June 2006

View from the Hill                                      28th May 2006


The government recently announced that full fat milk is no longer to be provided in schools.  Only skimmed and semi-skimmed are to be allowed.  Whole milk is 4% fat, an average glass of milk contains around 220 grams of milk, therefore approx 9g of fat.  An average packet of crisps, eg salt and vinegar flavour, weighing 25g contains 35% fat, therefore 9g fat per pack.  I didn’t hear an announcement restricting the fat allowed in a packet of crisps.  How many packets of crisps does the average child consume in a week, and how many glasses of milk?  Don’t forget the high levels of artery clogging salt in the crisps, or the calcium and other important life enhancing components of milk, like calcium, which is particularly important for teenage girls to encourage good bone growth, and to ward off osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, in later life.

I don’t particularly want to damage the crisp industry, I have friends who are potato farmers, however does our government really know what it’s doing when it takes such actions?


In 1995 the United Kingdom was 87% self sufficient in food, at the last count we were only 70% self sufficient.  In 1994 we had 476,000 acres producing fruit and vegetables, by 2004 this had fallen to 373,000 acres, a fall of 22%, during the same period the value of imported fruit and veg rose from £2 billion to over £3 billion.  The UK’s pig herd has nearly halved in 10 years, whilst the imports of pigmeat have nearly doubled.  10 years ago in its wisdom, our government banned stall and tether systems for sows, true it didn’t look very kind to the pigs, however those systems continued in Holland, Denmark and pretty well everywhere else. We are now in the ridiculous position that since the ban, we now consume more meat reared under those systems than we did before the ban, because our own pig farmers cannot compete with the cheaper systems run by our foreign competitors.  A fat lot of good that has done for animal welfare.


In 1995 Britain had a thriving beef export business, producing some of the best beef in the world; we produced 109% of what we needed then, exporting the surplus.  Today we only produce 71%, we now import huge quantities from South America where according to NASA more than 15,000 square miles of rainforest were destroyed in 2004 alone, mainly for cattle ranching.


My point is that this is an on-going process, the margins from food production in the UK are wafer thin, and if other opportunities come along such as energy crops, or reverting arable land to chalk downland, as some environmental schemes pay us to do, then the process will continue.  While energy is still perceived as cheap, and few people care about where their food really comes from and how it was produced, such as from GM sources, using agrochemicals not approved for use in Europe, or using growth hormones and production methods long outlawed here, then UK farmers and the food industry will continue to look for other more profitable business opportunities.


Later on in June we will be starting our annual campaign of wild oat pulling, we will be looking for enthusiastic workers who fancy a walk in the sunshine from 8 till 5, for a couple of weeks.  It often suits students who have spent the early summer cramming for exams.  Fresh air, a great view and a suntan all come included in the wage packet.  Please get in touch if you are interested.  We are also looking for grain store cleaners, I cannot guarantee a suntan or much of a view, but it is good hypnotic stuff, satisfying for some!

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