Farming Change - Coming Ready or NotMonday, Mar 19, 2001
Britain's Sunday papers, if they reflect UK general public opinion, show the magnitude of the shift
in the public's attitude towards UK farming and farming that is happening right now.
To view this shift as just a European phenomenon, with no relevance to New Zealand ignores the reality
of our own government structures and the growing assertiveness of groups demanding change towards
animal husbandry on NZ farms.
How will NZ farmers handle their next farming crisis - perhaps a heavy September snowfall across the
country - against headlines such as "The terrible cost of our cheap meat" or "Our fading appetite
for modern farming"? These are some of this weekend's British headlines.
The UK consumer does not like what they are seeing on TV and have objected to the BBC's lingering pictures
of tearful farmers' wives, which seem to have evoked something other than unqualified sympathy.
People are beginning to ask why we have to put up with all this? Who created it and why? Who
has benefited from it?
A UK headline posed it this way "MID the slaughter of livestock, the suicide of impoverished farmers
and the revulsion of consumers, is there an alternative to the way we treat our animals?"
New Zealand livestock farmers need to be prepared to convincingly answer this question because if animal
welfare standards change in Europe, NZ will also be facing the same welfare standards to qualify
However the really uncomfortable challenge to all UK farmers lies in the headline, "The farmers ruined
our countryside. Now we have a chance to take it back". This is not the statement of radicals but
a position taken as a rational response to what has become a totally unacceptable condition of
European agriculture. A food production subsidy system that now seems to be rightfully condemned by
all, for distorting sensible farm production methods.
The UK newspapers capped their contempt for farming with the statement "All these (problems) were brought
to us by an industry, which pollutes our water, abuses its animals and engages in the wholesale
destruction of our landscape, wildlife and archeological heritage. An industry whose practitioners
expect us to pay for all this through limitless subsidy and inflated food prices, and then object
to a right to roam".
There is a change happening that will affect future international trade in food to Europe. Particularly
meat and milk products. It will require more than being "clean and green" and won't wait for organics
to sort out its peculiar methods for sustainable animal production.
NZ livestock producers will be forced to respond to the consumer's wishes. Are our systems and structures
in place to give direction to our response to the consumer's demands?