by Mark Brook

It is important to emphasise that I am not qualified to remark upon the methodologies employed in attempting to eradicate what may be Britain's worst environmental catastrophe to date. The incompetence of MAFF and other government departments - with the honourable exception of the Army - has been widely reported and to comment further on this aspect of the debacle would be futile.

Of equal import is my political impartiality. Criminals are not confined to any one particular credo. This would have been written, in light of recent events, irrespective of the government's designation and tenet.

I am no conspiracy theorist but take an active interest in not only current events but also reading well-crafted and researched novels of the "what if?" variety. The devastating portrayal of a victorious Third Reich by one of Britain's leading authors is anything but improbable: it would have happened had Hitler not become fatally obsessed with Stalingrad, an important manufacturing city but of minor strategic significance.

In the novel, reference was made to the METICULOUS DOCUMENTATION recorded by the Nazis concerning the 1942 Wannsee Conference and its subsequent implementation. Despite the intended secrecy of "The Final Solution," many ordinary citizens knew what was taking place but were powerless to help prevent the slaughter.

Thankfully, Britain has a proud democratic heritage, albeit hampered by the lack of a written constitution. It is inconceivable, at least to most people, that any malign "ism" or "ist" would be tolerated, let alone gain ascendancy, in a civilised, inclusive society.

Yet, there is a groundswell of suspicion that the current Foot-and-Mouth plague (henceforth abbreviated to FMD) may have been orchestrated in an attempt to force changes in agricultural livestock and land-management practices. If this IS the case - and it would be impossible to prove WITHOUT CORROBORATIVE DOCUMENTS - then our democracy has been perverted and trashed by the very agencies consigned to defend it.

Of course, to even think that any elected government would contemplate such draconian action, to facilitate what some may view as long-overdue reforms vis-a-vis farming, is tantamount to heresy. Yet, newspaper columns have been overflowing with innuendos of this very nature. Are these journalists genuine in their convictions or have they been instructed - perhaps under duress - to exaggerate, thereby ridiculing any notion of official connivance in what has been, probably, an unparalleled act of eco-terrorism?

The present administration's twin mantras of "modernise" and "reform" have found little, if any, favour amongst the rural community: there is no love lost between Westminster/Whitehall and The Countryside Alliance. More seriously, the protests taken by "Farmers for Action" last September presented the government with its gravest challenge since taking office.

It is possible that the aforementioned, coupled with contemporaneous images of rioting French farmers (whose tactics were to be emulated in this country during future campaigns), forced New Labour's hand. Ministers had little to fear from a barely cohesive parliamentary opposition, but the threat of renewed protests by countryside activists jolted them into contemplating measures hitherto unthinkable.

The missing phial of FMD Culture from Porton Down, MAFF/DETR overtures to heavy-plant machinery contractors and timber merchants, plus the drafting-in of additional veterinary staff, all having taken place at least two months before the disease was publicly confirmed, were no mere coincidences.

There is a wider dimension, involving plans to regenerate the countryside aided by cash incentives from the international bio-technology industry. Before the FMD Crisis, there was not only a shortage of land-sites for GM crop trials but also an unwillingness to participate in the experiments. Ironically, at present, there is plenty of empty countryside in Cumbria and Dumfriesshire. Shortly, parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire will also become available for the greatest agricultural scam in British history.

The Treasury will be faced with massive compensation claims which, without assistance from private-sector funding, could have serious repercussions for the UK's Balance of Payments, although this may be offset by the so-called "War Chest."

I suspect that many farmers, having lost their livestock, will be presented with very generous deals involving both state AND bio-tech corporation input which will place them under obligation of acceptance. Or, to put it in cliche form, offers that cannot be refused.

I do not know whether discussions took place between MAFF/DETR/Treasury officials and representatives from bio-technology corporations relating to aid-packages for those areas ravaged by FMD and if such meetings occurred BEFORE February 2001. Two questions arise: did these happen and what was the precise agenda?

I would agree that such an analysis of New Labour's motives, assuming their culpability, is worthy of any moderately imaginative novelist. However, the government has made no secret of its misgivings toward and lack of empathy with rural affairs in general and farming in particular.

I accept the possibility of governmental probity in light of a (hypothetical) current inquiry focussing on actions perpetrated by environmental extremists who came into possession of the missing FMD Culture phial. The loss of this item has not been denied by the MOD.

Unless there is a fully independent, non-partisan public enquiry into the FMD epidemic, rumours will continue to circulate and, in "chinese whispers" style, become increasingly corrosive and distorted. If investigations result in Government ministers and civil servants facing proceedings for criminal negligence, then confidence in democracy and the rule of law will re-emerge strengthened.

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