Colin Breed, MP for South East Cornwall, & the Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs & Agriculture The foot and mouth outbreak has dominated the agenda and, sadly, looks as if it will continue to do so. While the immediate concern must be getting a grip on the disease, the outbreak has raised important questions, which will need answers in the long term. In a rare foray into rural matters Tony Blair sought to blame the supermarkets for this tragic situation, highlighting pressure on farmers to mass-produce. This met fierce criticism from the big retailers, but it has succeeded in raising questions in the public conscience. Of course the statement was simplistic ­ foot and mouth is not a direct product of supermarket purchasing practices. Indeed Blair's statement may have been a cynical attempt to deflect attention from issues closer to home, such as the closure of small abattoirs. An animal no longer moves from farm to market to abattoir, within a reasonably defined area, but often goes through several markets and farms before finally reaching the abattoir. And these movements are behind the extent of the spread of foot and mouth disease. The economics of the movements are also interesting: each transportation and each market visit accrues costs which are paid by the consumer. None of this dubious "added value" goes to farmers and it is difficult to see how it addresses consumers' demands for cheaper foods. However, the most important debate now must involve consumers, retailers, processors and producers. And it must consider what the future for the food chain should be. Do consumers really want cheap and plentiful food, regardless of the cost in the long term? Is the government directing resources sensibly when it cuts day-to-day budgets, then foots the bill when the cutting throws up the likes of FMD and BSE? Are retailers right to demand mass produced food, or is quality a more sustainable solution than quantity? These are the real questions the nation must answer. {{NEWS }}