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Astrid Goddard suggests a new spirit of fight and determination may be in the air, as on Tuesday 13th November around 300 people from the Forest of Dean (Gloucestershire) and surrounding area unanimously backed calls to oppose the new "Animal Health Bill" and demand a full Public Inquiry into Foot and Mouth.

How fortunate I am to have been invited to the Forest of Dean Action Group FMD meeting in Lydney, Gloucester, last night, Tuesday 13 November. It was called to discuss the dreaded Animal Health Bill (which some are calling the Animal "Death" Bill) presently making its notorious way through Parliament as I write; the first reading took place on the 13th November.

As a guest of Bill and Sue Osborne, I was happy to travel from Cumbria, where the same experiences and fears for the future are common to Cumbrian farmers. Arriving barely in time for the meeting, I dashed to my seat and sat down for the meeting as it commenced.

The Chairwoman, Carole Youngs, introduced the platform (above) and the first speaker Janet Bayley of the National Foot and Mouth Group. Janet explained that the Government inquiries appear to have already formed their conclusions. She called for a motion in support of a full public inquiry, which was carried unanimously.

The next speaker was Stephen Alexander QC, from Class Law Solicitors. He explained that the firm wished to help and unite the businesses that are seeking compensation, having suffered problems as a result of FMD or abuse of human and/or animal rights.

He also presented a case for challenging the proposed Government legislation, which will allow the culling of ANY animal, including pets. If it goes through we will have no legal right to defend our animals, including much-loved pet cats and dogs. His message was that we must unite to fight.

Mark Harper - Conservative 2001 PPC for the Forest of Dean, told of his active support for the farmers and smallholders in the Forest of Dean during the Foot and Mouth cull. He has publicly denounced the new measures contained in the Animal Health Bill. A contrast was made between his activities and the inactivity of Diana Organ MP who appears to have little interest in attending such meetings. She was invited to last night's meeting, and apparently had to attend the House of Commons, although it seems unlikely that a debate on Railtrack, which was on the agenda, has as much relevance to her constituency as Foot and Mouth disease.

Barbara Jordan of Jordans Solicitors gave an impassioned speech about the need to resist DEFRA's nefarious activities and prevent further abuses of power. She was instrumental in the many pockets of resistance that fought to save healthy animals in the Forest of Dean. With her aid, Pat Innocent saved her flock in Lydbrook. If the Animal Health Bill had been law then, the chances are that Pat's flock would be no more.

Peter Woods MRCVS, of Vets for Vaccination, spoke of the need for vaccination and there was a fairly lively debate about what exactly vaccination would mean and what it would achieve. Peter argued his case for vaccination most persuasively. He has submitted his views and expertise to the Royal Society FMD inquiry.

Lawrence Alderson

Lawrence Alderson (pictured speaking) of Rare Breeds International provided a clear view of the need to save the dwindling rare breeds. An expert Geneticist; Lawrence was able to explain the implications of the National Scrapie Plan. The dangers he outlined must be addressed before it is too late and precious rare breeds are lost forever. There are sheep which have better nutritional and therapeutic quality meat, which are rare breeds, of possibly immense benefit to humans, and like the rare species in the rain forests, they may be lost before they even begin to be understood.

Dr Richard Lawson GP, a spokesman for the Green Party, spoke very clearly and in a calm yet very powerful manner about the disastrous risks to human health and our environment. It is evident that this Government's mis-management of the Foot and Mouth crisis may have damaged our physical as well as our mental health, for years to come.

Bill Osborne - a farmer of Lydney, Gloucester who has farmed for fifty years and is a true stockman who cares deeply for his stock. At the height of the Foot and Mouth crisis in Gloucester, Bill and his wife Sue moved from the family home into a trailer on their farm - in order to ensure total bio-security.

We are not talking American trailer homes here. I have seen the trailer with my own eyes, and it resembles a small horsebox! They are heroes of the Foot and Mouth crisis, having shown their practical love of farming and of their animals in the ultimate and most effective way possible.

Those cattle were only going to die if Bill and Sue were dead first! If the Animal Health Bill were law, this could have quite literally been the case! Bill told of his fears for the future of the small family farmer.

Robert Purdie NFU representative for the Forest of Dean also spoke. It says something for the calibre of the man that he was not shouted down like the other NFU members I have seen at similar meetings.

In Penrith, Les Armstrong, a local NFU representative, was almost prevented from speaking altogether. Robert writes a regular magazine column for The Forester on farming issues. A member of the audience spoke up in support of his genuine concern for local farmers.

David Handley of Farmers for Action spoke last. David has a very forthright and frank manner. He told us all in a 'no punches pulled' speech that we, the public, get what we deserve. It is up to us to boycott foreign meat, which is often disguised as British, and may be FMD infected. It is up to each and every one of us to fight the terrible legislation proposed in the Animal Health Bill.

David paid tribute, however, to the armies of 'bunny huggers' of animal welfare persuasion, not farmers - whom some have seen fit to criticise for keeping farm animals as pets. Yet they have made all the difference in keeping so many livestock safe from the DEFRA killers.

Floor speakers

This was a very upbeat meeting. A new spirit of fight and determination was in the air. As David Handley remarked, the likes of Beckett and Haskins are running scared in the face of the turning tide of public opinion. As well they might be.

Many members of the audience asked valuable questions or made useful contributions to the debate (left).
Two further motions were proposed :
  2:   To oppose the Animal Health Bill
  3:   To support the EU Strasbourg inquiries -- but they must come here to us,
as the Royal Society did, and take evidence.

No-one was against; there was only one abstention on the last motion... and it was mine!
I have no confidence in the "Europe" of the EU.

Unanimous vote

It is my personal belief that if this Bill goes through there will be a revolution. And many in last night's audience made the most of the opportunity to indicate their support for such action.

Perhaps the British farmers and public are not such a pushover after all....

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