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THE NFU has been accused of conducting a smear campaign against grass-roots farmers in an attempt to thwart talks with dairy companies over milk prices.
Senior NFU officials telephoned NFU Scotland president Jim Walker urging him not to attend a meeting between the Farmers For Action pressure group and Robert Wiseman Dairies last Sat (Aug 10), FARMERS WEEKLY can reveal. But Mr Walker refused to comply with their demands.
While NFU leaders in England are seeking to minimise any positive publicity for Farmers For Action, Mr Walker claimed that everyone should be fighting for the same result – profitable farming. He said: "I am happy to meet anyone who has that aim.
"The NFU in the south does not control NFU Scotland, and it most certainly does not control me. People can agree or disagree with Farmers For Actions tactics, but everyone involved in that organisation is totally committed to our industry and they can see no other way to get people to listen."
It is also alleged that Dairy Crest officials were invited to the meeting and were contacted by the NFU. A company spokeswoman was investigating the claim as FARMERS WEEKLY went to press on Wed (Aug 14). But an NFU spokeswoman said she could find no evidence that any such conversations took place.
The meeting with Robert Wiseman Dairies failed to achieve a better milk price. Mr Walker has asked NFUS members to consider whether they should take direct action as individual farmers. He added. "The government and big businesses are laughing at us, and that cannot be allowed to continue."
Farmers For Action is asking its supporters not to sell any produce for 24 hours on Friday, 23 August. The aim is to highlight the low prices paid to producers. Mr Walker said it would be difficult for NFUS to be involved in direct action as an organisation because it could be held liable for any losses inflicted on affected businesses.
The Farmers For Action strike has won support from unexpected quarters – including anti-GM campaigners. A radical green group, Grassroots Action on Food and Farming, said it backed the day of action. The group is a new organisation helping to build a network of farmers and environmentalists to oppose the demise of small family farms.
The groups spokeswoman Kathryn Tulip said: "Grass-roots environmentalists recognise that unless farmers get a fair price for their produce they will be unable to deliver healthy food, wildlife, the environment and high animal welfare standards. If we dont want big corporate owned production units, then we must support our small and family farmers."
Farmers For Action chairman David Handley said: "I dont care if it is the NFU that gets a milk price rise, we need one desperately. We have been working closely with the environmental movement for sometime. By joining forces and presenting a united voice we feel much progress can be made in alerting the wider public to the issues." *