Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The end of civilisation

There was a time when the greatest fear was that the world would come to an end in one great nuclear holocaust, unleashed by rival powers in one great fit of madness.

The immediacy of the nuclear threat may have gone, but the madness has not. Thus, instead of perishing in one mighty conflagration, we are poised to suffer a more ignominious death by a thousand cuts, brought on by the growing tide of increasingly insane regulations.

There can be no other way of describing what the EU is currently proposing, regulations which, in the words of the Irish Independent, have the "potential to devastate cereal industry".

Technical they may be – as they always are – but the ramifications are obvious even to non-farmers. What the EU is doing is setting a new, arbitrarily low level for fungal toxins in cereals, and requiring changes to cropping regimes, harvesting and grain storage practices to ensure that these are not reached.

Cereal farmers will be forced to change crop rotations; they will be prohibited from heaping freshly harvested grain in yards for more than a few hours before being dried; they will be required to segregated grain according to quality – whether for bread making or animal feed – and merchants according to whether to whether it is lodged, damp, dry or clean.

Irish Farmers Association Grain Committee executive secretary Fintan Conway puts the regulations in perspective, saying they have the potential to close down the cereal industry in Ireland. "It might not be the Commission's aim," he says, "but these regulations could finish cereal production here similar to what they are trying to do with sugar beet."

"There is no scientific basis to the limits set by the EU," he adds. "The maximum levels have been set on a purely arbitrary level and are based on perception and whim rather than proven fact."

In a very wet or muggy year, some grain in a bulk sample could be found to be unfit for animal consumption and, under the new rules, the previously acceptable and safe practice of lowering the overall contamination level by diluted a batch with more grain is not longer permitted. Grain will have to be dumped at a landfill.

The rules are due to be adopted by the end of 2005, initially as a code of practice but official regulations will be in place within two-three years, based on this code.

Of course, we will not see an immediate collapse of cereal production. Farmers will find their way round the rules – they always do. But this is another cut of the knife, on top of others, with more to come. Slowly, insidiously, this industry and many more like it will bleed to death, and with it our prosperity.

Meanwhile, the EU, through the European Investment Bank, has decided to lend China €500 million to enlarge Beijing airport, at a special low-interest rate, payable over 25 years.

So, the EU takes money (€240 million) for Galileo, while member states rush to sell arms to a country which has increased its defence spending by 12 percent, to €25 billion, and our retailers pour money into the country to pay for its cheap goods. And we give it a soft loan to develop its infrastructure, while wiping out our own industries.

That is how our civilisation is going to end.


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