As first BSE and now Foot and Mouth Disease sweep through Europe, the consumption of meat is declining rapidly and meat producers start to freeze fresh meat so as not to lose money. Supermarkets offer bargain prices for pork, the meat most affected by Foot and Mouth Disease as prices of poultry start to rise to the double of one year ago in some countries. The meat industry starts to feel the effects of a decrease in consumption with Meat Exchanges seeing a sharp decline in prices. The European Permanent Veterinary Commission has recently imposed a ban of cattle exports from the Netherlands after Foot and Mouth spread from the UK (over 400 cases) and France ( 2 cases). Ireland also has one confirmed case of the disease. The Commission has also imposed a ban on the transportation of live animals within the European Union. In the United Kingdom, the latest figures are extremely pessimistic – the number of cases could continue to rise until June and veterinary officers have warned that it may be necessary to kill half of the country’s livestock. This disaster promises to become much worse before it gets better. The meat sector in the EU is set for a catastrophe, both for producers and retailers and the climb back up will be a long one. Once the public has changed its consumer habits due to loss of fidelity with a product, it takes a long time to convince people to change back. It is precisely due to the policy of treating agricultural produce as “products” which causes the problems in the first place. While it is admissible for, say, car spares to be mass-produced in a country where labour costs are cheap and make use of relatively cheap transportation costs to make the final product acceptable in quality and competitive in price, it is totally illogical to regard all sellable items with the same philosophy. Agriculture has always been at its best when production is local. The foodstuffs are fresher, they are better adapted to the local climate, they are freer of chemicals and are therefore healthier, green spaces are protected and people understand what they are eating. While it is true that such practices make the price of food a little higher, the consumers everywhere would rather pay 10% more for the food they eat knowing that it is safe. Why European pigs should eat cheap feed from the other side of the world defies logic when Europe has some of the best pasture. There again, the problem is that these days, animals do not eat pasture – they are fed on protein feed to produce heavier, meatier animals which reach maturity in ever-decreasing time periods. These practices are as wrong as the philosophy behind them. If the European Union’s farmers are not to become bankrupt and the population totally dependent on exports from outside, Brussels would do well to deregulate, something it is averse to doing. Let Eastern Europe take heed at the problems these countries will inherit from the EU after joining.
TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON
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