British Law and Administration
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No doubt the actual laws and regulations governing farming and food in Britain are long, complex, highly technical and specialised. However, a few general statements can be made about them:-

  1. One of the fundamentals of British law is that, unless something is forbidden, then everything is allowed
  2. Generally, the government and its agencies try to operate by consultation and consent
  3. The farming industry, along with most of the rest of the activities in the UK, is supposed to be self-regulating
  4. Most of the technical regulation (such as inspection of number of chickens in a pen, inspection of work done under subsidies, crop testing and so on) was previously done directly by Government departments, but is now usually sub-contracted to specialist agencies.
  5. As I write this, unusually, a farmer is being taken to court for a large number of severe offences. His defence will probably be that he is being made a scapegoat for the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which seems to have originated on his farm. Either farmers are seldom prosecuted, or it is seldom reported.
  6. One of the main pre-occupations of the Government (DEFRA) seems to be to increase the British 'share of the cake' of the agricultural subsidies from Europe, to generate the correct regulations for these, and then to organise the payment of these subsidies to the British farmer
  7. Britain has traditionally had a 'cheap food policy' since the Second World War, especially for staple foods. The Government has subsidised many foods, partly to stabilise prices for the farmers, and partly to prevent unrest among the population and to improve health and productivity. Conversely, alcohol and tobacco have been punitively taxed to try to discourage them, and also to generate income from 'addicts'
This general approach in British law has its virtues - you are generally allowed to do what you want as long as it is not forbidden. This is easy to understand, to communicate and administer. It is the perfect system when everyone is acting responsibly ! However, if a certain percentage of the population (whether vandals, trade unions or farmers) STOP acting responsibly, or stops self-regulating, then it is possibly the worst system possible.

If one farmer really DID cause the foot and mouth disease outbreak, due to a catalogue of stupid or dangerous actions, then where does this leave the British type of system ? If there were more and tougher inspections, it would cost millions, but, the costs because of 'one bad apple' has been many millions more. How many more bad apples are there, and what sort of system can deal with them ? (How did foot and mouth disease return, when it was thought to have been eradicated ?)

The general consequence of this is loss of confidence. A farmer can inject his animals with a different antibiotic every day, and spray his crops with whatever he wants every week. The consumers generally trust the farmers to do these correctly and at the right time. But what if they don't do it correctly ? How can you recognise a poisonous residue of 10 parts per million ? As farmers are able to do more and more treatments, then trust might decrease. When packages sit on a supermarket shelf, you can't tell the difference between a crop that was sprayed once, and one that was sprayed 20 times, nor between genetically modified and traditional crops.

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