Foot and Mouth Genesis- An Eco-Marxist Explanation
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Sun Mar 25 05:15:31 MST 2001
Farming in the Furnace
by Judith Varley
The countryside is not just a pretty place: it's an economy destroyed by
hyper-production. The foot and mouth crisis, following BSE, requires us
all to rethink farming, the supermarket-driven sale of food and our own
British farmers and farming are in crisis, possibly facing extinction.
If farming in the UK continues, should it include livestock? If
livestock farming continues, can we afford the costs of feeding
potentially hazardous waste at the cheapest possible prices? What about
animal welfare issues?
Modern agribusiness entails transporting vast numbers of animals
enormous distances despite legislation aimed to reduce or stop this
happening. Pigs from Heddon-on-the Wall were taken 300 miles to be
slaughtered in Essex, others came from Scotland, Northern Ireland and
Wales. During the last 10 years, abattoirs have reduced in numbers from
about 1,000 to 350. Giant abattoirs generate vast amounts of infected
waste, the guts, offals and hair not wanted by the consumer. What do we
do with these materials if they are not treated, heated, pelleted, dried
and compounded for animal feed? Incineration isn't a welcome option,
neither is discharge to waterways, landfill or chemical degradation.
Is it possible to rebuild or reinstate more local abattoirs, so that at
least the quantities will be more manageable? With appropriate
composting and attention to safety, this organic material should be
returned to the land.
Do we want prairie monoculture farms throughout the UK? It happened in
the eastern counties in the 19th century and could happen everywhere in
the 21st. Arable farming requires heavy chemical intervention. Chemical
"fertilisers" and herbicides are applied frequently, a practice
encouraged by the agrichemical industry. With little or no organic
material returned to the soil, the soil loses "heart" (interesting term,
that), degrades and disappears as dust in the wind. It is happening in
East Anglia. Desertification is increasing throughout the world. The
interior of Australia is a good example of ancient degraded dust bowl
land, not in this case because of modern monoculture agriculture but
caused by consistent droughts and wind erosion with the same effect.
Europe's young soils could become like that, too.
A return to mixed, more balanced animal and arable farming would be
sustainable and attractive to the public -- a near-organic if not
entirely organic situation. Most of us think farming is still as shown
in nursery book: a rural patchwork of small fields, a mix of animal and
varied crops. But this is not today's reality.
Eighty per cent of U.K. farming is agribusiness, and it's rising. If the
remaining mixed farms go out of business, the land will not remain
wilderness, it will become more monoculture grain farms and likely sites
for GM crop development too. It will be difficult to stop GM cultivation
when the acreage planted and its ownership is so monopolised.
It is time to consider paying farmers in small mixed farms a living wage
as countryside custodians, to maintain and husband the land, domestic
animals and wildlife in the way we want it to be, putting the soul back
into the soil. Also, as urban consumers, we need to support local
farmers' market type initiatives, and vote with our feet by boycotting
Politicians need to learn important lessons from history and to be
mindful of the hazards of importing livestock. This means having
effective legislation, and increasingly, that means European
legislation, and appropriate surveillance. It means developing tests if
none are available at the moment and having enough trained people on the
ground to monitor and enforce control schemes.
The EU is about trade. The driving force of its market is profit; not
health or welfare or long-term sustainability. The stock market, which
has a strong influence on the nature of trade, has too much in common
with the betting shop to be concerned with farming and health issues,
animal or human. Profit is maximised by moving commodities through the
stockmarkets quickly. If it is profitable to shift that commodity from
one end of Europe to the other, or across continents, it happens, and
through 10 or 100 different dealers who never meet that stock in
reality. The stock exchange does not treat animals differently from
wood, or tea, or metals. However, when everyone has made their profit,
the commodity has to be moved physically, and if it happens to be
animals, so be it. The disease implications are unknown and irrelevant
to trade, as are the welfare issues. We end up with the bizarre
situation of juggernauts carrying animals in one direction, while
another vehicle travels in the opposite direction with an identical
load. It is an ideal system for exploitation, spreading disease,
stressing animals, suffocating traditional husbandry practices,
congesting and polluting roads, and the total devastation of remaining
rural societies and economies.
It ensures the primary producer, whether farmer or factory worker, will
not be paid an economic wage for his labour, the consumer will be
charged the top price at the supermarket, and viable alternatives, real
choice, will be gone forever.
Industrialised agriculture is intrinsically inefficient. Huge quantities
of precious, maybe non-renewable resources are consumed and used
inefficiently (in energy and resource terms) and mountains of "waste",
are created. Most has gone, maybe is still going, to landfill.
The industrial process creates economies in terms of scale, which is why
manpower is cut, abattoirs reduced in number but increased in size,
farms become immense, a small plant is replaced by a regional or
national plant, and the wastes produced by the giants submerge us. All
this is linked so increased shipment/haulage/air transport and all their
attendant problems are inevitable, and nurture of the original resource
is never addressed.
Traditional processes are cyclical, with tight efficient cycles in which
the original resource is constantly nurtured. On small mixed farms,
waste doesn't occur because it is composted, an essential process to
renew the source (soil) and replenish its humus content. Even in the
1930's and 40's, UK small mixed farms were almost self-sufficient, and
the most efficient in the world. The sun and rain nurtured the grain
that fed the animals, and they provided haulage, manure and produce for
the farm with surplus for local urban populations. The fuel which ran
small farms in Britain was the sun. You cannot sell sunlight, and this
is why it is of so little interest to big business.
It is why, even without the foot and mouth crisis, it is vital that we
engage the debate for the future of farming, and the kind of world which
will sustain a future for all its species.
Judith Varley has taught and researched infectious diseases in the
faculty of Veterinary Science of Liverpool University for 28 years
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