The Crazy Logic of the Continental Food Swap
By Caroline Lucas
The Independent on Sunday,
25 March 2001, p. 15.
It is high time the debate about foot and mouth disease moved on from culling times, vaccination, army involvement, and the effects on election dates to the far more fundamental question of the malign role of meat imports and exports in this tragic fiasco.
Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), pointed the finger at globalisation, when he asked: "Is it a coincidence that we had classical swine fever in East Anglia last year; of an Asian origin, and foot and mouth now, also of an Asian origin? It raises questions about freer world trade."
In my report Stopping the Great Food Swap - Relocalising Europe's Food Supply, published today, I ask why is it that foot and mouth, a disease that doesn't harm humans and from which most animals recover in a matter of weeks, has virtually shut down the countryside, led to the mass slaughter of healthy animals, and crippled our tourist industry. The answer is: to ensure that we can continue to export meat in a world where politicians treat globalisation like a god.
Yet, according to the NFU, the UK earns £630m per year from meat and dairy exports. Compare this with the estimate of the cost of the foot and mouth epidemic of £9bn. This means that it will take more than 14 years of exports to match the cost of the damage done by the present "cull to eradicate" approach to foot and mouth.
The disaster now spreading across Britain and appearing on the Continent must result in a radical rethink of the need for an ever more international food trade. For it is this that exacerbates climate change, forces down food and animal welfare standards and contributes to disasters such as foot and mouth and BSE.
Over the past 30 years, the rise in the trade in meat, live animals and other agricultural products in and out of Europe has been dramatic, yet this often involves, simultaneously a reverse trade in precisely the same products.
The sheer absurdity of this "food swap" is shown by the fact that Britain imported 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat from the Netherlands in the same year that it exported 33,100 tonnes of poultry meat to the Netherlands. We also imported 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb, while at the same time exporting 195,000 tonnes and 102,000 tonnes of pork and lamb respectively.
Dramatically curbing world food trade and relocalising production must be central to the debate about transforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The chairman of the European Parliament's influential Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, the Green MEP Friedrich Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, has welcomed this approach.
He has asserted that this is a key issue for debate not just in Brussels, but also in the World Trade Organisation and in environment and agricultural ministries everywhere. Germany's new Green agricultural minister; Renate Kunast, has also demanded changes.
It is time to consider how we replace globalisation with localisation. The CAP must be replaced by a localist rural and food policy. Its goal would be to keep production much closer to the point of consumption and to help protect and rebuild local economies around the world.
As a member of the European Parliament's Trade Committee, I am committed to working to achieve this. It is the race for ever greater international trade and competitiveness that should go up in smoke, not our animals and the future for our farmers, tourism and the countryside.
Dr Caroline Lucas is Green MEP for South-east England.