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Secret State 22: Mega farms – Owners? Directors? Donations?

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Drone footage and satellite images have recently revealed that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered. Disease spreads easily in such conditions and traces of the medication needed to prevent or treat the animals will be present in the meat offered for human consumption.

Who owns these companies? Who are the directors? Do they donate to party funds?

Why are there no official records held by DEFRA  on how many intensive beef units are in operation?
Government regulations  say that an environmental permit is needed if you operate any of the following:

-an industrial facility,
-manufacturing facility
-or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, eg:
-a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory

Why is government not requiring an environmental permit before their construction – and indeed consulting those in their neighbourhood?

A small section of a group of intensive units photographed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism/ Guardian

Though environment secretary Michael Gove said, in a parliamentary statement. “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country”, it’s here.

The Guardian and Bureau last year revealed that 800 poultry and pig “mega farms” have appeared in the British countryside in recent years, some housing more than a million chickens or about 20,000 pigs.

Following the revelations, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, pledged that Brexit would not be allowed to result in the spread of US-style agribusiness.

Readers who want to know the extent of this problem and the location of megafarms for dairy, pigs and poultry, may find this information by looking at the interactive maps produced by  Compassion in World Farming: The snapshots show information about intensive pig rearing in Gloucestershire, where the writer lives.

A Moseley reader draws attention to research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism establishing that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time. Sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were identified, the largest farms fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.

The practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and these findings raise questions over the future of British farming.

Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “Keeping large number of cattle together in intensive conditions removes all justification for rearing them and for consumers to eat red meat…

“More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.”

 

 

 

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Is Britain sleepwalking into a food crisis?

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Lawrence Woodward draws attention to Thomas Lines’ article in Open Democracy.

Extracts:

Originally policies were introduced to reduce price volatility and ensure that farmers had secure incomes, enabling citizens to have more reliable supplies of food.

Global concern with food security was reinforced by the big spike in cereal prices in 1972-74. Marketing boards – despite their name – took distribution and pricing essentially out of market hands, with prices negotiated year by year between all sides of the business

On May 8th the government ended its consultation period on a new agricultural policy for England. Revealingly, its policy document – calledHealth and Harmony: The future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’– has more to say about the environment than either food or farming.

In the eight chapters defining new policies in DEFRA’s paper, more than three times as much space is devoted to environmental issues (including animal health) as the economic ones which affect farmers’ and farmworkers’ own livelihoods.

But now few politicians see agriculture as of much consequence since it accounts for only 0.7 % of UK gross domestic product and 466,000 jobs, or 1.5 % of UK employment in 2016 (of which 302,000 in England). The countryside seems to matter more for its visitor attractions.

However, the state of agricultural prices and farmers’ incomes is worrying

  • From agriculture itself, the average farm lost £700 per year.
  • Even in nominal terms, total income from farming is less than half of what it was in 1995.
  • Farmers’ median age is 59 and one-third are over 65, with only 3 % under 35.

But to survive the end of EU direct payments, DEFRA offers only a pious hope, not a policy: “Removal of Direct Payments may be offset in a number of ways, including farm efficiency improvements and diversification, although this will vary by type and location of farm.”

Average income (£) from agriculture for cereal farmers, 2003-04 to 2016-17

Source: DEFRA, ‘The Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium’, p. 26.

However, because of corporate concentration, especially in retailing, the share of those prices received ‘at the farm gate’ is substantially less than it was.

Farmers are price takers, squeezed by powerful businesses on either side of their activity. Not only do they receive less of the traded price for their outputs than in the past, but the real prices of essential inputs for industrial farming, such as fuel, agro-chemicals and fertilisers have gone up sharply. (Table below added by editor)

The wider backlash against neoliberalism has not touched the sanctity of market mechanisms in agriculture, even though the markets that serve it fulfil their purpose of balancing supply and demand through the price system only fitfully.

in Britain, the urgency of the situation is seen in a chronically weak balance of payments, part of which is a deficit in food trade.  In 1984, before the CAP reforms began, the UK had risen to 78 % self-sufficiency in all food and 95 % in ‘indigenous’ foods, based on international prices. Ten years ago this had fallen back to 60 % and 74 % respectively and it has stabilised at around that level. However, when valued at ‘farmgate’ prices – those actually received by farmers – Britain in 2007 produced only half of the food it consumed.

