1st November, 2007
As the bluetongue virus sinks its teeth into British livestock, there is one appalling certainty: like the outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease and foot-and-mouth before it, some farmers will see no way out, and take their own lives. Farmers in Britain are the profession second most likely to commit suicide (after, bizarrely, dentistry).
Before the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, British farming, especially livestock farming, was in a parlous state. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and swine fever had already taken their toll on the industry. The prices of agricultural products, especially meat and dairy, had dropped markedly. Incomes were therefore very low, and many farmers also had large debts. Bureaucratic procedures, especially the requirement to complete numerous official forms, added to the stress.
Given all this it is hardly surprising that studies show that British farmers are more than twice as likely as the general population to contemplate suicide. But the higher rates of depression and suicide among British farmers are not unique and, indeed, mirror that of farmers everywhere. As climate change and disease press harder on the world’s farmers, the problem is likely to get worse.
Across the planet, the world’s poorest people are struggling to keep their heads above water. Farmers who are lucky enough to have access land find themselves caught between rising costs of inputs and a crop price that, in the main, has been downward. Prompted by the need to squeeze more out of their land, farmers do as they...
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