How many animals have you lost during the crisis over Foot and Mouth Disease? “3,300 sheep and 60 cows,” responds shepherd Thomas Binns, with a tremble in his voice. “All my animals have seemed in good health. It has seemed to me a real waste!”

Four years after the events, Binns still sees the team of blood-letters recruited for local slaughterhouses arriving at his farm to cut the throats of his animals. More than six million cows, pigs and sheep have been burned in the giant crematoria or interred in giant burial pits.

The shepherd Thomas Binns rents his 688 hectares of land from Lord Clitheroe, an aristocrat who also has a village named after his family. The father of two little girls, Binns currently has no relief in sight.

The British government, considered the black sheep of Europe, has been rapped on the knuckles by Brussels for the zeal of “excessive killing.” And the apocalyptic images projected around the world have sent tourists fleeing from the English countryside. The British treasury has had to pay for worst Foot and Mouth Disease crisis in the history of humanity is estimated at $15 billion Canadian.

An example of the resilience of British farmers, Thomas Binns has rebuilt his herd of sheep and today owns 2,200 sheep and about 30 cows. He wants to become one of the 20 per cent of farmers who provide 80 per cent of the agricultural production in the United Kingdom. He says he agrees with abolishing European Union subsidies here of about $35 Canadian per sheep in 2012. And if it was up to him, he would eliminate the public aid even faster. “But the market must compensate efforts to improve genetics in order to provide the kind of meat consumers want,” he says.

It’s a monk’s work, finding the right hybrid that gives meat lean and homogenous enough to satisfy the consumer. There are more than 80 different kinds of sheep in England. But the demands of “Cousin City Slicker” aren’t limited to just the production of lean meat that costs less. With the reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the subsidies for Binn’s sheep will be transferred to an ecological maintenance of his 688 hectares of rented land.

Under environmental pressures, Binns, like all the British breeders, is going to take on the guise of a gardener over the course of the next few years. But “the real landscape artists are the sheep and the cows,” says the shepherd, casting his eyes about the surrounding countryside.

The abolition of subsidies combined with the inadequate price paid producers for lamb risks having the opposite effect to what was intended. With the shrinking numbers of breeders and of animals, “Cousin City Slicker” may able to enjoy the fresh air in a countryside that looks completely different than it does today.


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