the battlefield, in a few weeks time I am moving to Brussels to take on a full-time appointment as political advisor to a small political party, but one which is growing in statute and influence - the UK Independence Party (UKIP). There, battle will be joined for the biggest prize of all, the very survival of our nation, free from the malign influence of the emergent superstate which calls itself Europe. Until that battle is won, no other battle can be, for our politicians have cravenly given away our rights to self-determination.
Thus, I have moved on from poultry to politics. In so doing, I cannot express adequately the deep gratitude I feel to all those that supported me, to those that became my friends and to those who gave me so much help in those dark days. But it is not adieu. I have simply moved from UKEP to UKIP - and the fight goes on.
When the guns go off…
21 September 1999
Earlier this week, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown told the nation that livestock farmers continued to be under very serious pressure and that it was right, exceptionally, to consider special measures for them. These should, he said, cover not just support measures but also regulatory burdens, to enable the industry to move closer to the market.
That was the prelude to Brown's successful capture of the headlines with an announcement of £500 million aid for farmers that had the media and the agricultural community buzzing with excitement. And by the following day an angry correspondent to the PM programme on BBC Radio 4 was asking why farmers were being subsidised when other industries had been allowed to fail and why they could not live off the profits made from giving their cattle the cheap feed which had caused BSE.
In a masterful stroke, therefore, Brown had transformed a situation where the agricultural crisis was building up steam to become a serious political liability, culminating in massive demonstrations outside the Labour Party conference next week. Here he was galloping to the rescue of the beleaguered industry with a sackload of subsidies.
Wrongfooted, industry leaders could hardly complain otherwise they would be seen as representing greedy farmers who had yet again been given an early Christmas and were still complaining. Inevitably, the response was a guarded welcome.
It cannot have been a coincidence that Mr Brown's ten-page announcement was issued just before 5pm on the Monday, giving hard-pressed hacks enough time to process the details into their lead stories for the next day, but not enough to seek informed opinion from industry commentators who, in any event, had not then had time to analyse the content.
Before even the ink was dry on the newspapers rolling off the presses, however, the enormity of the situation began to emerge with the realisation that Mr Brown's support measures were little more than an elaborate con-trick, political legerdemain. Far from the £500 million he claims to have given to hard-pressed farmers, the only genuinely "new" money contributed by government amounts to £1 million for marketing schemes.
Some £400 million of this "support" is Brussels money, mainly EU agri-money compensation to offset the strength of the pound, all of which was agreed last year and would have been paid irrespective of Mr Brown's announcement. In fact, the loss to farmers as a result of the strong pound runs to over a billion so farmers are only being compensated for a fraction of what they are due. And so much for supporting the livestock industry - £164 million goes directly to arable farmers.
Another cynical move comes with Mr Brown's "relief" measures on the passport and the special risk material (SRM) charges. His predecessor having devised another bureaucratic nightmare for the farmers, requiring them to record every movement their cattle make, and charging them £7 per head for the privilege, Brown now proposes to defer charging until the year 2002/3. Equally, having lumbered slaughterhouses with an additional layer of inspection officials to check on the removal of BSE material, he now proposes to defer charging for them for another three years.
Taken together, Mr Brown claims that these two measures will "save" the industry £89 million over three years. That is a measure of his "support". He imposes a massive regulatory burden on the industry, and then he puts money into the pockets of his officials to implement the measures, expanding their empires and making them rich.
The amazing thing about this is that Brown has projected this money as part
of the package of "aid" for farmers - payments for officials that the
industry never wanted anyway. The funny thing is that the public are always
willing to accept that farmers are subsidised but they have not realised that it
is the bureaucrats who are to pocket the cash - it is they who are
subsidised. Farmers will not see a penny of this "aid".
But the ultimate insult in this "aid" package is the treatment of the slaughtering industry. On Sunday I attended a meeting of 400 angry slaughterhouse owners and farmers at Lichfield auction mart. Their demands were for a complete moratorium on charging for inspection and for the government to insist on a rapid re-negotiation of the EU directive which is crippling their industry. The chief executive of the Meat Hygiene Service was present, and instructed to deliver a report to Mr Brown the next day.
In an apparent response to the outpouring of anger, Brown claimed in his announcement that he had relaxed the burden for low throughput slaughterhouses by easing the requirement for full-time veterinary supervision. The reality, however, is that full-time supervision does not come in until the year 2002 and it is the current increase to just 50 percent supervision which is crippling the industry. Not only is this concession a chimera, it leaves the operations just outside the low throughput range, and the medium-sized, units in the cold. They have nothing to expect other than an increase in the hourly rates paid to inspection officials.
And just to add insult to injury, Mr Brown is to launch another review on the bureaucracy affecting the meat industry. This now makes three reviews in four months, with results of the first two still not having been published. The industry is being invited to participate in yet another ploy which will absolve the government from taking the immediate action necessary to save the industry. As there are certain to be fewer slaughterhouses around by the time this process has ground to a halt, the government seems to be indulging in a new form of torture: "death by consultation".
Even Mr Brown' claim that he is seeking an end to the bone-in-beef ban has ground to a halt, blocked by the chief medical officers of Scotland, Wales and N Ireland, leaving him embarrassed by the realisation that he cannot move without the support of the devolved administrations.
Altogether, the result has been a disaster for British agriculture. Brown has given the impression of tackling the crisis while actually giving farmers nothing very much at all and certainly not enough to solve the fundamental problems. But the worst of it all is that the public believe that something has been done and the media has already moved on to other issues. What they should realise is that all Brown has done is removed one soldier from the firing squad lined up against the industry. When the guns go off, the industry will be just as dead as if he had never acted.