Taking a beef to Bournemouth
MEPs back Britain in row with Hansch
Organophosphates in Gulf war illness
'Tory candidate doesn't stand a chance, farmers feel so betrayed'
Wives take up cudgels in BSE row
Vegetarians claim best year for converting meat eaters
Dairy cattle, slowing milk production as BSE indicator
Backlog of cattle in BSE cull more than doubles
Why I've no beef about pork fat
Major in Euro-blackmail row
Chanting farmers jostle minister in BSE protest
Farmers leaders back food agency
Hogg jostled by angry farmers at dairy show
Consumer champion aims to revive role

Wives take up cudgels in BSE row

The Times: Britain: October 7 1996 BY MICHAEL HORNSBY

SHEDDING their traditionally self-effacing image, farmers' wives are emerging as the shock troops of the countryside as anger grows over the Government's handling of the "mad cow" crisis.

Women were prominent in the crowd that jostled and jeered Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, after he refused to address them at a dairy show in Devon last week. They have also taken the lead in organising what is expected to be a large turn-out of farmers at the Tory party conference in Bournemouth tomorrow: they will warn the Government it is losing the votes of thousands of loyal rural supporters.

In the van of the swelling protest is Sandy Loud, 50, a dairy farmer's wife from Northdown Farm at Lewdown, near Launceston, a co-founder of the Somerset, Devon and Cornwall Network, which she runs with three other farmers' wives and a farmer's daughter. On the day before she confronted Mr Hogg, Mrs Loud had led a group of 80 farmers who ambushed his Cabinet colleague Roger Freeman at a private meeting with slaughtermen and cattle renderers at Honiton, shouting him down with cries of "cheat", "traitor" and "Roger the Dodger".

Mrs Loud said: "In fairness, Mr Freeman at least had the guts to listen to us and to address some of our concerns. Mr Hogg did not even have the courtesy to come out and talk to us." At the weekend, the group faxed a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on him to speak personally to the farmers at Bournemouth. "Farmers are facing the biggest crisis this country has ever seen in its agricultural history, instigated by your Government."

The other members of Mrs Loud's campaign group, all in dairy farming, are Ruth Burrow, of Rill Farm at Ottery St Mary in Devon, Pat Bird of Middle Crackington Farm at Crackington Haven in Cornwall, and Jane Down and her mother, Mary, of Marshwood Farm at Chard in Somerset.

"It started soon after the Goverment's announcement last March that BSE might have passed to humans," Mrs Loud said. "Ruth got in touch after seeing me being interviewed on television. We decided there was a role for us to play because our husbands were so tied up in running our farms."

The Louds' constituency is Devon West and Torridge, whose sitting MP, Emma Nicholson, defected to the Liberal Democrats. "The Tories have got a brilliant young prospective candidate but the poor chap doesn't stand a chance because farmers feel so betrayed by this Government," she said.

Over at Ottery St Mary, Mrs Burrow said the last straw was the decision by the European Union at the end of last month to cut 10 per cent from the compensation paid to farmers for cattle that have to be culled and burnt. "Mr Hogg actually went to the EU and asked for the cut just to save the Treasury money," she said. "This was a kick in the teeth for farmers still saddled with thousands of unsaleable over-age cattle because of the Government's own ineptness in administering the cull."

At the 300-acre Marshwood Farm, Jane Down said the next three months would be critical for thousands of farmers as they faced the prospect of having to dig into precious supplies of maize and winter silage to feed unproductive animals doomed to end up in incinerators.

"We have got 50 old barren cows waiting to be culled," she said. "Soon they will be costing us about £10 a head a week to feed."


Vegetarians claim best year for converting meat eaters

BY MICHAEL HORNSBY
The Times: Britain: October 7 1996

UP TO a million people turned vegetarian after the Government's disclosure in March of a possible link between BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, it was claimed yesterday. The Vegetarian Society, which will be 150 years old next year, also said it had increased its membership this year by 5 per cent to 20,000.

Ray Drake, the society's chairman, said in its annual report: "The year to May 31, 1996, saw what was probably the largest single conversion of people to vegetarianism in history." The claim was based on a poll by Gallup in April which found 7 per cent of the population, about four million people, professing to be vegetarian, compared with 5 per cent before the announcement on "mad cow" disease on March 20.

Tina Fox, the society's chief execu tive, said that after the announcement, "the number of telephone calls and written inquiries went up from a normal level of about 500 a week to several thousand.

