WHY IS MAFF KILLING THE FARMING COMMUNITY?

The Western Morning News Monday, 11 June 2001

Farmer's daughter LEILA WINSLADE describes her anger at the Government and officials following the cull of her father's livestock and blames the crisis on official incompetence and a European conspiracy
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It is extremely difficult to put into words the anguish and frustration of the past few weeks. The injustice of the contiguous cull and the tears that I and my family have shed in recent days are some things I will never forget.

I can hardly think of my dad's cattle without crying and if I feel that way I can only begin to imagine the torment and desolation that my parents must be feeling. How does it feel for my dad to walk out to that empty yard? Silence, no animals anywhere.

Ever since I was a little girl we had cows. I remember helping my dad writing up charts, showing when each one was due to calf.

My father is a hardworking, honourable man, totally dedicated to his farm. His animals were checked twice daily. He never missed a single calving, just in case there were difficulties. He worked all day, every day. He never took a holiday. I know of very few people with his knowledge and commitment and I'm very proud of him.

When it was first announced that foot and mouth was in this country, my first thought was for my parents, and I prayed they would be spared. Last week, after days of unspeakable pressure by MAFF, his healthy herd was finally culled. Life will never be the same again.

I feel bitter, tearful, frustrated and helpless, but most of all I feel desperate to highlight what is happening in the countryside and I hope that others will realise before it is too late.

MAFF seem completely pre-occupied with the cull, not foot and mouth. Although there is a great performance made of disinfecting and precautions taken by MAFF for public show, I have heard endless accounts of slackness on site. Slaughtermen and those working on the pyres, where no precautions were taken. Many have returned home in the evenings wearing the same clothing. I know of one man who wore the same hat day in and day out to infected areas. He still has that hat in his living room.

Pyre workers were told to put down their white coats and take Easter off. I assume this was because it was not a pretty sight for the tourists. Surely if the Government were genuinely concerned about eradicating this disease these men should have been working overtime.

As my parents' animals were culled they were sitting in the local pub. Quite a famous pub, attracting many visitors. Imagine that. A farmer who has, just minutes before, herded his animals into pens for slaughter, animals considered to be dangerous contacts. Surely this man could have taken the disease with him, but no, there was no licence to restrict him to his farm as MAFF apparently did not think it necessary. How ironic! I conclude then that there was no risk and have spoken to several vets who have confirmed this.

It would seem that the culling of Britain's livestock is the key issue here. How it is done and for what reason is irrelevant.

This is not just a cull of animals but of farmers, for many of them have lost their lives. Many, like my parents, have lost their way of life, perhaps for ever. Some cases have actually left them dead, like the poor farmer who hanged himself the other day, not able to stand the pressure any longer.

Where have the animal rights people been? It would be logical to think these vegetarian, farm-hating concerns would be happy to see the end of livestock farming in this country. As long as they make no fuss about the cruelty and devastation of foot and mouth, they will be guaranteed their precious ban on hunting from "nice" Mr Blair.

I urge the town dwellers to think about why they like to visit the countryside. Surely, Devon has maintained its tranquil beauty because of its rural traditions. The rolling landscape with its sheep and cattle, the quaint farmhouses and yards full of chickens. The stone walls, the hopeful sighting of a wild animal. Farmers are the guardians of the countryside and generations of them have made this country what it is today.

I pose the question "What will it be like when the devastation of foot and mouth is finally understood?" If there are still farmers out there who are rubbing their hands in glee, in anticipation of a healthy compensation cheque, I urge them to think again. There may be no farming industry to go back into in months to come, for it seems that Europe would prefer Britain to be an arable state.

This Government has widened the gap between town and country dwellers, but also in past weeks has created a rift between farmers and those dependant on tourism. If Devon changes beyond recognition will tourists still want to visit?

Charles Kennedy came to Devon recently and asked for the silence of the media to be stopped. William Hague went to Cornwall. I am now awaiting Mr Blair's visit in great anticipation so that he may justify the barbaric treatment of my parents, their animals, and other farmers across the country.

Words cannot express the hatred and anger that I feel against Tony Blair, Nick Brown and their MAFF officials for their brutal and insensitive handling of my elderly parents.

Rumour has it that now the election is over the cull will continue, probably at an accelerated pace. I imagine other animals will go on welfare grounds and other farmers simply will not be able to continue. Scientists have declared from very early on that the contiguous cull was neither necessary nor effective, so why continue? What use is it anyway when the surrounding countryside is teeming with deer.

In my parents' case discretion could have been taken in the decision to cull. They had just two days until the herd would officially have been declared clear and healthy, and with no other animals within half-a-mile, there was no risk, so why? Anthony Gibson said on Wednesday that every farmer was legally entitled to a blood test. My parents were denied. Why? They were small organic farmers and conservationists and posed no threat to over-production, so why?

It would seem that a great opportunity has been seized to eradicate farming and rural Britain as we know it. Think, too, of those who currently make their living through agriculture, those who help with lambing, shearing, vets and auctioneers, to name but a few. What will they do?

What will my parents do now? Even my dad's dog would not venture into the yard for days after the cull. She didn't bark and is completely confused by the change in her 12-year routine. There are no animals for my dad to walk out and see any more, so he sits and waits. The devastation and emotional consequences of this traumatic ordeal has been seriously underrated.

This is not just about some animals which can be replaced at a later date, but about a way of life. Many, like my parents, have led a simple and insular life, but happy. They have spent the last few days trying to find things to do, their whole lives have been taken away, and for what reason? There is also a big environmental issue. What state will the landscape be left in after a period of no-grazing or hay/silage making? The damage could be enormous.

Also the vast sums of taxpayers' money spent on the disinfecting programme. Already my parents have had four or five visits it will apparently take ten men another three weeks to thoroughly disinfect their farm and at what cost to the environment? Ironically, the area where the original alleged outbreak started is grassland that will simply be left alone with any passing wildlife to walk freely across and move on.

I know of farm workers who are being lured by the fat wage packets on offer, to help with the slaughtering and disposal of animals this treachery will in time be recognised for what is it really worth to help destroy their own livelihood and that of their neighbours, too?

All those in the rural communities must unite together. Those who are driven by money only are part of the problem.

If the Government wanted rid of many farmers I wonder why they did not officially offer a legitimate redundancy package? I'm sure many who have struggled in the past years would happily have opted out. But for those like my parents who did it not for money but because it was their life and the only one they'd ever known, this is singularly the most tragic and unjust way of ending their days in farming. My heart goes out to any farming family that has had to endure this horrific, cruel, heartbreaking ordeal.

We may have lost the battle for my parents but, as far as I am concerned, and I know many are in agreement, the war is not over!

If MAFF get their way, they will cull the last remaining farms in Knowstone. This is mainly due to not one but three separate incidents of bungled culls, which had been carried out by MAFF and enabled them to slaughter every animal in the area.

Am I mad? Am I the only one who thinks this whole episode has been just too convenient for the Government?