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Planting the first seeds

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There probably isn't a single one of us here in Britain who isn't contemplating with horror the long term ramifications of the government's recent admission that the 10 cases of Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD) were linked to BSE, or mad cow disease

There probably isn't a single one of us here in Britain who isn't contemplating with horror the long term ramifications of the government's recent admission that the 10 cases of Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD) were linked to BSE, or mad cow disease.

But the issue isn't about whether vegetarian animals were fed animal remains, or whether the MAFF acted properly in loosening its regulations. It isn't even about whether BSE causes CJD.

The issue here is the inevitable outcome of violating every possible natural law in the means we've employed for intensive farming over the past 40 years. The Soil Association, for one, subscribes to the view, as our letter writer maintains (see p 8) that there isn't one single cause of BSE, but a number of factors. Besides feeding animal remains to vegetarian cows, the Soil Association believes that the use of drugs and pesticides like organophosphates depress an animal's immune system, leading to BSE, as do intensive farming methods of any variety.

And this may only be the tip of the iceberg. Just as AIDS, in our view, is not simply a single "bug" you can catch, but a complex immune system melt down caused by an variety of risky practices, so BSE and CJD may ultimately be found to be caused by every means we now employ of putting food on the table.

The answer isn't simply to slaughter our livestock and substitute Australia's or the US, but for us to change our expectations as consumers, which will ultimately force change in the marketplace.

As the Soil Association notes, there have been no known outbreaks of BSE in animals born in certified organic herds or in herds where full organic standards have been in operation since before 1985 and where no animals have been brought in from outside since that date. Those cases of BSE recorded on organic farms were not certified as organic or conceived and born within a fully organic system.

To meet SA standards, feeding animal material to herbivores like cattle and sheep is banned, as are the use of organophosphate insecticides. Certified organic farmers also ban highly intensive beef and milk production. It's imperative that the government adopt measures that will support organic farming methods.

But we also have to play our part. The farming industry is only responding to consumer pressure for huge quantities of meat and milk. It's time for us to eat less of both which are implicated in a variety of diseases, anyway and to insist on organic produce. As our letter writer says, changing the great use of pesticides and other intensive measures "will depend to a large extent on all of us being willing to buy vegetables and fruit that are not 'perfect'." Although, increasingly, organic produce is available, it is expensive precisely because we aren't shouting loud enough. If we really want to stop BSE, we've got to boycott carrots as well as beef. If we cannot afford organic produce, perhaps for a time we might consider growing our own.

All it takes to make sweeping changes are enough people willing to plant the first seeds.


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