Furious farmers ready for drugs phone-in

By Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian, 8 May 1979

Farmers and butchers are furious over the colour photography of a piglet, on the cover of the current Radio Times, with the caption “meat and poultry may seriously affect your health.

The photograph advertises the BBC-2 programme Brass Tacks, tonight devoted to the increasing use of drugs in agriculture, particularly on factory farms, and the increasing incidence of salmonella food poisoning in Britain.

The National Farmers’ Union, which considered taking out an injunction against the Radio Times and promised to send “hot missiles” to the BBC’s chairman and director-general, is now urging farmers to bombard local and regional radio stations during the phone in debate that will follow the programme.

Mr Roger Laughton, the programme’s editor, said yesterday it was time that the implications for public health arising out of modern farming methods, including the administration of drugs – and hormones and antibiotics in particular – should be debated publicly. Farmers, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Ministry of Agriculture had all been consulted.

The programme points to the difficulties in policing effectively the sale and use of animal drugs – something the Ministry of Agriculture itself acknowledges.

Under pressure from salesmen, some farmers buy cheap antibiotics, sometimes abusing official approval schemes recommended – and since accepted by Whitehall – in a 1969 inquiry chaired by Sir Michael Swann, now the BBC’s chairman.

A spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Society says in the film that there is a substantial black market involving at least £500,000 worth of antibiotics, compared with the estimated £20 millions worth used by farmers each year. The programme says that 60 percent of vets’ incomes comes from the sale of drugs though there is no evidence that vets are involved in malpractice.

Mr Laughton said yesterday that official statistics on salmonella poisoning are unreliable and that British abattoirs do not compare well with international standards – about 10 per cent meet EEC regulations. Also there is growing evidence that animals are developing resistance to drugs.

An article in the Radio Times on organic farming says that “the danger of tinkering about with nature” was shown by a police warning last August after the theft of 100 chickens at Peterborough. The police said that if eaten the carcasses, which had been treated with a hormone drug, could prove harmful.

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