Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Richard Bruce (AB27)

Submission re. The Agriculture Bill.

1. Background, My name is Richard Bruce, born to a farming family following my father, uncles and grandfather, making my life in the industry after starting with nothing but the clothes I carried and a bicycle, working my way from student to managing a dairy, arable and beef farm. Relatives were also trained in medicine or were Police Officers, military and civilian, which gave me an insight into matters directly linked to Agriculture, especially the effects of chemicals, after I was disabled by exposure to an illegal mix of insecticides.

2. Sadly the Common Agricultural Policy changed our formerly successful agricultural industry beyond recognition, allowing farmers with the most land to out-vote and undermine the future prospects of smaller holdings, often taking them over and removing the opportunities for young new entrants into the industry. The adverse effect on local communities has been dramatic.

3. I intended to comment on the whole Agricultural Bill but the 3000 word limit is very restricting and clauses within the Bill may nullify proposed promises for the future and may be used to impose draconian sanctions at a later date. Much of what is proposed in the Bill is therefore meaningless though, hopefully, when passed, it will enable price guarantees for produce so as to both provide some certainty of a return for the risk and investment for farmers and neutralise the power of the retailers, reducing the waste caused by broken contracts and their poor storage and use-by date practices. …………………..

4. Reliance on Science. Of concern is the claim to rely upon "Sound Science" but of course there is no such thing, because good science is always developing, changing with every new discovery - and most importantly it NEVER ignores evidence that is contrary to the preferred or popular view. Extreme caution should be employed when accepting as accurate any information upon which we then rely. The potentially dangerous situation where the agency approving the safety of chemicals also investigates adverse reactions must be rectified and access to the chemical data base for active ingredients must be accessible to the public in Britain - and its accuracy ensured. Additionally, in my farming experience so-called "experts" are frequently not as "expert" as they claim often giving advice and recommendations which harm businesses, health or the environment, rather than improving them.

5. As an example, as if anyone needs reminding, "experts" suggest the possibility of long-term blueprints for food production but if the last six months proves anything it is that all plans can be thrown into complete disarray by weather events, no matter what science, computers, and experts say, and progress is impossible no matter what fancy crops and machines are available. Remember too that to be of any use at all computer programmes depend on the programmer and are utterly useless if the programmer does not fully understand all aspects of the problem. I recall a former MAFF programmer telling me he was the only person in his office who understood farming - so he was sacked. Very strange, but in the real world weather and soil conditions control everything and the bigger the unit farmed the more vulnerable it is to such events, while smaller units can be protected against the spread of pests and diseases that could wipe out larger units in days. Years ago small farms would store at least a year’s supply of winter food as a precaution against late springs, poor summers and long winters. Larger units cannot do this. …………………

6. Public good. The duty of the government is to ensure the provision of enough safe and nutritious food to sustain the population and Britain has passed beyond the point where we can use the land for housing, recreation, transport, flood protection, re-wilding, and industrial crops yet still provide a secure food supply. In fact it is my belief that few of those making those decisions understand just how vulnerable we are to the quick failure of that supply. These things were understood by government after the World Wars but seem to be forgotten now, just as dig for victory proved the value of small production units during those wars. Clearly the promoted view by "experts" today is that bigger units are more efficient, but are they, given that pollution increases with stocking density and continuous cereal crops, and soils are being damaged?

7. CAP farm support favoured intensive units and the big estates but considerable damage was being done to the environment in the production of milk and wine lakes and grain, butter and cheese mountains until measures were introduced to protect the environment. Areas that had never been cultivated were ploughed up and I well remember the grants to clear hedges and trees and to drain areas never drained before, taking part in just such activities myself, until suddenly the mood changed in the corridors of power and grants were then given to re-plant those trees and hedges - too late to save vital habitats for wildlife and also introducing devastating tree diseases into the country with so much of our precious natural habitat lost forever.

8. Now environmentalists seem to have the ear of government and demand the re-wetting of drained areas as if this will improve the situation as regards devastating flooding that we have seen recently, but these so-called experts fail to realise that waterlogged soil cannot absorb rainfall and simple logic tells us that water pouring into a full bucket overflows and makes the floor wet. It is the same with the land - waterlogged soil sends the rain directly to the streams and rivers, just as roads and roofs and areas of concrete do - but all this is carefully forgotten by the "experts" who demand more immigration and more houses built on green belt land, preventing the water reaching the vital underground aquifers, triggering water shortages. As with the stocking rate for livestock there comes a point when the stocking density exceeds the capacity of the farm to sustain it and Britain reached that point long ago with vital services collapsing under the strain and overcrowding on roads and railways.

