11 January 2002

Blockade way to lose new-found public sympathy

PUBLIC sympathy for farmers following the foot-and-mouth epidemic will be damaged by militant farmers who blockade supermarket depots, industry leaders have warned.

The NFU said it was concerned with threats made by Farmers for Action which is in dispute with the retail giant Tesco.

Farmers for Action chairman David Handley has claimed that he can mobilise up to 4500 of his organisations supporters and blockade Tesco depots. He has accused the supermarket of forcing down farmgate prices and is demanding a meeting with its chief executive Sir Terry Leahy.

But an NFU spokeswoman said: "There is the fear that sympathy and support for British farmers will be at risk, and this is one of our concerns." The public would be inconvenienced and producers who supply some depots directly could also end up suffering, she added.

Mr Handley said he would try to keep any blockades "as legal as possible". But he added: "There will be times when we have to step over the margin. If going to court and getting media attention means a securer future, we are prepared to take that risk."

Tesco said its producer clubs were the correct forum for farmers to discuss farmgate prices. &#42