All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Public health and private profit

Taken from EPA website ( via Wikipedia

Once the world of our masters returns from its' holidays, the swine 'flu outbreak will be upgraded to full blown panic mode....Tamiflu going for a fortune on eBay, chemists booking world cruises and French employers taking the chance to sack their workers without the usual expensive consequences.

I am girding my loins....not a pretty sight.... to have to explain for the umpteenth time to medical professionals who have had the dossier on the man in my life for more years than I would care to think about that he cannot, under any circumstances, have a 'flu injection. We go through this every autumn. The proposition, the rejection, the disbelief, the contempt for mere unmedical mortals who happen to know that the proposition is potentially lethal....after all, if it happens, it isn't the doctors' lives which will be wrecked or ended. This all happens with the specialists..not with our GP, a gentle giant of foreign extraction. He actually takes the trouble to listen to his patients rather than doling out prescriptions with one hand while collecting his fee for the visit in the other and is universally adored by the said patients. Not by the other doctors in the area, nor by the local chemists as his first act is usually to wean his patients from the carrier bags of medication prescribed by his colleagues and his second is to suggest exercise instead. A lovely man. We bitch about specialists together.

I remember the avian 'flu scare. The vet had to come out and certify that our chickens, ducks and geese were healthy and confined. Since they were all out scratching about in the garden and in the case of the ducks and geese swimming on the river he concluded that they were all in fine fettle and that they were the garden. As he pointed out, it was all a load of nonsense as in his view the problem lay with factory farmed birds, but, since the government was paying, he had no objection to touring the roads of rural France to have a drink with his clients and fill out a few forms. Shortly after his visit, we had one from the gendarmerie. Someone had denounced us for having ducks and geese on the river. The gendarmes could see the said poultry flaunting themselves on the water before their very eyes, but the vet's forms were flourished and they went away. This is France. Form, not substance.

Some time before the scare, the chap down the road had had a disaster. Or rather his son had had, being in charge while the Dad was on holiday. As a sideline from raising cattle and stealing my ducks, he raises poultry for the table and just before his holiday, he had taken delivery of six thousand day old chicks. Within a week, all had died. The son was beside himself...he called in his own vet, then contacted the supplier of the chicks who sent his vet and then the feed merchant, who sent his vet....all to no avail. Six thousand dead chicks. His first thought was for the financial loss, so he contacted his insurer. The insurer contacted the feed merchant and the supplier of chicks and, no doubt, their insurers and then came back to the son. The proposition was as follows.
He would be paid out in full by an unholy combination of the various insurers on condition that he was not to make any official report of the incident and he was to make sure that his vet didn't either. He was to clean and fumigate the sheds where the chicks had been housed and keep no more poultry for a period of six months....he would be compensated for his consequential loss as well.
The carcasses were buried.....smoke draws attention.....and the sheds were duly cleaned out by the time his father returned from eyeing the prospects of stealing ducks in some other region of France. Considering that he was to be paid in full and not have to work to raise the chicks, he was not displeased with his son's negotiation with the insurers...a farmer's dream, paid for doing nothing except keep his mouth shut.
He did keep his mouth shut, but his neighbour had observed all the comings and goings and knew all the actors in the drama, as they were his own suppliers. He keeps ducks as everyone in a wide radius is aware as he spreads the shed cleanings on his land on the hottest day possible, preferably on a Sunday morning, so that everyone with guests to lunch can participate in the pleasures of rural life. He talked to the postlady, who talked to me and probably everyone else as well, which is how we all knew that the disaster had taken place and all the details of the settlement apart from the actual sums involved. I don't remember the quote exactly, but in one of his books Maurice Genevoix remarks that in the country, you are always being observed from under the visor of a cap, and he's right, nothing passes unnoticed.
The postlady came back with other the next village, the couple who raise factory farmed poultry had both come down with some sort of respiratory illness that they could not shake off and they, according to their doctor, were not the only ones. Over the river, the man who raises pheasants for the hunting fraternity became ill as well and stopped keeping birds for a while.
It was the gossip for a while and then it all died down as other topics took public attention....why was it with all the unemployed in the commune that the maire's daughter, already employed in the school canteen, was taken on to do the census returns? Easy answer, she's the maire's daughter.
However, when the avian 'flu scare started, I remembered the duck stealer's disaster and I wondered also just how many more outbreaks take place that are covered up. It is in no one's private and financial interest to declare problems, after all, and public health does not figure in a farm's balance sheet.