9. It is vitally important that we protect the health of the population by ensuring a safe food supply and, since we rely on imports because we cannot feed all of our population ourselves, unless we change our agricultural practices, we must ensure that imported food is produced to the same or better standards than here at home. Better because although it is claimed that our standards are high that is questionable. Reason being that our testing regime has failed to discover residues of illegal pesticides and antibiotics in food and even failed to discover the horse meat scandal in time to prevent the fraud. Clearly the claim for traceability from farm to fork is just a complacent attempt to reassure the public. Likewise the fuss over chlorinated chicken begins to sound unjustified when we consider that chlorine and fluorides are added to our water supply and dangerous insecticides are added, undeclared on food labels, to grains intended for human consumption. Again "experts" suggest that such insecticides "Break down rapidly" in water but this too has been proven to be completely untrue, with some failing to break down after more than five years in water. As always the authorities protect the chemicals and not human health.

10. As long ago as 1993 my then MP raised concerns about this and was assured that if any chemical was shown to harm human health the government "would not hesitate" to ban that chemical, but that is not correct. Pirimiphos methyl, used as an undeclared additive in food grains, was found to cause long-term harm to health in 1997 while last year, 2019, the organophosphorus herbicide glyphosate was found in court in the USA to cause Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They are both protected from being banned by governments which continue to ignore the call made by scientists in the USA as long ago as 1997 to immediately ban all organophosphate chemicals used in food production because of the known cumulative risk to children’s health.

11. Where is the "Sound Science" upon which the government intends to rely, especially when it is suggested that the use of genetically altered crops will be encouraged? The government should remember the law of unexpected consequences because science does not yet fully understand how genes react with one another. Warning signs are there since illnesses previously only seen in the elderly whose immune systems are failing are now seen in younger people, even in unborn babies. Who in their right mind would still try and convince us that the "experts" are always right when they cannot even admit to the known effects in the body triggered by chemical exposures? How much easier will it be for them to deny any resulting adverse effects from the modification of DNA? Remember the well-tested drug named TGN 1412 was a result of manipulating DNA and had been tested on animals but produced horrific effects on the human volunteers, despite much lower doses being administered. Some of the potential long-term consequences are completely unknown and it would be wise to ignore the pressures from the corporations involved, especially as it has been known for decades that some of the most commonly used chemicals damage the vital mitochondria which ensure our health and correct development..

12. In fact a far more profitable approach would be to make Britain a centre for research into this area in order to find better ways to work with nature to create a more organic production system on smaller more carefully managed units. Such holdings could ensure that the crops grown and the soils used were in balance. In some large fields parts will be good for growing some plants or varieties but not suitable for others. Smaller fields could be used to enhance production in this way. There is much talk about having to feed the world but this cannot be taken seriously when good productive farmland is buried under housing, roads, railways, airports etc., or used for industrial and energy crops such as are used in biodigester plants.

13. Additionally by using smaller fields, each with more uniform soil types, there is opportunity to create more hedges and ditches which will help to prevent the flooding we have seen in recent years. I recall being laughed at as a child when I said how important trees were for our planet. Local farms had many fields often separated by hedges and ditches which marked changes in soil type but now the ditches are filled, the hedges and cowslips are gone, leaving enormous fields. It is important to ensure good drainage on farms to allow room in the soil for the heavy rains we experience and this will allow the water to be more slowly released into the streams and rivers once the rain stops. Why farming is blamed for the flooding is a mystery since towns and cities fail to absorb any rain because of the vast areas of impermeable surfaces that cause run-off directly into drains, streams and rivers, increasing the risk of flooding. Just a centimetre of rainfall over an area of only 32 metres by 32 metres will cause a tonne of water to enter the drains. Just an inch of rain is a lot of water. I discovered this to my cost when Ministry "experts" managed to get their calculations wrong for a farm’s dirty water pumping system. As a result I spent hours carting tonnes of water with a tanker because the system was unable to cope with frequent heavy rain.

14. Adding to this problem is the failure to ensure that ditches, streams and rivers are cleared of accumulating silt and rubbish, which reduces the volume of water that can get away downstream without flooding. As mentioned earlier re-wetting marshlands and causing them to be waterlogged also means that the water has to flow off of them instead of being able to be absorbed by the vegetation and soils.

