The Women’s Institute has refused to vote on a resolution which would have seen the 207,000-member organisation campaign against large-scale farms.

In an unprecedented move, members decided instead to untable the controversial resolution – a move which saw voting by-passed at the WI annual convention in Liverpool on Wednesday (8 June).

The resolution had described the “practice of factory farming, particularly large animals such as pigs and cows” as abhorrent. Proposed by the Dilton Marsh branch in Wiltshire, it called for a ban on planning permission for such projects.

Had it been passed, the resolution would have formed the basis for WI campaigning over the coming years – a bitter blow for the farming industry from an organisation more usually seen as sympathetic to agriculture.

But its wording caused widespread concern, both within the WI itself and the farming industry, with NFU president Peter Kendall calling for a debate based on facts “rather than scare stories and emotive language”.

Farmers and NFU staff had attended more than 100 WI meetings ahead of the AGM in a bid to answer questions about the implications of large-scale farms from thousands of members.

The move appears to have paid off. Following a passionate debate Liverpool, WI delegates unanimously decided that they were unable to vote either way or the other on the resolution.

“I have the right to vote for four clubs,” one member told the conference. “They didn’t know which way to vote and having listened to both speakers I still don’t know which way to vote.”

Mr Kendall travelled to Liverpool to speak against the resolution. “Like the NFU, the WI wants to have a debate about the future of farming that’s based on the facts,” he said. “For our part, we very much look forward to being part of that debate.”

Speaking in support of the motion, Soil Association director Helen Browning acknowledged that big did not necessarily mean bad. But she told the AGM that large-scale farms would remove diversity from British farming.
 
The WI has now called on the farming industry to open up a “rational and transparent debate” on the future direction of UK agriculture.