Private Eye

Even Newer Muckspreader/22 november

The latest brilliant wheeze from the Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) is to propose that farmers will only be allowed to continue farming under an official licence from the ministry.

This means that, if a farmer offends the ministry, its officials can put him out of business. Even to get the licence in the first place, the farmer will have to pass a test proving that he is 'competent' to run a farm. Not surprisingly many farmers have suggested that a similar test should be introduced for the ministers and officials proposing this scheme. It is after all being put forward by a government department which is now tacitly admitting that it has itself been breaking the criminal law on an unprecedented scale.

Last March, on the advice of Professor Roy Anderson's Imperial College computer, the Maffia introduced its "contiguous cull", under which millions of healthy animals were destroyed just because they were on farms within '3 kilometres' of premises infected with foot-and-mouth. As is explained in detail in Private Eye's Not The Foot And Mouth Report, the officials had no legal power to order such a scheme. They claimed as their authorisation the Animal Health Act 1981. But this only gives the minister power to destroy animals which are infected or which have been exposed to infection. As lawyers soon pointed out, this in no way justified the blanket slaughter of animals under the cull; and in over 200 cases where owners legally challenged the cull, the Maffia lawyers backed off. The last thing they wanted was to see their scheme put to the test of a court case.

But the final admission that they were acting illegally is contained in the Animal Health Bill currently being rushed through Parliament.

The Bill's chief purpose is retrospectively to make amends for this mass-criminality, by giving the Defra officials precisely the powers they claimed already to have last March when the cull was launched. It gives the officials the right to enter any premises, to kill any animal they wish, including dogs, cats and other pets, while denying the owner any right to challenge them. Not only will it become a criminal offence for the owner to question what the officials are up to. It will even become an offence not to give the officials any assistance they request in pursuing their duty. So if a farmer does not immediately carry out the officials' orders to the letter, the least he can expect is a reduction of 25 percent in compensation payable for the animals destroyed, at worst an unlimited fine.

A devastating legal opinion by Stephen Smith QC arguing that this Bill is in serious breach of the Human Rights Act can be read in full on the excellent FMD website In terms of concealing the full horror of what the Government is up to, it may also be revealing that the Animal Health Act 1981 is no longer available from Her Majesty's Stationery Office. When Struan Stevenson MEP, the Tories' agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament, was desperate to get hold of a copy, he applied to the authors of Private Eye's Not The Foot And Mouth Report. A copy of the Act was of course e-mailed to him at once. The Eye is happy to help those who are actually meant to be clued up about these matters.