This isn't just France....look at the disgraceful conditions of the pig rearing industry in Mexico where the swine 'flu first appeared. I've visited one of the pig factories in Brittany...animals in the dark, so close together that a pig urinates on the face of the pig behind, the air pulled out by the giant ventilators so foul that the land behind the pig housing is scorched and blighted. And this passes industry standards in Europe! Look at the disgraceful conditions of factory farming generally and consider the danger to public health from the over use of antibiotics to enable poultry and animals to withstand those conditions long enough to make profit for their owners.

Private profit before public health, on the small scale and the large, from the duck stealer to the drug companies. And where do doctors stand on all this? With a few exceptions they pull the visor of their caps over their eyes and prescribe Tamiflu.

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  1. I live down the road from a strawberry farm that uses so many chemicals they killed the insects that feed the fish in the river. It's a pick your own operation and I feel sorry for the people I see picking in the fields.
    And the berries have no flavor, as opposed to the small amount we grow for ourselves organically.
    It is all insane.

  2. Zuleme, it is, as you say, all insane. I just have a feeling that behind most commercial agriculture and horticulture operations today is a bank...loaning money and setting business targets that push these supposed cost reducing practices.I'm not organic...well, not in that sense...but pretty damn careful what I use and in what quantities.
    I try to keep old varieties too, good on flavour but not thought suitable for mass production and transport.

  3. We all factor little in this brave new world.

  4. Ian, why do you think that this is and how has it come about? How have we been pushed to the sidelines? There doesn't seem to be any connection between my life and the society which imposes itself on me.

  5. Oh I think there is so much we just don't much that is covered up.

    Excellent post!

  6. Ayak, all I have is what is dismissed as 'anecdotal evidence'...but it made me ponder.

  7. Well you opened my eyes a bit there - really interesting, especially about the duck stealer (love your name for him)!! I can't believe it - although I can, if you know what I mean. You also did a good job of reminding me why I gave up eating meat!

  8. Frances, my info came from the postlady who got it from the neighbour and from various other everything else round here! He didn't keep any more birds for over a year, in fact and his wife confirmed a lot of the story -not the money bit, of course.
    Those piggeries are a disgrace to us all.

  9. We love reading your posts on all the local scandals...b/c oh how they mirror our very own home discussions! Too funny. Here the topic du jour is the farmer on the hill daily watering his corn while all the fields around us wilt to oblivion!
    And as to the atrocious commercial farming & administrative public lying...well, there's a reason that aside from the butcher down the road, who raises beef cows that only eat his grass & grown feed & that he slaughters...we don't eat any beef in Europe. I just don't believe nor trust the Mad Cow reassurances publicized...too bad a way to go & too many other delicious veggies & meats to eat that have no risk!

  10. L.R.M-J, thank you for your kind comments. When Mad Cow burst upon the U.K., the roads here were full of lorries with the contaminated meal they couldn't sell in the U.K. being delivered to French wholesalers. One dump of it has been mouldering in the nect department for years while the authorities andm no doubt, the insurwers, wondered what to do about it. It has just officially been destroyed. Unofficially it's been diminishing in bulk over the years....
    One guy in the west of France was caught on the hop when the French stopped live imports of sheep....he had been buying his in Wales, keeping them on his farm for a few days and selling them on as local produce. So he was one unexpected casualty of the ban!
    Mark you, the oyster producers on the Atlantic coast have just been allowed to buy in oysters from Ireland, keep them for a bit and sell them on as Marennes, or whatever else - at a high price, of course.