Muckspreader 15 August 02

Private Eye
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We must be fair to the department for the elimination of farming and rural affairs (Defra). It is the only one of the Beloved Leader's ministries which is actually delivering on its chief policy: namely to wipe out what remains of British farming. Furthermore, its ministers clearly take increasingly sadistic pleasure in the cat-and-mouse game they are playing to do it; headed by Britain's answer to Rosa Klebb, Margaret Beckett, aided by her loyal gang of bullies, Lord Whitty, Elliott Morley and Alun Michael.

One of their latest wheezes, clearly designed to put this column out of business, is to introduce a ban across large parts of the countryside on the ancient practice of muckspreading. For much of the year, farmers have been told, it will now be a criminal offence to fertilise their land with animal manure. Instead they must store it, at a cost amounting to tens of thousands of pounds per farm. Our ministers' excuse for this is that they have been ordered to impose the ban under the EU's nitrates directive,supposedly designed to reduce nitrates in drinking water. Originally Britain was reluctant to enforce this directive, since it was based on two scientific fallacies which have long since been exploded. One of these held that nitrates were responsible for a very rare condition known as blue baby syndrome (last case in Britain was in 1950). The other was that they led to algal growth in estuaries (it has since been discovered that this is not due to nitrates but to phosphates).

Even though it has now been confirmed by a host of international scientists that nitrates in drinking water are good for human health rather than the other way around, the EU became so cross that Britain was not enforcing its directive that in 2000 it took the UK before the European court of justice. As a result Britain was fined £50 million. But it was hardly surprising the Maffia lost the case, since it had offered no defence. The reason was that, during the years when nitrification was still regarded as a threat to health, the British government forced water companies to spend £3 billion on denitrification plants. To admit this had all been a complete waste of money because nitrates were not harmful after all might have exposed them to massive compensation claims. Much better to roll over, say nothing, pay up the £50 million and impose the directive as zealously as possible on thousands of farmers, whose bill, according to the government's own figures, will top £50 million every year.

Never mind, the average urban ignoramus will respond, didn't we read that, under Gordon Brown's spending review, farmers are to get another £400 million a year in rural development funding? Surely that will cover the £50 million bill for those nitrate vulnerable zones, and even leave a few bob over? How sadly this is to underrate the ingenuity of Rosa and her gang. Following the government's announcement of this new source of funding for rural activities, Peter Troy, a leading light of the Federation of Small Businesses, put in an exhaustive series of queries to regional development agencies and all other relevant bodies, asking how these new funds could be obtained and could they supply the necessary application forms. It turned out there are no such forms. There is no way the funds can be applied for. So far as the funding agencies are concerned, the funds do not exist. Yet another round to clever old Rosa.