I am mulling over the 'discussion' on the BBC radio 4 'Farming Today this week' about licensing of farms. What would or could this entail? At present there is a form of licensing, in that any farm needs a 'holding number' issued by DEFRA in order to claim any subsidy or farm grant. So DEFRA have a record of all the holding numbers and thus all the farms. Whether or not they can find the farms or the records is another matter. No demonstration of expertise is necessary to obtain a holding number. So far as I understand, you just inform the Ministry that you have an agricultural holding, its address and area - and they issue the number.
The licensing of dogs, when it was required, was merely another form of taxation - there was certainly no attempt to apply a welfare test or a test of the suitability of the licence holder. Same with the TV licence. It is a form of fundraising tax to fund the BBC. All the 'panel' on 'Farming Today this week' seemed to assume that this farm licensing scheme would be a farm assurance scheme of some sort, involving some sort of test or verification of the ability of the farmer. But would the scheme apply only to livestock farms? Surely not. If the licence were to be issued on the basis of some sort of qualification or demonstration of training or skill, would the licence be general; or specific to particular aspects of farming? Would the licence - say - allow arable farming but no animals and vice versa? Would farmers who were licensed only for arable work be forbidden to diversify into animal keeping or mixed farming, and livestock farms forbidden to cultivate crops? And where would the line between farming and pet keeping, farming and horticulture and 'amateur gardening' be drawn. How would the scheme stop an enthusiastic gardener from growing apples and courgettes and selling them through the local pannier market or Women's Institute market? Or an enthusiast who keeps goats for a hobby from selling milk and cheese [having of course satisfied the Environmental Health Officer's requirements]. Or a beekeeper from selling honey? At what point would the producer need a license? And what would be the point?
A whole new visa of crippling bureaucracy opens before us - while traditional farming families, smallholders and enthusiastic amateurs wither away. The countryside becomes a waste of large factory farms and theme parks staffed by employees and run by the National Trust [or will they be confining themselves to presenting restored workhouses and tenements?], the RSPB and the like.
Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday described how the British fishing industry has been destroyed - a BBC programme on Hastings this week told the same story and also told how the few remaining fishermen there are being also strangled by licensing requirements requiring them to take and retake safety courses and other courses on a regular basis, in their own time and at their own expense. Against this background, this proposal to license farms sounds very ominous.
However wonderfully intricate our structure of service industries and financial services are, we cannot get away from the fact that it all depends on a good, reliable, healthy supply of food. Control of the food supply is a very powerful weapon. On the global scale, international companies [like del Monte, Monsanto and Tyson Foods] are increasing their grip on the means of food production, using patenting of seeds - including control strategies involving GM seeds - and perhaps biological warfare involving such as chicken influenza and foot and mouth disease: and America is subsidising its agribusiness so that it can use surpluses to destroy and disrupt local markets and allow penetration by their home based corporations. So what is our government doing, crippling and destroying our home based means of food production? One interpretation is that it is merely short-sightedly removing its traditional political enemies. Another might be that food imports are seen as being more easily controlled and manipulated than food produced at home by sturdily independent free citizens!