"We think BSE will have a lasting effect, particularly as people were already turning away from beef because of research linking red meat to cancer and heart disease." She added: "More companies are taking account of vegetarianism. Birds Eye, for example, recently launched a meat-free range of products on the basis of market research showing that 41 per cent of consumers are reducing meat eating. "It is true that vegetarians are still dominated by women and young people but as women still do most of the shopping they can have a disproportionate impact."

The Meat and Livestock Commission, the government quango which promotes meat eating, conceded that beef consumption was still 18 per cent down on the pre-March level, but said many people had switched to other meats such as lamb and pork. A spokesman said: "Overall consumption of meat has not changed much over the decades and is still around 63kg a head a year, about the same as 30 years ago." He added that many people claiming to be vegetarian ate meat "from time to time".



Backlog of cattle in BSE cull more than doubles

by Michael Hornsby, agriculture correspondent

The Times ... October 05 1996

At least 400,000 over-age cattle are waiting on farms to be culled and destroyed in the battle against BSE , more than twice the previous estimate.

Acknowledging a "fresh emergency", Roger Freeman, the Public Services Minister, said measures would be announced soon to raise the number of cattle being slaughtered from 35,000 a week to 55,000 and to help the most hard-pressed farmers. The culling and burning of all cattle over 30 months old is designed to reassure consumers that no beef infected with "mad cow" disease is entering the food chain. Some 600,000 animals have been destroyed since early May.

Only two months ago the Government put the backlog of condemned older cattle at no more than 150,000 and was talking confidently of clearing them off farms by early October. Now the target has been put back to Christmas.

Mr Freeman's admission that the Government has got its sums badly wrong comes against a background of growing anger among farmers facing the expensive prospect of having to feed and house unproductive animals through the winter months. On Wednesday, Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, had to be escorted to safety by police after he refused to address a crowd of mutinous farmers at a dairy show in Devon. Up to 1,000 farmers are expected to lobby the Tory party conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday.

Feelings have been further inflamed by the European Union's recent decision, at the Government's request, to cut the compensation farmers receive for culled cattle from an average of £500 to £450 an animal from October 14.

The move will save the Treasury millions of pounds. "We are in this fresh problem, this fresh emergency, because during the summer many more dairy farmers decided that their animals should be culled than the agriculture departments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland believed would happen," Mr Freeman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.


Why I've no beef about pork fat

Paul Heiney

The Times ... October 05 1996

For those who used to like bread and dripping, here's the recipe for a truly flavourful meat dish that may shock the muesli martyrs

This being the party conference season, it is time to fling a few bogey words around ­ socialism, poll tax, Clause 4. You know them as well as I do; they were all once embraced, but are now shoved on to the back burner, the gas turned down, and allowed to become cold and indigestible.

Can I hurl another couple of embarrassing bogies at you? They are foods which we once held dear and are now too ashamed to contemplate. They stare up at us from the butcher's slab with demonic eyes. They are beef and pork fat.

Beef first. People are becoming coy about their beef habits. To boast of being a beef -eater these days is to risk the pitiful glance that the early muesli martyrs gave to those who remained faithful to the fry-up. There may well be nervous families huddling round a bit of rump at this very moment, curtains closed in case the neighbours spot the mustard jar, put two and two together and start throwing stones.

Beef -eating is bad enough, but what about pig fat? Is there anyone left in this country who will stand up and declare themselves to be fond of a bit of bread and dripping? You might as well call for the stringing up of cats. Somehow, we have been persuaded it is lethal, clogs the arteries and gums up the works ­ which it may well do if taken to excess. But what has happened to a sense of moderation? Thrown out with the bathwater, and the pork chops with a nice bit of fat on them.

Of course, it is not many years since there existed a breed of pig, widely farmed in Dorset, which was called the "ice-cream pig". These pigs were bred to have plentiful back-fat, which was removed at slaughter and processed into ice-cream. Do you remember that glum warning which said, "this product contains non-dairy fat"? Did you know exactly how far removed from the dairy it was? I did not believe this when first told, but then a farmer said to me: "Why do you think Walls used to make bacon and pork pies?" So, 25 years ago, you and I strolled along the prom clutching a cornet, licking at our processed pork fat and thinking we'd never had it so good.

