11 January 2001
Fight back against bad PR – Gill

By Alistair Driver

FARMERS have been urged to hit back in the public relations war with conservation and welfare pressure groups.

National Farmers Union president Ben Gill said farmers were coming off second-best in the debate on animal welfare, food safety and the environment.

With a general election expected in May, pressure groups will try to force manifesto commitments from Labour on certain key farming issues, he predicted.

“We need strong stories to put our message across,” he told delegates at an NFU council meeting in London on Thursday (11 January).

Good stories, such as a recent government report outlining improved relations between farmers and the countryside, rarely make the news, said Mr Gill.

Regional NFU officials should try harder to explain the farmers angle on issues such as TB in badgers – even if their farms are free of the disease, he said.

The union is frustrated that the impact on farms of the increasing number of TB outbreaks in cattle is overshadowed by public concern over badger welfare.

“We need to explain the facts,” said Mr Gill.

“Just remember all the innocent cows that have been killed.”

Mr Gill urged caution, however, when a union delegate urged the union to highlight the possibility of a public risk to humans from bovine TB.

The fact that badgers cause considerable damage to ground-nesting bird populations would be a useful point to throw into the debate, said Mr Gill.

Warwickshire NFU delegate David Smith said even the RSPB had “been fighting very hard to prevent this information coming out”.

The NFU and the RSPB have been at loggerheads this week over what the union describes as constant sniping at farmers.

Mr Smith said the RSPB was ruthless in its use of public relations and was not afraid of using out-of-date information to make its point.

The union should hit back, he said.