26 May 2000
Farmer fury at Gwyther pronouncement

By FWi staff

FURIOUS Welsh farmers representatives have hit back at claims by their agriculture secretary that farming contributes almost nothing to the economy of Wales.

Controversial Welsh Assembly agriculture secretary Christine Gwyther provoked anger with a written response to a question from a Labour AM.

>She said farming contributed 1.4% to gross domestic product (GDP) in Wales if subsidies were included.

But if subsidies were discounted, its contribution was “close to zero”, she added.

Some politicians seized on this to argue that the assembly spends too much time and money on farming issues.

The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) and the National Farmers Union Cymru branded Ms Gwythers comments as misleading.

FUW director of policy Mark Lazzeri said, with the average farmer earning around 4500 a year, it was inevitable their contribution to the economy would be reduced.

NFU Cymru spokeswoman Leigh Roberts added: “While agricultures contribution to GDP may be low, its contribution to rural Wales is massive.”

Both unions argued that farming cannot be viewed in isolation from other elements of the rural economy.

Farmers plough money back into the rural economy, create an environment which attracts tourists and have a multiplier effect on food industries, they said.

“Farming is the backbone of many rural communities, and without it they would simply die,” said Ms Roberts.

FUW spokesman Alan Morris said it was “a disgrace” that politicians had used the statement to forward arguments that farming was irrelevant.

He accused them of making farmers feel they “worthless” despite the fact that they work up to 100 hours a week often in difficult conditions.

There are 53,000 people directly employed in agriculture in Wales, – 4.5% of the workforce. Of these, 32,100 are full-time.

Controversy has dogged Ms Gwyther ever since she took up the farming portfolio last year.

The FUW claimed that as a vegetarian she could not represent livestock farmers and called for her immediate resignation

Then Ms Gwyther refused to resign after being censured by fellow members for failing to secure a Wales-only calf processing scheme.

The beleaguered secretary faced further problems this month when a GM trial went ahead in Flintshire without assembly approval.

She was accused of failing to act to create a GM-free Wales and faced another motion of censure. This was defeated.