1 September 2000

Farmers for Action criticised by NFUin milk price row

By John Burns

THE apparent success of Farmers For Action in persuading retailers that milk prices are unsustainable threatens to drive a wedge between the pressure group and the NFU.

Dave Handley, chairman of Farmers for Action, claims he received a phone call from Asda informing him that the NFU was unhappy at media reports that the supermarket had agreed not to exert any pressure on farmers to reduce milk prices. The next round of milk pricing next month could mean milk prices rise by anything up to 3p/litre – a move usually resisted by supermarkets.

Mr Handley told FARMERS WEEKLY: "I was told that Asda would look unfavourably on the agreement if there was going to be a public fight between the NFU and Farmers For Action. I told them that what went in the Press was what had been agreed with them, and that I had no wish to get into a fight."

Mr Handley claims he then telephoned NFU president Ben Gill who told him that he had put in jeopardy the whole negotiation effort on milk prices. Mr Handley claims Mr Gill said that media reports would focus the attention of the Office of Fair Trading on milk prices and jeopardise any rises being negotiated.

"I was surprised at that because recently the NFU told us it could not negotiate milk prices as it had no milk to sell," said Mr Handley. I suggested we should be getting together and moving forward and was then accused by Mr Gill of criticising the NFU in public meetings and told that I could not be trusted. So I asked to meet him in London. But he was too busy."

Mr Gill was unavailable for comment. However, NFU deputy president Tim Bennett said the union was delighted that retailers had recognised the need to pay more for milk. He added: "We can see there is space in the market for an increase in price. But it must be seen to be coming from the market." However, he declined to comment on Mr Gills conversation with Mr Handley.

A spokeswoman for Asda said it was wrong to suggest that the supermarket chain had bowed to any pressure from either Farmers For Action or the NFU. Proposals to improve milk prices for farmers have been planned for months, she added.

Farmers for Action leader Dave Handley claims he has no wish for a fight with the NFU.

NFUleader Ben Gill:Accused of rejecting Mr Handleys request for a meeting.