The World Trade Organisation’s rules will not allow any return to measures ensuring food security

Marketing boards – despite their name – took distribution and pricing essentially out of market hands, with prices negotiated year by year between all sides of the business.  They started with the Milk Marketing Board in 1933, when market concentration had enabled dairies to force down the prices they paid to farmers – just as in recent years. The MMB ensured the production, distribution and availability of good-quality milk and dairy products at stable prices for over 60 years. These measures were allied with practical, free technical advice to farmers from a government agency. The economic principles of those interventions were sound, even though they accompanied the shift to industrial farming methods.

How can the higher farm prices and incomes needed for the sake of farmworkers as well as farmers be ensured?

Thomas Lines believes that DEFRA’s current proposals portend a serious crisis in English agriculture, which will be entirely of the country’s own making.  He ends: “If our farmers cannot afford to continue in business, who will feed the rest of us?”

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 17: Government agencies regularly fail to pay farmers for work done

Natural England – sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – is responsible for ensuring that England’s natural environment, including its land, freshwater and marine environments, geology and soils, are protected and improved.

The Farmers Guardian reported that in 2016 Natural England’s payment record was rated even worse than that of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) as it also failed to deliver the required Countryside Stewardship payments for work already done.

Its performance did not improve in 2016; farmers were kept waiting for their first Countryside Stewardship payment. Though Natural England had pledged to make advance payments to 2016 mid-tier and higher-tier scheme holders between November 2016 and January 2017, with final payments due between January and June 2017, the NFU said exasperated members were calling the union demanding to know why their payments had not arrived. Farmers Weekly understood that ongoing delays in processing payments were because of problems with IT systems and processes at Defra.

A spokeswoman for Natural England declined to comment on the number of 2016 scheme payments already made.

FW added that farmers are yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments for work done. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee was scathing in its criticism of the RPA’s failure to distribute basic farm subsidies whilst requiring prompt applications from farmers (below left).

The extent of the Rural Payments Agency’s failure to pay farmers in England on time and in full is now clear. The RPA paid only 38% of farmers under the Basic Payment Scheme on 1 December 2015—first day of the payment window—compared with over 90% in previous years.

By the end of January this had risen to 76%, but at the end of March 2016 there were still 14,300 farmers (16%) who had not received any payment.

Government agencies should honour their own injunction: don’t leave it too late.

Over 10,000 farmers who had received a payment had not been paid in full. Two thirds of the additional payments made to these farmers were in excess of €1,000 and were first paid in September 2016, over 9 months after the first payment should have been received.

Farmers Weekly reported in February this year that the RPA boss was ‘blasted’ over farm payment delays and mapping.

At a NFU council meeting on 30th January at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, farmers took RPA’s chief executive Paul Caldwell to task over BPS payment delays. More than one in 10 farmers are still waiting, according to an NFU survey (see “Survey uncovers extent of delays” right) – although the RPA’s own statistics suggests that figure is nearer to one in five. NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “When you look at current payment performance and the levels of outstanding issues from previous years you could describe the RPA as ‘just about managing’.

In March 2017, having received what Miles King described as a ‘verbal beating’ (Countryside Stewardship in front of the EFRA committee) Guy Thompson, Chief Operating Officer, left Natural England and now works for Wessex Water.

Natural England announced in the autumn that it would increase first tranche payments, traditionally paid in the autumn, from 50% to 75%, with the remaining 25% following later, reflecting payment reductions or penalties.

Missing payments have reduced cashflow, leading some to take out bank loans

According to farm leaders, many claimants are still waiting for that first payment, with some now being forced to take out bank loans because of their resulting cashflow difficulties. Max Sealy, NFU county delegate for Wiltshire and a consultant with the Farm Consultancy Group, said some farms were waiting for substantial sums of money for work which they had already completed.

“What we need is clarity on the situation and better communication,” he said. But a Natural England spokesperson declined to clarify how many payments were still outstanding and when farmers could expect to see them.

