3 May 1996

Gill calms angry SW

NFU deputy president Ben Gill has tried to pacify angry West Country beef producers who did not believe union leaders were doing enough for them in the BSE crisis.

South-west county chairmen, concerned that the plight of specialist beef producers seemed to be ignored, allowed some rank and file members into the regions BSE emergency committee meeting to put their complaints direct to Mr Gill during his visit to the region.

"We had a full and frank discussion" said Mr Gill. "I understand the frustrations of these beef producers. On Wednesday I told the Prime Minister that I felt I was sitting on a volcano that could erupt at any moment. I told him those having to sell cattle into the food chain were losing £50 to £100 a head and that it could not go on.

"We are at a stage where we have got to have a payment. I told (EU farm commissioner) Fischler four weeks ago he had two choices – an intervention system that allowed producers to stay in business, or let the market clear itself and pay compensation."

Increasing the beef special premium was not the best route, said Mr Gill. It was subject to a limit of 90 claims a producer and there was nothing for heifers.

Delays in getting effective intervention to put a bottom in the beef market, and in agreeing terms for the slaughter and destruction of cull cows and beef over 30 months, meant the backlog of cattle was growing. "But we are not going to be bullied into accepting terms which would destroy the structure of the industry.

"Our overriding aim is to preserve existing structures such as auctions and abattoirs so they are there when we are back to normal."

Anti-Europe talk was not helping get the export ban lifted, he said. "I was aghast at the childish behaviour of senior government members talking about tit-for-tat retaliation."

But there was "an urgent need for competent people to be available to put our side to the Continental media," he added. &#42

The NFUs Ben Gill.