MEAT CONSUMERS AND MEAT RAISERS. T HE debate on the Diseases
of Animals Bill did not contribute much to our knowledge of the controversy. It consisted to a great extent of confident assertions that it would, or would not, be protective. What we should have liked to see made clearer was the particular native industry in behalf of which the protection will operate. It cannot be the farmer who sends his meat to market, because the immediate effect of the Bill will be to set up a rival supply of foreign and Colonial meat, either frozen before export or slaughtered at the port at which it arrives. It cannot be the farmer who makes it his business to fatten lean cattle, because his complaint is that the Bill will close a source from which he has hitherto drawn a large proportion of the cattle he has to fatten. Then who is it that the Bill will benefit ? Mostly, we should say, the consumer, and to some extent the stock-farmer. To deal with the last first, the Bill will benefit the stock-farmer by giving him security. What the law does for him at present is to give him intermittent security, and the object of the Bill is to make this security permanent. What now upsets all his calculations is the risk that pleuro-pneumonia may be introduced among his herds. One case of the disease may be brought into this country from abroad, and before the mischief is stamped out all his cattle may have had to be killed. At present the regulations of the Board of Agriculture are sufficient to guard against this danger. All cattle that are brought here from over t he sea must be slaughtered at the port of debarkation. But this is only an order of the Board, which may be rescinded whenever the disease seems to be at end, and is sure to be rescinded as soon as the disease has been ascertained to be at an end. Unfortunately, the absence of any cases of disease in the countries from which the cattle come is no proof that the exemption will be con- tinuous. The mischief may reappear immediately upon the removal of the prohibition, and then all the care which the Board of Agriculture has previously taken to drive and keep it away will have gone for nothing.
It may be argued that this is only a part of the neces- sary uncertainty of human affairs. So long as cattle are known to be diseased they are excluded. When the disease disappears from the country from which they come they are once more admitted. As a rule, this system of alternate keeping out and letting in answers. So soon as the existence of disease in a cattle-exporting country is known to the authorities over here, the order to slaughter every beast at the port of debarkation goes forth, and all risk of communicating the disease to English herds is at once guarded against. This plan works excellently on paper, and in a great number of cases works excellently in practice. But there are excep- tions,—serious and sometimes disastrous exceptions. The existence of disease in a cattle-exporting country is not always known to the authorities over here before a single diseased beast has been landed. Sometimes it only becomes known after diseased beasts have been landed, have been sold, have been taken to inland farms to be fattened, and have communicated the disease to all the cattle they find there. Then we hear, not of the vigilance of the Agricultural Department in keeping diseased cattle out of the country, but of its zeal in tracing out the farms to which the diseased cattle have been taken, and of its promptitude in ordering the immediate slaughter of every beast that can by possibility have come in contact with them. Given the introduction of disease this is a most useful function for a Board of Agriculture to discharge. It makes stock-farming possible where, but for the Board of Agriculture, it would be impossible. We cannot wonder, however, that a great industry which has from time to time suffered by these occasional outbreaks of disease—outbreaks which no amount of care and watchfulness can always and altogether prevent—should ask itself and ask the Govern- ment why the security it enjoys, so long as the existence of disease in some foreign country is known, should not be within its reach at all times. The order to slaughter foreign cattle at the port of debarkation is a complete preventive while it is in force. The mischief is done in those recurring intervals when the order to slaughter is not in force. Why, then, is it not made permanent ? This is the question to which Mr. Long declares that he has no reply. According to him, the inconvenience caused by making the exclusion permanent is as nothing by the side of the loss and suffering caused from time to time by suspending it. The development of a most im- portant industry is checked and hampered by the constant uncertainty in which it is carried on. In order that a few graziers may buy lean cattle cheap, and sell them at a good price when they are fattened, the whole meat pro- duction of the country is imperilled and hindered from attaining its natural dimensions. What, then, is the objection to making the order of slaughter perpetual, and thus avoiding every risk and relieving the Department of Agriculture of a most difficult and thankless duty ? To this it is answered that the slaughter of cattle on landing is simply disguised Protection. The consumer is made to suffer for the benefit of the farmer, The foreign meat that he would gladly eat is denied him in order that he may be forced to eat the possibly better, but certainly dearer, meat with which his countryman is ready to provide him. We refuse to protect the raiser of home- grown wheat, and then in the same breath we propose to protect the raiser of home-grown meat. Where is the consistency or the justice of these unequal measures? But the analogy between wheat and cattle is a wholly misleading analogy. It can only be made to hold water by a liberal use of assumptions that have no foundation in fact. No doubt the English wheat-grower would like to have foreign wheat excluded from the English market. But, in the first place, what he wishes is something altogether different from what the stock-farmer wishes. The wheat-grower wants exclusion for exclusion's sake. He cannot grow wheat at a profit unless the produce of countries where it can be grown more cheaply is refused entrance into England. But the stock-farmer does not want to keep healthy cattle out of the country; on the contrary, fattening cattle brought from abroad is so profitable a process that some farmers would like to go on running the risks attendant on it. The wheat-grower, on the other hand, does wish to keep healthy wheat out of the country. It is not diseased wheat that he is afraid of, but all wheat. If England were as well-suited for the growth of wheat as it is for the raising of cattle, and if all that the farmer asked were to be saved from having his good corn infected and rendered worthless by contact with diseased corn coming from abroad, that would be a per- fectly reasonable request. In granting it we should be benefiting the consumer as well as the producer, because we should be preventing a healthy crop from being rendered worthless by the introduction of a possibly unhealthy crop. The true justification for the Bill is that it is essentially a consumer's Bill. The perpetual exclusion of live foreign cattle will tend in the long-run to make meat cheaper rather than dearer. It will do this by developing two industries of immense importance already, and capable of almost indefinite extension. The first is the home trade in live meat. It may seem unreasonable that farmers should hesitate about going in for cattle raising on a larger scale than has yet been attempted because they are afraid of having their arrangements upset and the money spent on them wasted by a sudden out- break of pleuro-pneumonia. But there is strong evidence that they do hesitate, and considering the necessary risks of all farming operations, and the unwillingness of capitalists to run any risks that can be avoided, we see no reason to doubt the accuracy of the conclusion to which this evidence points. Consequently the exclusion of foreign cattle would greatly stimulate the raising of English cattle. What the consumer might lose in one way he would more than gain in another. But there is a second industry which would equally tend to make the supply of meat more abundant. The effect of compulsory slaughter on landing would be to make the export of dead meat easier and more profitable. It takes up much less room, it has none of the special risks which are insepar- able from the transport of live cattle. The introduction of new freezing processes has already worked wonders in this department of meat-supply, and with the increased de- mand for dead meat that would follow upon the pro- hibition of live animals great further improvements would be effected, and America and the Colonies would more and more become one of the two chief sources of our meat- supply. What chance is there that the consumer would lose anything by such a change as the Bill proposes ? All the probabilities of the case point strongly the other way.