Farmers who have signed up to Countryside Stewardship, or still have an old Higher-Level or Entry-Level Stewardship agreement, have yet to receive the first tranche of their 2017 payments. Farmers Weekly reports that farmers want to know when they can expect to receive their agri-environment scheme payments, with ongoing delays leading to budgeting problems and growing resentment about the way the schemes are being managed.

The Farmers Guardian then reported that Defra is to transfer delivery of the Countryside (agri-environment) Stewardship scheme from Natural England to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) – more confusion?

NFU Deputy President Guy Smith (right) said:

“The Countryside Stewardship scheme has been plagued by poor delivery from its launch in 2015 and the NFU has been raising these concerns from day one. It seems almost every day we have complaints from members about the muddled application process, wrong maps, moving goalposts, late start dates and delayed payments. All this has undermined farmer confidence in the schemes leading to very poor uptake. Plans to improve delivery have to be welcomed but until we see improved delivery we will withhold judgement.

“I know many farmers will not be reassured that delivery is moving from NE to the RPA, which is notorious among farmers as the organisation which comprehensively screwed up the payment of the as then new Basic Payment Scheme back in 2014. A highly complex new IT system was commissioned to enable farm payments to be moved online. 7 years later the system is still not working properly.

Conservationist Miles King went further, calling for the abolition of the Rural Payments Agency before the introduction of the government’s England Agriculture Policy which is expected to be published this spring: “We need a publicly-funded independent champion for nature (as Natural England was intended to be when it was set up) and a new body which will deliver the public goods for public money”.

 

 

 

 

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Taxpayers unwittingly fund GM trials as the prospect of leaving wiser European counsellors looms

Will agri-business be allowed to charge ahead, imposing genetically modified food on an unwilling public?  

This is Rothamsted research centre, one of the country’s largest agricultural research stations.

The work is publicly funded through a £696,000 grant from the government’s UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and $294,000 from the US Department of Agriculture. Other partners include the universities of Lancaster and Illinois.

https://gmandchemicalindustry9.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/taxpayers-unwittingly-fund-gm-trials-as-the-prospect-of-leaving-wiser-european-counsellors-looms/

 

 

 

Corporate/political interests threatened by the public support for Corbyn’s caring policies

The corporate world continues to make vitriolic but insubstantial attacks on the Labour Party leader, whose approach threatens their unreasonably affluent lifestyles.

corbyn a threat graphic

Brief reference will be made to arms traders, big pharma, construction giants, energy companies owned by foreign governments, food speculators, the private ill-health industry and a range of polluting interests. One reflection on each sector will be given here – of many recorded on our database:

Arms trade

Steve Beauchampé: “A peacenik may lay down with some unsavoury characters. Better that than selling them weapons”. The media highlights Corbyn’s handshakes and meetings, but not recent British governments’ collusion in repressive activities, issuing permits to supply weapons to dictators. In the 80s, when lobbying Conservative MP John Taylor about such arms exports, he said to the writer, word for word: “If we don’t do it, someone else will”. Meaning if we don’t help other countries to attack their citizens, others will. How low can we sink!

Big pharma

Theresa drew attention to an article highlighting the fact that the Specialised Healthcare Alliance (SHCA), a lobbying company working for some of the world’s biggest drugs and medical equipment firms, had written the draft report for NHS England, a government quango. At the time, the latest attempt at mass-medication – this time with statins – was in the news. The world’s largest manufacturer of low-cost vaccines said that British taxpayers are paying for excessive profits earned by big Western drugs companies.

Construction

Most construction entries relate to the PFI debacle, but in 2009 it was reported that more than 100 construction companies – including Balfour Beatty, Kier Group and Carillion – had been involved in a price-fixing conspiracy and had to compensate local authority victims who had been excluded from billions of pounds of public works contracts. The Office of Fair Trading imposed £130m of fines on 103 companies. Price-fixing that had left the public and councils to “pick up the tab”.

Utilities

The Office of Fair Trading was closed before it could update its little publicised 2010 report which recorded that 40% of infrastructure assets in the energy, water, transport, and communication sectors are already owned by foreign investors. In Utility Week News, barrister Roger Barnard, former head of regulatory law at EDF Energy, wondered whether any government is able to safeguard the nation’s energy security interests against the potential for political intervention under a commercial guise. He added: “Despite what the regulators say, ownership matters”.