Shunning all modern food fancies, and with the bravery of a man standing up at the Tory party conference calling for a tax on blue rinse, I offer a dish which fulfils all the requirements of the the modern, fatphobic eater while actually bringing together these two bogey ingredients, beef and pig fat. But I warn you, you will have to be brave, and trusting. I have recently returned from the southwest of France and, pining somewhat for the robust food, my hand fell on Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France, in which she introduces double-degreasing. Veteran motorists will remember a technique for getting elderly cars over hills, called double-declutching. Well, this recipe for "Daube for Early September" will get you over the Fear-of-Fat hump that has been keeping you from some truly great dishes. It takes two slow days to cook, and some occasional delicate attention.

Buy a 3lb silverside of beef . It is a dense, meaty cut with little fat, and is cheap. If there is any fat to be seen on it, remove it. Now, cause your butcher to rock back on his heels by asking for 3lb of pork back-fat with rind. You may be the first person in the last ten years to make such a request. This is cheap, too; I paid 95p. Cut the silverside into half-inch slices, having rubbed the joint with plenty of black pepper, but not too much salt. Remove the rind from the pork back-fat (while marvelling that man once devised a way of turning this into something that could be eaten with a chocolate flake) and then cut the fat into chunks and, using a food processor, turn it into a thick paste while adding a chopped onion or shallot, parsley, garlic and pepper. It is not terribly attractive.

Line a heavy, cast-iron casserole with the pork rind ­ the skin side must be inwards or it will stick ­ and then put a layer of beef , a layer of the pork fat mixture, and another of beef , till you have used all the ingredients.

Take a bottle of strong red wine and boil it for 15 minutes till it has lost the alcohol (heartbreaking) and then add to the casserole. Put on a tight-fitting lid, and place in a slow oven. After six hours, remove it and allow to cool without the lid. The disgusting, flabby pork fat will have risen to the top of the dish, there to await removal by you, patiently, with a teaspoon.

Spare no effort to remove every trace. But, although this is the point at which we say goodbye to the pig fat, it will have left behind those subtle but vital flavours that only animal fat can give to food. Then back into the oven for another hour, another cooling, a further fat hunt. Now you can remove the cool, clean beef slices to a serving dish.

Strain the remaining juice to remove even more fat and rind, and then reduce the juice till you have a sauce. You can even skim this to ensure that ­ watch my lips ­ there is hardly any fat left in this dish. Yet I promise you will find more depth, subtlety and honest flavour in these slices of beef than you ever thought meat could contain.

If you try this in winter, save the fatty pork rind for the birds. And reserve a smug look of pity for those misguided souls who think fat-free must mean bland.


Major in Euro-blackmail row

Michael Pescott in Dublin

Sunday Times ... Sunday 6 October 1996

JOHN MAJOR was embroiled in a new row with Britain's European partners last night after he was accused of using blackmail and trickery to scupper the workings of the European Union.

The prime minister responded furiously by describing the remarks by Klaus Hansch, president of the European parliament, as "intemperate" and "deeply offensive" and accusing him of "unacceptable behaviour".

After a special summit of EU leaders in Dublin, Major said: "I told him his remarks were offensive. I think he knows that." He accused Hansch of not understanding the British parliament.

Hansch, a German social democrat, said earlier: "I fail to see why 14 governments should always have to sacrifice their vision of Europe and their principles to keep on board a government which may jump ship in any case." He accused the British government of using "blackmail tactics" during its dispute with the EU over BSE ("mad cow" disease).

An unrepentant Major told a press conference in Dublin last night that he would continue to veto unacceptable proposals during the stalled "Maastricht 2" review of the EU's future.

"I shall not hesitate to say no to ideas I believe to be wrong for Europe as a whole and wrong for the interests of the UK," he said.

He then snubbed other EU leaders by failing to stay on for a working dinner in Dublin Castle after the one-day summit. Instead, he flew back to Britain, barely concealing his view that the informal meeting of EU heads, called at French insistence, was a waste of time.

Major had barely disguised his view of yesterday's summit as soon as he landed in Dublin. Asked why leaders were meeting, he replied: "We are here because we are here."

Malcolm Rifkind, the foreign secretary, represented Major at the banquet, while Sir Stephen Wall, British ambassador to the EU, stood in for Rifkind at another dinner for foreign ministers. Major believed his opposition was vindicated by its lack of a formal agenda and decisions.

The dinner was due to end at 9.30pm but Major's team said EU banquets usually went on until late and he had to fly back to prepare for a television interview today with Sir David Frost and Tuesday's start of the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth. However, sources close to Major derided the summit and scoffed at the closing meal.