15. Interestingly Agriculture is blamed by scientists for many things, like BSE, TB, pollution and even Global Warming but is this purposefully designed to blind the population to the real causes in order to protect corporations?

16. Our farm’s dirty water system cost a small fortune to install and yet human sewage systems are designed to release sewage into rivers and seas in times of heavy rain. Many of the alternatives to meat, milk, wool and fibres from growing crops are actually very profitable for the companies making chemicals and plastics etc., but are they really better for our health or the environment? It is fascinating how cattle and sheep are blamed for global warming when the far more damaging human activities are ignored or claimed to be offset by growing trees. It is nonsense of course because cattle and sheep, like trees and grass are all part of the carbon cycle in which all carbon used is recycled, as has happened for centuries, building fertility in the soils which man has since exploited - but can fertility of the soils be maintained without livestock? I think not.

17. Over decades the structure of that legacy of fertile soil has been slowly degraded and the prolonged use of chemicals has drastically reduced the number and quality of the living organisms which keep that soil alive and healthy. For centuries the land has been dug and ploughed in order to bury the trash and diseases from a previous crop so as to provide a clean seedbed for a newly sown crop. Farmers were taught that good timely ploughing was essential if a profitable crop was to follow but with the advent of the chemical age all this was to change and ploughing made way for repeated applications of chemicals and minimal or no tillage. As I look out of my window at this moment water lies on the surface of fields that were not ploughed and the crops look very distressed. I was taught years ago that drainage is essential so that the roots can grow down to find the water and air can be in the soil. The last time drains were cleared here was when I did it by hand every year some 29 years ago. We spent a small fortune ensuring that the fields were properly drained and more than doubled production as a result. Government understood then and gave grants for the work. Local rivers have not been dredged for decades and many council ditches have long-since remained blocked, slowly disappearing while roads are easily flooded. Today people who have never done the work will suggest that drainage was all a big mistake - but if they succeed they will likely be very hungry before too long. The world is a step away from disaster because food reserves are very low. ………………..

18. Supply of Labour. No plans for the future of agriculture will succeed without the skilled workforce required to enact those plans and, increasingly, computerisation and satellite links using very expensive equipment means that experienced workers are required. These systems risk serious damage in the hands of the unskilled and, increasingly, older experienced workers are remaining in their posts because younger staff can find better pay for easier work elsewhere. Farming can be dangerous with long hours in often very unpleasant conditions and some employers expect their workers to devote their lives to the job, sacrificing time off and even working during holidays. The failure to value staff was demonstrated by the pressure to remove the Agricultural Wage Boards which had provided the minimum wages and controlled charges to staff. Effectively farming leaders themselves have made recruitment into the industry difficult but, as I found to my considerable cost, the failure to enforce the laws and regulations designed to protect workers adds to the dangers of the industry.

19. I do not anticipate any notice being taken of anything I might suggest, as I am aware that these consultations are just an exercise for appearance, but I have no doubt at all that advisers to Governments here and in Europe are taking agriculture to a very dangerous place, risking serious environmental harm and famine in the long-term. ………………..

20. In Summary my thoughts on the Agriculture Bill are that it is too complicated and too reliant on flawed expert opinion which ignores the fact that before we entered the EU we had a perfectly good support system for Agricultural production, food and trade at a time when science and governments were more honest and not controlled by corporate interests.

21. In my view short term advantage to major farming businesses drove the move to join the EU but then came the dismantling of the Marketing Boards which were designed to ensure good returns for growers and a reliable supply of good quality food. As a result smaller farms and those in areas of difficult terrain were allowed to fail, to the further advantage of neighbouring larger holdings, increasing their subsidy income.

22. It is clear to me that the current system is by no means sustainable or safe, as the country is too dependent on imported raw materials, imported machinery and labour, imported fuel and imported food to make up for the shortfall in production - and this current weather situation should serve as a warning to all that we cannot continue as we are and may face food shortages as a result. As a late friend told me many years ago "The real farmers are all in the Churchyard" - we urgently need to re-learn what they knew and understand how best to manage our soils for our future survival but that only comes with experience and we are rapidly losing those who have it.

23. It can only be hoped that those who make these plans for the future of agriculture truly understand the complexity of the science and environmental factors involved but I very much doubt that they do and that is a matter of grave concern.

February 2020

 

Prepared 25th February 2020