Food

A Lancashire farmer believes that supermarkets – powerful lobbyists and valued party funders – are driving out production of staple British food and compromising food security. She sees big business making fortunes from feeding the wealthy in distant foreign countries where the poor and the environment are exploited, also putting at risk the livelihoods of hard working British farmers and their families. Large businesses are gradually asset-stripping everything of value from our communities to make profits which are then invested abroad in places like China and Thailand. She ends, “They do this simply because they have the power to do so”.

Pollution

Government does not act on this, appearing to prioritise the interests of the corporate world. The influential transport lobby prevents or delays action to address air  pollutants such as ground-level ozone and particulates emitted by cars, lorries and rail engines which contribute directly to global warming, linked to climate change. Last November a report found that waste incineration facilities and cement plants across Europe, had seriously breached emission limits. Intensive agriculture’s lavish use of insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers has also released harmful chemicals into the air, in some cases causing water pollution. Manufacturing industries and petroleum refineries produce carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, organic compounds and chemicals which pollute the air. Children in areas exposed to air pollutants commonly suffer from pneumonia and asthma. The burden of particulate air pollution in the UK in 2008 was estimated to cause nearly 29,000 deaths. DEFRA’s report for 2013, however, does not refer to health impacts, though admitting serious levels of air pollution.

Some features of the corporate-political nexus summarised: victimised whistleblowers, media collusion, rewards for failure and the revolving door

  • Rewards for failure cover individual cases, most recently Lin Homer, and corporate instances. Capita, according to a leaked report by research company Gartner was two years behind schedule with its MoD online recruitment computer system – yet the government contracted to pay the company £1bn over 10 years to hire 9,000 soldiers a year for the army.
  • The 74th instance of the revolving door related to Andrew Lansley’s move from his position as government health minister to the private health sector. An investigation by the Mail found that one in three civil servants who took up lucrative private sector jobs was working in the Ministry of Defence. Paul Gosling gives a detailed list of those passing from government to the accountancy industry and vice versa.

As Steve Beauchampé reports (link to follow), there is a coterie of arch-Blairite, anti-Corbyn Labour MPs who never accepted the decisive democratic mandate Corbyn secured last autumn:

JC large rally

“Mann’s very public intervention can be interpreted as a calculated move to undermine the party’s electoral chances this Thursday . . .

“Realising that they have at best 4-5 months to try to oust him before reforms anticipated at this September’s party conference transfer crucial powers from the party hierarchy into the hands of members, the forthcoming elections will be used by Corbyn’s adversaries as an excuse to try and replace him”.

Will increasingly media-sceptical people – who support Corbyn because they seek the common good – hold firm?

 

 

Britain’s food security: dairy farmer sets out concerns for minister

As Northern Ireland farmers combine to continue their cross-party diplomacy MP Nigel Evans has been contacted by his constituent, a Lancashire dairy farmer.

richard arkless SNPThe message opens by referring to a question by Richard Arkless (SNP Dumfries & Galloway) on the 29th January to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asking what steps the Government is taking to support milk producers in ensuring milk prices in supermarkets are maintained.

George Eustice (minister for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment) responded that the government is supporting the farming industry by reducing red tape. The farmer corrects this answer:

“This is untrue in the case of dairy farmers whose financial risk and responsibility is great and whose product is highly perishable”.

“In fact, dairy farmers are increasingly being required to spend precious time producing statistical information of little worth other than to help meet the targets of individuals within large and powerful organisations whose employment is indirectly funded by taxpayers or by compulsory levy imposed upon producers”.

The minister referred to a £26.6m aid package for the UK from the EU – a one-off, flat rate payment linked to milk production – administered by DEFRA’s Regional Payments Agency.

richard arkless RPA computerDid it arrive? FG Insight reports that once again,Thousands of farmers across the UK are suffering frustrating and, in some cases, crippling waits for their new Basic Payments as administrations to struggle with the new scheme.”. A Freedom of Information request reveals that nearly 8,927 farmers have been placed in the late payment tranche alongside 4,722 commons farmers, 379 cross-border claims and 342 with ’multiple issues’. It revealed that the assessment about these payments had been made back in August. Computer Weekly confirms that – after successive software releases failed to resolve problems – a £154m system to process claims for EU subsidy payments to farmers hit problems has forced applicants to resort to paper forms.

