Special report: foot and mouth disease---George Monbiot
Tuesday May 29, 2001 The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4194011,00.html
Had the ministry of agriculture set out to spread foot and mouth as far and
wide as possible, it could scarcely have done a better job. While refusing
to vaccinate susceptible livestock, it has been carting diseased corpses
through unaffected zones. Two weeks ago, Maff officials in Devon botched
their slaughter of a herd of bullocks so badly that the animals stampeded,
spreading foot and mouth to 12 farms. At the beginning of the month, the
disease arrived in north Somerset, allegedly on the boots of a farm worker
who had been attending a training course in Devon's foot and mouth
epicentre, which the organiser had forgotten to cancel. The organiser was,
of course, the ministry of agriculture. The course - which proves, I think,
that there is a God after all - was on vaccinating farm animals.
So it isn't hard to see why some people are claiming that the spread of the
disease through Britain is a government conspiracy. The obvious flaw in this
theory is that it credits the ministry with both a coherent strategy and the
capacity to implement it.
But we shouldn't be too hard on Maff, for though it's incapable of pursuing
a programme, it does at least possess an objective. As it first revealed in
1999, the ministry wants to cull all but a handful of farmers. The Labour
manifesto confirms that the government will use the opportunity provided by
foot and mouth to accelerate its human slaughter programme.
Maff argues that "consolidating" the industry into a few enormous farms will
help farmers compete in the global economy. For some time I've been arguing
that this makes no sense. Our tiny islands are being pushed into direct
competition with million-acre grain farms in Canada and Russia, and
million-sow hog cities in North Carolina. British farming will survive only
by recapturing local markets.
Labour's manifesto appears, implicitly, to recognise this, when it maintains
that "the economic hub of a rural area is often a thriving market town". But
joined-up government has seldom been New Labour's strength. What the party
of both globalisation and devolution refuses to accept is that globalisation
favours the centre at the expense of the margins.
Take a look at the map. London, for four centuries the world's great
beneficiary of globalisation, squats on the page like a perfect histological
diagram of a cancer, commandeering the nation's blood supply. Follow the
infrastructural arteries north and west and you'll see how the economy
drains into the capital.
You can travel from London to Holyhead without changing trains, but you
can't travel by rail from north Wales to south Wales without passing through
England. With the exception of the tourist line from Dingwall to Kyle, there
is no east-west railway service in Scotland north of Fort William.
When we see this pattern elsewhere in the world, we have no difficulty in
understanding what it means. In his remarkable book The Open Veins of Latin
America, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano points out that his
continent's infrastructure was developed solely to suck its wealth into the
ports, and thence into the colonial and neo-colonial economy. Even today,
Latin American governments invest massively in new roads to the ocean, but
fail to provide links between villages and market towns. Latin America,
Galeano argues, is so poor because it is so rich in resources: it has been
developed as an extractive economy. Its infrastructure is designed to leave
as little wealth behind as possible.
Ports, roads and railways in Wales were built with similar intent: to remove
coal from the Rhondda and slate from Snowdonia and to deliver English
travellers to Ireland. Transnational infrastructure favours those who have
access to economies of scale. As soon as slate and coal became cheaper
elsewhere, those parts of the Welsh economy which were competing in the
global marketplace collapsed. Caenarfon, surrounded by some of the richest
natural resources in the UK, has an average income of just over £4,000.
People whose economies are dominated by small businesses and local
infrastructure, by contrast, are doing rather well. Indeed, it's arguable
that the triumph of the service sector over manufacturing in Britain
represents the triumph of the local economy over the global economy. As the
peasant farmer and pamphleteer Simon Fairlie has pointed out, service
industries are principally local, while manufacturers must compete
Tragically, the solution prescribed by some of those who claim to defend the
victims of the colonial economy is more of the problem. When the A55 from
Chester to Bangor was upgraded 10 years ago, the people of north Wales were
promised it would bring them jobs. It has all but completed the destruction
of their residual economy.
As Friends of the Earth Cymru has pointed out, since the road was finished,
the three westernmost counties through which it passes have qualified for
funding reserved for Europe's poorest regions. It's not hard to see why. As
transport costs are lower than warehousing costs, companies have taken
advantage of the faster road link by centralising their depots in England.
The Post Office has closed its sorting offices in Bangor, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl
and Wrexham and moved its operations to Chester. British Gas has followed
it, while Northern Foods has shifted its factory from Colwyn Bay to
Tourists have shunned the A55 corridor: that visitors come to Wales to find
peace and natural beauty surprises only the transport planners. Superstores
have taken advantage of the new road to move shoppers out of town and into
their own hands.
But, like the British government, the champions of big business in Wales
refuse even to acknowledge this disaster, let alone to learn from it. Six
weeks ago Rhodri Morgan, head of the Welsh assembly, opened the extension of
the A55 from Bangor to Holyhead. The Bangor and Anglesey Mail marked the
occasion by predicting that the road would be "the key to prosperity". Sue
Essex, the Welsh environment minister, told the paper "it will spur the
economic regeneration of Anglesey as a whole, and Holyhead in particular".
On May 16, the same newspaper reported that Holyhead's economy has
collapsed. It is now in danger of becoming "a ghost town with tumbleweed
blowing down the street". A town councillor lamented that "if only 10% more
of the millions of ferry passengers that travel through the port every year
could be attracted into town it would be a great help". But the purpose of
the new road, of course, is to keep passengers out of town and shift them on
to the ferries as swiftly as possible. Big roads do to local economies what
superstores do to small shops.
Everywhere we are assured that bigger is better, that we will prosper only
by competing with the largest and fiercest corporations on earth. It's a
macho fantasy which has destroyed local economies all over the world. If you
want your farm or your region to thrive, then dig up the roads.