29 October 1999

Boycott counter-productive – SNFU

FARMERS leaders in Scotland, say boycotting French produce could do more harm than good.

A trade war with France would be completely counter-productive, said Jim Walker, president of the Scottish NFU. "The public can support our industry by choosing to buy Scottish. But to boycott French products is to invite a tit-for-tat retaliation and, when it comes to this sort of action, the French are much stronger than we are," he said. "They burn lorries full of sheep carcasses with little provocation."

Scottish producers would lose out in particular because of their dependence on exports, said Mr Walker. Responding to demands from some politicians for an import ban on all French meat, he said: "It would be quite wrong for politicians to have their sport and then leave Scottish farmers as the losers."

Ian Duncan Millar, chairman of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Associations technical committee, said France was by far Scotlands biggest European market.

"Exporters are doing business despite the strength of sterling. Any boycott of French produce would result in the French boycotting Scottish lamb," he warned.

Scottish landowners, too, insisted that any action that led to a full-scale trade war with France would be deplored. "We must respond to professional advice and the legal framework within which all European producers operate," said a spokesman for the Scottish Landowners Federation.

"Nevertheless, the uncertainty generated by recent developments clearly reinforces the need for appropriate product differentiation and distinct labelling," he added.

James Gordon, who runs sheep and suckler cows alongside an arable enterprise at Bindal Farm, Portmahomack, near Tain in the Highlands, initially thought farmer protests against French imports were a good thing.

"But then you remember that France is our gateway to Europe and that the French will retaliate more than us. I certainly think the French need their backsides kicked in terms of this beef ban but I do worry that protests here will lead to retaliation," he said.