Our farming correspondent points out that the RPA will be fined by the EU for this delay at British taxpayers expense, if deadlines are not met.

Describing the ‘solutions’ offered by industry advisers and financial institutions, encouraging farmers to increase borrowings, expand herd sizes and increase production, it is feared that these will “intensify an already precarious situation, as efficient non-aligned British dairy farmers struggle to meet ordinary running costs let alone make essential reinvestments”.

The Lancashire dairy farmer ends, “For dairy farmers, real progress and growth does not come from individual enterprises ruthlessly undercutting and competing with each other to counter inappropriate commercial or government interference, but by ebbing and flowing with the tide and doing what is best in their own district for their own farm, their own family, their own animals and their own environment, with the resources available, as an integral part of the wider rural community”.

 

 

Owen Paterson-fronted GM onslaught: defanged by leaked encyclical?

owen paterson on return from chinaFormer Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson [right] once again trots out tired myths about the virtues of genetic modification of crops.

He is said to be assisted by his brother-in-law, Viscount Matt Ridley, a genetic scientist who is a visiting professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York which has received funding from Monsanto and Novartis. His long-term support for the technology, first highlighted in a ‘civilian’ September 2012 speech at the Rothamsted Research facility, inviting GMO innovators to take root in the UK, was followed by his DEFRA appointment.

monsanto logo (3)Monsanto (renamed in Windscale damage limitation mode) plans a British HQ for its new company – if it can acquire Syngenta.

Minister Paterson, in partnership with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, financed by GM companies Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer CropScience, frequently lobbied the EU on the desirability of GM crops. Last April he refused a Freedom of Information Act request to supply details about meetings between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the GM industry trade body. He had to leave DEFRA, having extolled Britain’s shale gas reserves, ‘an unexpected and potentially huge windfall’, and mishandled the summer floods and badger culls.

uk2020

He then set up a think tank UK2020. Millionaire-founded, it steers clear of direct funding from GM industries but vigorously promotes the technology at events such as last year’s South African agricultural biotechnology media conference, hosted by ISAAA which receives donations from both Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.

Murdoch’s Fox News: “the most anticipated and feared papal document in recent times”

Farming Weekly Online reports the thoughts of Pope Francis on GMOs and pesticides, voiced in the draft of this major environmental document. He has called for a “scientific and social debate” on genetically modified foods that considers all the information available. He highlighted “significant problems” with the technology that should not be minimised, such as the “development of oligopolies in the production of seeds” and a “concentration of productive land in the hands of the few” that leads to the “disappearance of small producers”.

Brian John commented: Religious leaders — of all faiths — have been very slow to enter this debate, partly because they have been put under intense diplomatic pressure by the GMO /agrichemical industries and by the US and other governments.

The GMO industry, and its acolytes, bang on all the time, quite cynically, about GMOs being needed to “feed the world” in a future full of uncertainties – nonsense of course.

The Pope’s intervention at this stage is of vast significance.

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Milk, fruit and vegetables will eventually be imported, unless British food producers are fairly paid

milk farmers leaveThough 80% of all milk produced in the UK is consumed domestically, the NFU attributes the fall in price to the sanctions on Russia and weakening demand in Asia.

The FT reports that Asda also justified the low prices paid to farmers saying they were set by global supply and demand.

WHY?

First Milk, the farmer-owned group, one of the UK’s biggest dairy co-operatives, has suspended payments to around 1,200 farmers for two weeks. The company said that returns had fallen 50% in the past year and yet – the FT reports – farm costs are 36% higher than they were in 2007 and the single largest cost component of a dairy farm, animal feed, is more than 50% higher.

milk price fall                      Sources: Defra, DARD & DairyCo

A table from an 2007 overview: Snapshot of farming in the UK, on the BBC website (below), will be of interest to readers news to the subject. Recent price cuts mean that farmers are facing milk prices of just 20p a litre, the lowest since 2007 according to the NFU said, but the following graph indicates an earlier date.

milk prices graphmilk prices graph addendumMilk is now cheaper than bottled water, according to research by The Grocer, which recorded four-pint bottles of milk being sold for 89p by supermarkets Asda, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland.