One British source joked about the likely subjects: "One head of government will talk about 'my summer trip to America', another will be talk about 'my summer trip to Africa'."

Britain said other EU members were informed "weeks ago" about Major's rejection of their dinner invitation.

Last night Lord Tebbit, a leading Eurosceptic and former Tory chairman, welcomed Major's decision not to attend the closing dinner: "Maybe Norma had promised him a nice meal at home or there was something on telly he wanted to watch. This decision shows he is a rational human being."

Major was also reported by aides to be unhappy at last week's endorsement of Labour by three socialist leaders attending the summit ­ Holland's Wim Kok, Austria's Franz Vranitsky Vranitzky and Portugal's Antonio Guterres.

"They are socialists," he said. "They would like a socialist government [in Britain] because they think a socialist government would give to Europe those things a Conservative government never would. I do not intend to let the sort of socialism we have put aside come to the UK from Europe."




Chanting farmers jostle minister in BSE protest

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Daily Telegraph ... Thursday 3 October 1996

Hundreds of angry farmers jostled Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, yesterday in a protest against the handling of the beef crisis.

More than 200 beef producers chanting "Oggy, oggy, oggy - out, out, out" vented their frustration about delays in the Government's cattle cull and cuts in their compensation.

At one stage the banner-waving crowd at the South West Dairy Show in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, threatened to overwhelm Mr Hogg and his escort of ministry and show officials. Police threw a cordon around Mr Hogg as one of the farmers fell during the melee.

Some producers accused the minister of "arrogance" and called for his resignation for refusing to address the crowd after meeting representatives of the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association for an update on the BSE crisis in the West Country. Last week farmers accused the Government of "betrayal" for a 10 per cent cut in compensation for cattle killed under the cull. It means that farmers expecting £500 a cow will now receive £50 less.

The cut comes as the backlog of cattle builds up on farms. The backlog is about 450,000 - more than twice the Government estimated number.

So many cattle are awaiting destruction that the Government is running out of cold stores to hold the carcases until they can be destroyed. Ministers plan to hire fleets of refrigerated container-lorries and two freezer-ships to cope.

Anthony Gibson, a senior farming official at the meeting, said farmers had put various points to Mr Hogg who had nothing to offer in reply.

"The cut in the compensation added insult to incompetence," he said. "The scheme hasn't worked properly. There was fury in the air at the show and I have not seen anything like it in 20 years with the NFU.

"Most of the farmers here would be lifelong Conservative voters and not the sort of people you would expect to see marching up and down with banners and jostling a minister of the Crown.

"He declined our suggestion that he should address the crowd of farmers outside to defuse the situation. As a result there was some jostling and unpleasant scenes when he emerged with his police escort."

Mr Gibson said the minister did not explain why he did not want to speak to the farmers. "It made things worse and added to the frustration."

A ministry spokesman said last night: "Mr Hogg was not assaulted during his visit during which he met farmers' representatives."


Farmers leaders back food agency

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Daily Telegraph ... Thursday 3 October 1996

Labour won the support of farmers' leaders yesterday for the establishment of an independent agency to protect consumer confidence in food.

After many years of defending the role of the Ministry of Agriculture, which is responsible for food policy, the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales said that the beef crisis had forced it to review its position.

Sir David Naish, president of the NFU, told a farmers' fringe meeting in Blackpool: "The NFU is looking afresh at the concept of a food agency - in particular how any such body could work effectively to balance the interests of consumer and producer while being accountable, independent and cost effective."

The BSE crisis had led to demands for an agency independent of MAFF and the NFU was now willing to discuss this with "interested parties," Sir David added.

Dr Gavin Strang, the shadow minister of agriculture, welcomed the shift in the NFU position. He said: "The sooner we reach a consensus to enable us to reassure the public about food safety the better."


Hogg jostled by angry farmers at dairy show

by Michael Hornsby, Agriculture Correspondent

The Times ... October 03 1996

Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, was jostled and jeered by 500 farmers at a dairy show yesterday in a demonstration of anger at the Government's handling of "mad cow" disease.

Police and stewards had to surround Mr Hogg to prevent him from being manhandled as placard-waving farmers surged foward chanting "Hoggy, Hoggy, Hoggy, out, out, out". Several protesters were knocked to the ground in the melée. One witness said: "I don't know what they would have done if they had got hold of him."

