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'Perfick' plan is a grave mistake.

Byline: GEORGE TYNDALE

ANEW crop that will transform the Midland countryside has just been unveiled.

It's called countryside. Instead of being given subsidies to produce wheat, sugar and beef, farmers will be paid to sow weeds for butterflies, let hedgerows run wild and build beetle banks.

Their unwanted barns will all be converted to holiday lets.

This is the rural idyll foreseen by the Policy Commission on Farming and Food in a report that was set up to produce a greenprint for the future in the wake of the foot-and-mouth disaster.

It sounds perfick. But it overlooks something.

Food. Or at least the kind of food demanded by the vast majority of British consumers - the cheap sort.

It's demand from these families that ensures that millions of broiler chickens are kept in conditions so appalling that they need to be fed a diet including antibiotics to keep them alive.

The same folk insist on eggs so cheap that millions of hens are kept in tiny cages and never see the light of day.

They demand bread at such giveaway prices that tons of chemicals have to be poured on to fields of wheat to ensure it can be harvested at knockdown prices.

The Commission's vision says much more of the food produced in the new countryside should be organic.

This is commendable.

Except for the fact that in the real world, the people prepared, or able, to pay organic milk prices have already been catered for and hundreds of farmers who converted their herds to the organic system are now facing crippling losses. The plan of chairman Sir Donald Curry and his middle-class committee will feed that tiny proportion of the population who understand that safe, traceable food produced in systems that do not pollute the countryside or inflict suffering on animals comes at a high price.

And they are prepared to pay it. Everybody else will be supplied by imports either from farms in other EU countries where the governments are prepared to take full advantage of the subsidies that our Government declines or, worse, by Third World countries where food safety and animal welfare measures are a joke.

The real problems for British farming are not in the countryside at all but in the supermarkets where the culture of cheapjack eating has been fostered and where the philosophy of 'quantity, not quality' has its home.

By failing even to begin to address this issue, Sir Donald has condemned millions of people to a diet that is at best second-rate and at worst dangerous.

He has also condemned the Midland countryside to a future as a very pretty graveyard.

CAPTION(S):

BACK TO NATURE... the English countryside
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 3, 2002
Words:448
Previous Article:SAD SAGA OF A TROLLOPE.
Next Article:Inside Track: Don't pay too high a price for progress.


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