‘Fiddling while Rome burns’, DEFRA promotes involvement with the volatile global casino: “It is important to remember that the long-term prospects are bright with exports at record levels.”

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Is there any future for those who produce perishable food and are currently held to ransom – unless they join forces and demand prices covering production costs?

Has science has become a dishonourable profession?

WHEN DO SCHOLARS BECOME ADVOCATES?

 

Colin Tudge writes:

I keep coming across the same phenomenon: scholars of all kinds, but especially scientists and economists, no longer seeking dispassionately after truth as they are generally understood to do, but using their talents and their education to defend the status quo – the prevailing economy and mode of government and the ideas that lie behind them, moral and otherwise.

They do this even though it is obvious to all thinking people that the status quo will not do. Indeed, there is an ever-mounting pile of government reports, paid for by us, proclaiming that we must change our ways – although “we” always means the populace at large; not, obviously, our leaders.

Yet those same reports, by various sleights of hand, invariably finish by recommending more of precisely what we have now — as in Sir John Beddington’s The Future of Food and Farming, 2011, which has become the urtext* of British agricultural strategy.

Scholars of a certain kind, especially those who seek to climb the greasy pole, see it as their role in life not to find out what is actually true, and still less to ask what is good for humanity and for the biosphere at large, but to promote the ideas and the interests of whoever has most power and/or pays their salary. Of course, it’s fine to be an advocate if you upfront about it, and wear a little wig to advertise your status. But the moral position of advocates who masquerade as seers and defenders of truth is highly dubious.

It is tempting to suppose that the scholar-qua-advocate is a new phenomenon: after all, academe now depends to a greater and greater extent on grants from corporates, who now drive the world’s economy, and hold the whip hand over governments. So scholars who aspire to the greatest wealth and positions of influence are more or less bound to support the neoliberal economy in which the corporates flourish. But actually it isn’t new. Monarchs and their equivalents have always employed intellectuals to help to justify their actions. So it is in Shakespeare’s Henry V Act I Scene II, where the Archbishop of Canterbury proves at least to his own satisfaction and with reams of gobbledegook that Henry has a perfect right and indeed a duty to invade France.

So it was too that towards the end of the 19th century (1879) the American economist Henry George wrote Progress and Poverty, in which he explained how private ownership of land, and the accumulation of vast wealth without the need to work simply by owning land in the right places, explains why poverty increases while societies as a whole grow richer. Rich societies over time tend to become less and less egalitarian as the wealthy use their wealth to become even wealthier – so that, paradoxically, the increasing wealth of societies causes poverty to increase.

We have seen this phenomenon writ large in Britain over the past 30 years. Once this is pointed out, it seems blindingly obvious. In the late 19th and early 20th century it was obvious too to intellectuals and politicians the world over, who hailed Henry George as the saviour of civilization, as indeed he might have been. But his ideas threatened the hierarchy. They required the very rich to become less rich, and to work for a living. Other intellectuals and politicians then rallied to the cause of the ruling caste and systematically side-lined George’s teaching until he was air-brushed out of history even more effectively than Stalin suppressed the memory of Leon Trotsky.

Nowadays, such air-brushing is clear to see. So, for example, scientists too eminent to ignore who dare to question the wisdom of GMOs, on whatever grounds, are actively done down. Other scientists appear mysteriously out of the woodwork not simply to deride the mavericks but also to question their general competence as scientists.

I have witnessed this taking place, not least at a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology at the House of Lords, where Gilles-Eric Seralini presented work showing that rats fed on herbicide resistant GM-maize and the herbicide itself developed more cancers over a two-year period than those fed on conventional fare.

At the APPG meeting, scientific critics who professed to be “independent” (though in truth, financially independent scientists are a very rare breed) questioned Seralini’s statistics in coruscating detail. Everyone who knows anything about statistics knows that such cavilling is always possible. We can always argue, for example, about the appropriateness of a particular algorithm of statistical analysis in particular cases. The cavils by themselves mean nothing. The point is simply to repeat the work and/or apply different analyses, and so and so on.