Mr Hogg was guest of honour at the South West Dairy Show at the Royal Bath and West Showground at Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Anger erupted when some farmers could not get into a packed meeting of the minister, members of the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association.

Anthony Gibson, the NFU's regional director, said: "The mood was turning nasty and I suggested to Mr Hogg that he should go out on the balcony of the auditorium and speak to the farmers outside. But he refused and this made matters worse."

After a loudspeaker appeal for calm, Mr Hogg, looking shaken, was led to the main ring to present cattle prizes as farmers crowded round him. He left 15 minutes later.

Feelings are running high after a decision last week by the European Union, at the Government's request, to cut 10 per cent from the compensation paid to farmers for culled cattle.

There is discontent among farmers over the high number of old cattle still awaiting slaughter under the cull scheme set up after fears emerged that the human disease CJD was linked to BSE.

* British fishermen are breaking EU conservation rules on a huge scale, according to a report by a respected industry pressure group.

The study estimates that 40 per cent of the catch landed by Scottish trawlermen is in breach of limits on the type, quantity and size of fish that can legally be brought ashore. It says that illicit catches are landed in remote parts. In major ports they are loaded on lorries at night.

The widespread cheating is alleged in a report by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, a body that embraces industrialists, trade unionists and politicians that seeks to promote Scotland's prosperity. It blames "absurd" EU regulations rather than the fishermen.


Consumer champion aims to revive role

by Robin Young

The Times ... October 03 1996

The Consumers' Association is seeking to revitalise its role as a campaigning political pressure group.

The organisation, which publishes the Which? group of magazines and has almost 750,000 members, is doing the rounds of the party conferences touting a manifesto called Making Markets Work, which catalogues the reforms the association would like the next government to initiate.

Stephen Harris, director of communications, said yesterday: "We are trying to get back to the role CA had in the 1970s. During the 1980s consumerism became confused with consumption. Legitimate consumer concerns were pushed aside while attention focused on how much money people had and how much they were spending. We still see that with all the talk about the 'feel-good' factor."

Mr Harris said the present Government clearly attached high value to the interests of industry and other producers. "They attach very low value to consumer interests. The deregulation initiative is a much clearer indication where this Government is coming from than the Citizen's Charter," he said. "If consumers had even an equal footing with producers in the Government's consideration there would not have been the terrible mess in the Government's reactions to the BSE crisis," he claimed.

Mr Harris said the association had identified six key areas. Campaign teams have been established in the fields of communications, health, including food, personal finance, public utilities, redress, and transport. "From now on we intend to punch our weight," Mr Harris said.

* A call for higher standards among professional bodies involved in drafting wills was made by the Consumers' Association after a survey found that more than a quarter were incorrect or confusing.

In a survey of 51 wills, reported in Which?, a panel of legal experts rated 15 as "poor", 24 were "average" and only 12 were "good".

Dairy cattle, slowing milk production, and BSE

Listserve 3 Oct 96

Most of the european dairy cattle are slaugthered only because of a reduction in their milk productivity. This happens when they have had only 1 or 2 calves in the Netherlands, after 3 or 4 calves in Germany or perhaps a bit later in the UK. When a cow becomes suffering from any disease, the milk productivity drops.

In the case of BSE this will happen most probably slowly but pronounced and often with the consequence of the slaughtering of a infected cattle only a few weeks before other symptoms become detectable. Therefore it is very important to know the quantitative correlation between the time point before they are killed because of BSE and the quantity of milk, they produced.

It is very strange, that this correlation has never been published. If my hypothesis is correct and many older dairy cattle are killed because of an unrecognized BSE infection, then the britsh calculations of the mean incubation time of BSE, the frequence of maternal transmission and the duration of the BSE epidemy in the future are badly underestimated.




Taking a beef to Bournemouth

By Sean O'Neill

Daily Telegraph ... Monday 7 October 1996

Sandy Loud is a lifelong Tory who, like thousands of others, will be in Bournemouth tomorrow for the Conservative conference.

But she will not be sitting in the hall in her best frock, or craning her neck for a better view of John Major. Mrs Loud, 50, will be outside, at the centre of a noisy protest of farmers and their wives, making ministers feel uncomfortable.

Anger at the BSE crisis, now in its seventh month, has intensified with the recent cut in compensation for culled cattle. Mrs Loud's feelings are expressed in the slogan on a sweatshirt - This Cow Isn't Mad. She's Bloody Livid.

