open letter concerning membership of the NFU

addressed to Anthony Gibson

Dear Anthony,

Please forgive me writing this to you. I do so because I realise that as an ordinary member of the NFU, I have no point of contact with those who run the Union and claim to represent me. I do not even know to whom I should address my remarks, which arise because I find that my membership renewal falls due at the end of the month and I have been considering whether I should renew it.

During the nine or ten years I have been a member, I have been somewhat sporadic in my attendance of branch meetings, because milking twice daily without a relief milker doesn't leave much time in the evenings. But I have noticed that what takes place at branch meetings seems to have little bearing on the insulated clique that dominates the Union. It seems inevitable with the undemocratic way the Union is structured, that it must be dominated by those who are able to employ farm managers and thus free themselves to devote the necessary time to politics. It has been only now, with the catastrophe which the government and the leadership of the NFU have made of the foot and mouth disease outbreak, that it has become inescapably apparent to me how far the interests of those who dominate the NFU diverge from those of farmers like me. I have noticed with increasing anger, how the leadership has claimed to represent me while promulgating policies which are abhorrent to me, which I consider misconceived and damaging: how it has done so without making any effort to elicit the opinion of members like me; and how it has misquoted, misrepresented the facts and selectively reported facts, in order to fool the membership and the public at large.

I am grateful to you for having dared to speak out against the 'party line': but even as you were being quoted in the Western Morning News, saying that that vaccination should have been considered early on in the outbreak of foot and mouth, the NFU Journal [October 2001 Issue 108] was featuring an outrageous travesty of the facts in a special feature by Martin Stanhope, entitled "MYTH OF THE MONTH (MYTH BUSTING)". In this, Mr Stanhope says, for example, that: "Crucially vaccination protects against clinical foot and mouth, but not against infection - so vaccinated animals can still spread disease." He omits to mention that there is no scientifically documented case anywhere in the world of a vaccinate transferring disease to another animal: and when in South America Paul Sutmoller's team set out to demonstrate the dangers of carrier animals, they found that they could not succeed in causing a susceptible animal to catch the infection from a carrier. He also asserts that "Paradoxically (in Holland) vaccination led to more animals being killed than would have been the case if an immediate cull had been exercised": ignoring that slaughter was already failing to contain the spread of disease when vaccination was authorised; that rapid slaughter of such a large number of animals in the required barrier zone was physically impossible; that had vaccination not been used, much wider spread of disease and the associated much greater mass slaughter would have been an inevitable consequence. The facts are irrefutable - in Holland, vaccination worked exactly as predicted. He states that "The NFU has always argued that such decisions must be taken on the basis of scientific advice": but he does not account for the failure of the NFU to take note of the consensus in favour of use of vaccination among the scientists with special expertise in FMD - and why the only advice apparently heard by the NFU has been that of the UK government's chosen scientific advisers such as Profs. King or Anderson, who do not have expertise in FMD.

Again, the mid-October 2001 issue 109 of "NFU Business", which I have just received, reports two stories in which the epidemiologists responsible for the senseless 'carnage by computer' attempt to justify the cull [which you yourself criticised so roundly] in advance of the findings of the various inquiries. I have not noticed equivalent reports of the views of the real experts.

From the first weeks of the outbreak, when the spread of the infection was revealed, it was apparent that a policy which required farms to be treated as disease containment laboratories would have disastrous consequences for the whole rural community: that it would be particularly damaging to the farms which had diversified, that it would cause carnage on an unimaginable scale, the immense welfare problems which result from the restrictions on animal movements, the collapse of the market system, creation of not only two tier pricing, but pricing which suited the supermarket cutting plants - and enable the Supermarkets to virtually do as they pleased. The NFU has delivered Britain's family farms up to the predatory global interests on a plate. I presume that those who dominate the Union expect to share in the spoils.

I now agree with George Mombiot, when he says that the NFU is the farmer's most dangerous enemy; I cannot see any prospect for Members like me of exerting any influence over NFU policy or of the NFU reflecting our views or interests.

I fear that I will not be renewing my membership.

Yours sincerely,

Lawrence Wright
Middle Campscott Farm Lee