Borders farms under the law of unintended consequences

In his Radio 2 heyday, a Terry Wogan theme was a national slogan for Britain.

One of the front-runners was “Mustn’t grumble.”

I remembered that at the end of last week as we had several almost perfect autumn days. This first half of October has not been joy unalloyed as some parts of the Borders have also had heavy rain, but in all we couldn’t ask much more from autumn than the blue skies and sunshine we’ve had.

As one result, the countryside, crops and livestock continue to look well, with a few exceptions. These include several fields of oilseed rape in the Borders with big bare patches. I thought these had been caused by poor germination in a dry seedbed, but it seems slugs and flea beetle could be an even bigger problem. That, in turn, is because neonicotinoid seed dressings have been banned as a possible threat to the environment, although proof of that is slim.

The result is not only flea beetle damage to some crops and a talking point for neighbours. Farmers have resorted to pyrethroid sprays in belated attempts to kill off the beetles – and pyrethroids, legal sprays as they are, might cause environmental problems – certainly more than minimal amounts of chemical used as seed dressing. One more example of the law of unintended consequences.

Survey results can be interesting, but it’s as well to think about what they are related to. A recent survey indicated that about 12 per cent of British adults are now vegetarian or vegan. That increases to 20 per cent for those under 25. I wouldn’t impugn Mintel, the respected organisation that carried out the study, but it was done to coincide with World Vegetarian Day.

The survey also found that those of us, still the great majority, who eat meat and enjoy it are nevertheless reducing how much we eat. We’re adopting a so-called “flexitarian” diet with more vegetables and probably fillers like pasta. The price of meat was given as one reason, but health, and concerns about animal slaughter were also considered major factors.

The Vegetarian Society said that reducing meat intake, nationally and globally, was an important step in tackling environmental problems.

I guess they would say that. Being parochial, does that mean Britan’s livestock producers have a future? Or will demand for what they produce wither away?

The short answer is no, except possibly in the case of lamb where demand has fallen – according to figures from the big supermarkets – from about seven kilos per person per year in 1990 to about two kilos now. That’s huge. That’s worrying. But even with that, the fact that 12 per cent of the British population of 63million claims to be vegetarian can be set against the fact that, say, demand for meat from 1.4billion Chinese, 1.2billion Indians and a few hundred million more people round the world is increasing as their incomes rise.

Some days, breakfasting to Radio 4 or Five Live news, it’s hard to believe that the world as a whole is getting better for more people. But it is. And demand for more meat is part of that.