Saturday, November 19, 2011

Less of the 'us' and 'them'...

There have been a lot of strong opinions flying around lately, largely in condemnation of the comments on biodiversity made by NFU President Peter Kendall. I too have had my say on the matter and we must be wary not to take his words out of context. Kendall's  comments and the reaction to them has caused polarisation on an issue that requires measured and rational debate.

As President of the NFU Peter Kendall is an elected representative of the farming community-but whilst I'm sure there are many issues upon which you, I and Peter Kendall might agree it doesn't mean we will agree on everything, that is to be expected.

The nature of these comments has led to a flurry of blogging, commenting, writing and tweeting on the matter- many people were outraged and in the exchanges that ensued some accusations have been unfairly aimed at the wider farming community. I am writing this to ask people to consider whether some of the more loaded responses to the initial comments are any less shortsighted than Kendall's.

Some of the reactions have included expressions such as  "we as tax payers" and "we as consumers", farmers who have spoken out against Kendall have been called "dissenting". Dissenting from what exactly? The National Farmer's Union isn't the National Farmer's Army- let's acknowledge that farmers are a little more diverse and independent than they're being given credit for. Farmers don't tow a line based on their profession anymore than a nurse, a conservationist, a builder, a stripper or a florist.

We should also acknowledge that farmers too are consumers. They shop in the supermarkets you do, buy the brands you buy and like you they buy the best food they can afford with the budget they have. We must try to avoid the notions of 'us' and 'them'.

It's also important we take our hands from the reigns of power. Subsidies are publicly funded money and many members of the public (which includes farmers) gladly acknowledge the role this money has in maintaining the countryside we love, and we all crave sustainability.

Let's openly talk about biodiversity loss and animal welfare but the tone of insistence and demand that a few have taken following Kendall's comments have carried  hints of an anti-farming sentiment.

Such comments are just inflammatory. Public money should of course be spent how the public dictate but if you want a cheap loaf and an affordable pint of milk (and many of us do) then what we need to do is sit down and work out how we can achieve a wonderful ecologically rich countryside as well. Make sure your opinions and your shopping habits are aligned.

I find that implying that farmers should down tools and farm to the whim of a vocal view is what drives farmers away from negotiations and towards the perceived independence that farming for production alone could bring.

Farming on a small scale might not be economically viable for food production alone but it is we as consumers who have helped make this so with our demand for those cheap loaves, imported beef and suspicious sausages. Just as we don't blame the fishermen for the scarcity of cod in the oceans- let's not blame the farmer for the decline of the Corn Bunting. We need to share the blame for ecological decline  and let us share the responsibility of finding a workable solution.

So whatever your views on farmers and farming- feel free to air them, but think about what you say. And if you really want to be heard let your purses and wallets do the talking. If you want organically-reared rare breed beefburgers then buy them. Buy fair trade, buy red tractor, buy meat/don't buy meat, buy what you can afford, buy what you believe in and where possible buy British.

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