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Due to the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Wales in 2001 we followed the advice of the Farmers Union Wales and the Welsh Assembly to restrict access to Penrhos. This meant canceling two courses.

The epidemic served to highlight (again) the unsustainable basis of current food production in Britain. In particular, with regards to foot and mouth, the loss of local abattoirs led to far greater movements of animals for slaughter. Competition between the fewer, larger abattoirs meant that a difference in charges at a slaughterhouse of only a few pounds makes it financially viable for farmers to move large numbers of stock considerable distances. This resulted in spreading the disease very rapidly.

Many small abattoirs were forced into closure as a result of the introduction of EEC directives. In contrast to some other European governments, the UK government applied the directives in the UK in a very rigid and strict manner. For example, a Welsh abattoir failed to meet the EEC directives because the ceiling was 4cms too low. The abattoir was unable to afford the cost of raising the ceiling and so closed down.

This is a strong example of a lack of holistic thinking. Abattoirs were targeted in an attempt to improve food safety. By failing to consider the consequences of forcing many of them out of business, the actions inadvertently worsened the overall situation.

The actual outbreak seems to have begun as a result of imported, contaminated meat. Again, this clearly points to a lack of holistic thinking; it is obviously bizarre to impose rigid controls on meat production in your own country yet to be a big importer of meat from countries which harbour a variety of serious diseases, isn't it?

We would be wise to consider that unsustainable systems will, inevitably, break down and that all attempts to prop them up in their ongoing collapse will tend to generate further pitfalls and increasing costs for the environment, society and us as individuals. Clearly we need some vision of how future communities might interact with their environments in mutually enhancing ways and how we might move towards that vision. This will require changing connections between existing elements (eg. Ragman's Lane Farm employ their local butcher to slaughter and butcher on the farm premises with the meat being sold through a food co-op) modifying existing elements (eg. Restructuring farms) and introducing some new elements. This is a design process.

It seems remarkable to me that after over two decades of application and refinement, Permaculture Design is still not widely recognised as the most useful strategy we yet have for doing this.


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