Her husband and sons run the 500-acre Northdown Farm at Combebow, Devon, and she is a member of the SDC [Somerset Devon Cornwall] Network, an increasingly active group of West Country farmers' wives who, after months of letter writing, are turning to direct protest.

The women were at Honiton last week when Roger Freeman, the minister chairing the Cabinet's BSE committee, was barracked. The following day, at Shepton Mallet, Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Secretary, was surrounded by 500 farmers. "At Bournemouth we will want someone - preferably Major - to come out and talk to us. If they don't address us in a proper manner, I cannot say what will happen," she said.

The group was created in March amid fears that whole herds would be slaughtered. Mrs Loud returned from a dismal day at market to find her husband Tony, 53, and sons Richard, 29, and Martin, 28, sitting in the kitchen. The cows had been milked but that was all. "They were talking about whether it was worth going on. At that moment I thought nobody is going to treat my family like this," she said.

She has transformed her kitchen into a campaign centre. The table is piled with paperwork and the phone rings constantly. "We get people who are desperate, 'What do I do? I've got 40 cows I can't sell. I can't feed them, I haven't got any more money'. There have been 26 suicides among farmers since this all started."

Whatever happens in Bournemouth, Mrs Loud believes that it is too late for the Conservatives to regain farmers' confidence. "There is tremendous bad feeling. Farmers are Conservative voters but they won't vote Conservative now."


MEPs back Britain in row with Hansch

By Toby Helm, EU Correspondent in Dublin

Daily Telegraph ... Monday 7 October 1996

Dr Klaus Hansch, the German president of the European Parliament who clashed with John Major at the Dublin summit, was last night the subject of a volley of abuse from fellow MEPs.

The previously little-known Dr Hansch infuriated Mr Major before the summit by accusing the Government of "blackmail tactics" during the beef crisis. Mr Major took the first chance to confront the German socialist face to face in Dublin and told him his remarks were "deeply offensive".

Last night Lord Plum, leader of the 18 Conservatives in the European Parliament, said he was appalled at the behaviour of the man elected to represent him and all parliamentarians at EU summits. "To use the word blackmail is an insult to the British Prime Minister and the British Government and he should not make such comments," he said.

Dr Hansch had failed to recognise the measures the British Government had taken to eradicate BSE in Britain, added Lord Plum. "He had better get his facts right before he starts making statements like that."

Edward Macmillian-Scott, Conservative MEP for North Yorkshire, said Dr Hansch had behaved "outrageously". The job of president "does not give him the licence to meddle in national politics. He has damaged the reputation of the parliament".

Mr Major's attack on Dr Hansch - telling him that some senior representatives of the European Parliament completely failed to grasp British policies - was one of the most outspoken he has made on a fellow European politician. "He took the point very clearly that I was talking about him and not about other people. I think the points I made had some impact," said Mr Major after the Dublin meeting.


Thousands face Gulf war pesticide tests

David Fairhall Defence Correspondent

The Guardian ... Monday, October 7, 1996

Thousands of servicemen and women may face medical checks as the Ministry of Defence launches an inquiry into reports that British troops were exposed to pesticides during the Gulf war because they were not given protective clothing.

A senior officer admitted yesterday that the army's "can do" philosophy may have got out of hand, with junior ranks simply being told to "get on with it".

The MoD admitted last week that far more potentially dangerous organophosphate insecticides (OPs) were used in the desert than had been realised, and that this was almost certainly one cause of the mysterious "Gulf war syndrome" for which veterans are demanding treatment and compensation.

But the Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, still refuses to confirm the existence of such a syndrome. "We have set up the most comprehensive medical investigation, firstly to see whether Gulf war veterans are more ill - in greater numbers, greater proportions - than the population as a whole, and, if they are, if there is one linking theme," he said yesterday.

Mr Portillo admitted that "certain pesticides" were used. "I would hope that whatever precautions were appropriate were taken." Documents disclosed at the weekend by Labour's defence spokesman, David Clark, indicate that dangers were increased by lack of equipment. In one report, Sergeant Anthony Worthington of the 4th Armoured Brigade, says he repeatedly raised the matter with senior officers, but to no effect.


'Tory candidate doesn't stand a chance, farmers feel so betrayed'

By Michael Hornsby, agriculture correspondent

The Times ... October 7 1996

Wives take up cudgels in BSE row

Shedding their traditionally self-effacing image, farmers' wives are emerging as the shock troops of the countryside as anger grows over the Government's handling of the "mad cow" crisis.

