22 October 1999
Carry on protesting, say farmers

By Donald MacPhail

MORE direct action against the French ban on British beef has been demanded by hundreds of farmers who have contacted Farmers Weekly and FWi.

More than 200 people e-mailed and telephoned the FW news desk in response to a poll asking whether direct action was justified against the ban.

Ninety per cent of readers who responded said they fully supported farmers picketing ports and supermarkets in protest at the French ban on British beef.

Some respondents doubted whether the action would achieve much, despite this weeks stand-off by producers at Poole harbour in Dorset, on Tuesday night.

Police blocked around 200 producers as they tried to break through the harbour gates. The farmers had been waiting to lobby French lorry drivers.

Protest leaders say they will now also target food processors, and not publicise demonstrations in advance.

They are also considering action against cheap imports produced to welfare standards illegal in the UK unless the government acts.

Dissatisfaction with the government is a prominent feature in the FW poll, and there is criticism of the role of the NFU with calls for high profile events.

David Blair from Cupar, Fife, summed up the general feeling of desperation: “When your back is against the wall, all action becomes acceptable.”

Tony Constance, from Wantage, Oxfordshire, said direct action was the only way to get through to the government.

“Blair takes notice when there is a public show, it upsets his idea of a public spin.”

NFU lobbying ” accomplished very little”, said Sandra Clancy, from Kinross who believes the government is “quite happy to see farming wiped out in the UK.”

Alan Gill from Holyport, Berkshire, said: “We need something like the Countryside Alliance march in London to make an impression on the government.”

Others respondents were more cautious.

William Jackson from Berwick-on-Tweed said carefully targeted action could do good, but “hot-headed action” could backfire.

Will Gunn from Orston, Nottinghamshire, said “direct action is a waste of time which will do more harm than good”. But he supported the protests against France.

At Poole, protesters charged the first lorry to emerge from the docks, but withdrew after pleas from organisers and warnings from police.

Demonstrators tried to rush the dock entrance gates after authorities reneged on a promise to allow farmers to quiz drivers about their cargoes, said organisers.

They were stopped by a barrier of more than 40 police officers and Dorset police said one officer was overcome by the weight of the crush.

David Peters, a farmer from Kingsbridge, Devon, expressed the view of many protestors in an e-mail.

“We may alienate certain members of the public, as any demonstration does. But one has got to say, what other channels are available to us?”