The Hungarian philosopher of science Imre Lakatos pointed out too that new ideas in science are extremely delicate – they don’t have a huge weight of data behind them precisely because they are new; and so, like seedlings, they must be treated tenderly. But when mavericks like Seralini come on the scene the critics turn out in force not in a spirit of humble inquiry but to put the boot in, to stamp out the heresies before they even have a chance to see the light of day, while seeking to blind lookers-on with esoteric maths, reminiscent of the late archbishop’s appeal to Salic Law. It is a most unedifying spectacle. But it is the norm.

The most recent example to come my way was at the August meeting of the Savory Institute in London. It was on what Allan Savory calls Holistic Management, which in large part means the management of grassland and of the herbivores that graze on them in ways that steadily increase the carbon content of the soil. His techniques have been tried the world over – in North and South America; Africa (Savory himself is Zimbabwean); Australia; and China. The results have been extraordinary – the barren uplands of Ethiopia and the crumbling, bare, loess hills of China, transformed within a few years into lush savannah, without irrigation and all the problems it brings; indeed without civil engineering of any kind except some terracing. Contrariwise, farmers in the US whose land habitually flooded have found that if they manage the higher ground as Savory recommends, the floods no longer occur.

With Britain already caught up in an escalating cycle of flood and drought (almost certainly related to global warming despite the deniers) it seems obvious that Defra and BBSRC ought, if they are truly to justify their support from the public purse, to be taking such ideas very seriously indeed. Overall we ought to be taking water as seriously as the Dutch have done since the Middle Ages and the Arabs did in Mediaeval Spain. But David Cameron’s great contribution during the floods of a few months ago was to promise unlimited sand-bags (until they run out) and, very properly, to praise the heroic efforts of the rescue services, including the army. Since then we have more discussion on the cost of drains and sea-walls and the rest but no discussion at all as far as I can see on possible changes in agricultural practice – even though there is abundant evidence worldwide and through all of history, and not simply from the Savory Institute, that agricultural practice is key to water management.

In short, with 10,000 years of agricultural experience behind us and all the fabulous resources of modern science, we are repeating the mistakes of all the civilizations of the past that brought out their own demise through lack of land management. Yet all the government has to offer is more of the same, while the upper echelons of academe continue to defend the corporate-government coalition that runs the world, with appeals to market forces to make us richer so we can eventually build more drains and sea-defences.

It won’t do. Intellectuals who seem content to be advocates should, as they say in Yorkshire, think on. People at large should be very angry – much angrier than they seem to be at the sheer awfulness of present day governance and the complaisance of academe. Above all, though, we must take matters into our own hands. We must bring about the Renaissance despite the powers that be. It’s sad that this should be the case, but it is.

Colin Tudge, Wolvercote, August 4 2014.

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*An original or the earliest version of a text, to which later versions can be compared.

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Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude: calamitous errors of judgment – minor and major

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who sees himself as a ‘moderniser’, lauding the government’s IT prowess, has faced several less-than-creditable charges according to his Wikileaks entry. After recruiting Tony Caplin, who recently resigned as head of the Treasury’s Public Works Loans Board, Maude has made a far more serious mistake.

Despite David Cameron’s Davos commitment to ‘reshoring’ British jobs, Francis Maude has appointed an offshore and outsourcing expert, Peter Swann, to supervise the export of jobs of civil servants who provide back-up facilities such as pay roll and contract details to Whitehall offices.

David Hencke records in the Tribune that these jobs handling sensitive personal pay roll details, and possibly criminal and police records, are to be moved offshore by private companies under a Cabinet Office initiative to save money.

A rising star

steria logoUnder Swann’s leadership, Steria, a French international company with a presence in India, has a joint venture with the Cabinet Office: Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL) – its slogan: ‘a Trusted Transformation partner’.

The latest news on Steria’s website is that the Council of the European Union’s General Secretariat has chosen the company to secure its internal communications networks.

SSCL has already taken over back offices across the country for the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Environment Agency. It is now looking at taking over work at the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.

steria values

Within a year, it started a closure programme of sites affecting more than 500 jobs in Sheffield, Cardiff, Newport and Leeds and is looking to relocate the work to India. Other centres such as Blackpool, Newcastle, Peterborough and York will also lose staff.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “It will be a major blow for local economies losing hundreds more jobs . . . The Government should act now to keep these jobs in the UK, rather than attempt to cynically exploit the inferior pay and employment conditions that workers abroad face.”