Women were prominent in the crowd that jostled and jeered Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, after he refused to address them at a dairy show in Devon last week. They have also taken the lead in organising what is expected to be a large turn-out of farmers at the Tory party conference in Bournemouth tomorrow: they will warn the Government it is losing the votes of thousands of loyal rural supporters.

In the van of the swelling protest is Sandy Loud, 50, a dairy farmer's wife from Northdown Farm at Lewdown, near Launceston, a co-founder of the Somerset, Devon and Cornwall Network, which she runs with three other farmers' wives and a farmer's daughter. On the day before she confronted Mr Hogg, Mrs Loud had led a group of 80 farmers who ambushed his Cabinet colleague Roger Freeman at a private meeting with slaughtermen and cattle renderers at Honiton, shouting him down with cries of "cheat", "traitor" and "Roger the Dodger".

Mrs Loud said: "In fairness, Mr Freeman at least had the guts to listen to us and to address some of our concerns. Mr Hogg did not even have the courtesy to come out and talk to us."

At the weekend, the group faxed a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on him to speak personally to the farmers at Bournemouth. "Farmers are facing the biggest crisis this country has ever seen in its agricultural history, instigated by your Government."

The other members of Mrs Loud's campaign group, all in dairy farming, are Ruth Burrow, of Rill Farm at Ottery St Mary in Devon, Pat Bird of Middle Crackington Farm at Crackington Haven in Cornwall, and Jane Down and her mother, Mary, of Marshwood Farm at Chard in Somerset.

"It started soon after the Goverment's announcement last March that BSE might have passed to humans," Mrs Loud said. "Ruth got in touch after seeing me being interviewed on television. We decided there was a role for us to play because our husbands were so tied up in running our farms."

The Louds' constituency is Devon West and Torridge, whose sitting MP, Emma Nicholson, defected to the Liberal Democrats. "The Tories have got a brilliant young prospective candidate but the poor chap doesn't stand a chance because farmers feel so betrayed by this Government," she said.

Over at Ottery St Mary, Mrs Burrow said the last straw was the decision by the European Union at the end of last month to cut 10 per cent from the compensation paid to farmers for cattle that have to be culled and burnt. "Mr Hogg actually went to the EU and asked for the cut just to save the Treasury money," she said. "This was a kick in the teeth for farmers still saddled with thousands of unsaleable over-age cattle because of the Government's own ineptness in administering the cull."

At the 300-acre Marshwood Farm, Jane Down said the next three months would be critical for thousands of farmers as they faced the prospect of having to dig into precious supplies of maize and winter silage to feed unproductive animals doomed to end up in incinerators.

"We have got 50 old barren cows waiting to be culled," she said. "Soon they will be costing us about £10 a head a week to feed."


Vegetarians claim best year for converting meat eaters

by Michael Hornsby

The Times ... October 7 1996

Up to a million people turned vegetarian after the Government's disclosure in March of a possible link between BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, it was claimed yesterday.

The Vegetarian Society, which will be 150 years old next year, also said it had increased its membership this year by 5 per cent to 20,000.

Ray Drake, the society's chairman, said in its annual report: "The year to May 31, 1996, saw what was probably the largest single conversion of people to vegetarianism in history." The claim was based on a poll by Gallup in April which found 7 per cent of the population, about four million people, professing to be vegetarian, compared with 5 per cent before the announcement on "mad cow" disease on March 20.

Tina Fox, the society's chief execu tive, said that after the announcement, "the number of telephone calls and written inquiries went up from a normal level of about 500 a week to several thousand.

"We think BSE will have a lasting effect, particularly as people were already turning away from beef because of research linking red meat to cancer and heart disease."

She added: "More companies are taking account of vegetarianism. Birds Eye, for example, recently launched a meat-free range of products on the basis of market research showing that 41 per cent of consumers are reducing meat eating.

"It is true that vegetarians are still dominated by women and young people but as women still do most of the shopping they can have a disproportionate impact."

The Meat and Livestock Commission, the government quango which promotes meat eating, conceded that beef consumption was still 18 per cent down on the pre-March level, but said many people had switched to other meats such as lamb and pork.

A spokesman said: "Overall consumption of meat has not changed much over the decades and is still around 63kg a head a year, about the same as 30 years ago." He added that many people claiming to be vegetarian ate meat "from time to time".