An interesting piece in this months Private Eye. Shropshire has a reputation for producing fearsome judges and it’s good to see Judge Onions carrying that on.
Down on the Farm
A MURKY drama unfolded recently in a Shrewsbury courtroom reminding us yet again of the unhealthy closeness between the officials of Defra and the pharmaceutical industry.
John Rawlings is an agricultural merchant who supplies some 70 farms in the Midlands with pesticides (don’t worry if you have a bias against pesticides: that’s not the point of the story). Mr Rawlings noticed to his surprise that many of the pesticides he was selling were available much more cheaply on the continent, even though they were the same products made by the same companies. Aware that we now Live in the “single market”, Mr Rawlings imported 14 products from Italy and Holland — products which would have cost up to 45 percent more in Britain. He and his customers were happy. But Defra wasn’t and duly hauled him into court to face 14 criminal charges. His offence, apparently, was that these chemicals had not been vetted by the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD), part of Defra’s empire, and were therefore illegal, even though all but one were exactly the same as products the PSD had already approved. Defra, it seemed, had not yet heard about the single market. This is odd, since almost all it does is dictated by Brussels, for which it is merely a very inefficient branch office.
What Defra hadn’t reckoned on, however, was His Honour Judge’Onions who, as the costly trial unfolded, waxed ever more irritable. At one point he was so angry at Defra’s “prevarication” he threatened that, unless it got its act together and withdrew II of the 14 charges, he would order a senior Defra minister to appear in his court by lOam the next morning to explain what the officials were up to.
At the end of the case Judge Onions said it was clear Defra was collaborating with the “chemical companies to operate a cartel” (which two of the companies’ witnesses had admitted under oath). In other words, Defra was conniving with its friends in the pharmaceutical industry to sting British farmers up to 45 percent more for their products than was being charged to farmers on the continent. He was so angry he said he would be writing to Mr Kerr Wilson, head of the PSD, asking why the case had been brought and demanding an answer within 21 days. He also said the pharmaceutical companies should be investigated by the Competition Commission, since operating cartels is an offence under EU law.
On the three remaining charges, the judge gave Mr Rawlings a conditional discharge on the grounds that technical offences had been committed. But in light of Defra’s behaviour, he ordered the ministry to pay 80 percent of its costs. True to form, when Defra and the PSD reported the case on their websites, they left out anything remotely detrimental to their case, including the fact that the taxpayers were being left to foot most of Defra’s £42,500 bill. They presented it as if they had won a glorious victory and reminded farmers that it was a criminal offence to use pesticides not approved by the PSD, for which they could lose their EU subsidies.
The chances of Della doing anything to end the illegal cartel seem remote. After all, it’s not long since Defra helped cover up the disaster inflicted on thousands of sheep farmers by their use of OP sheep dips, all manufuctured by its pharmaceutical chums.