16 May 2000
Gill pleads for unity

By FWi staff

NATIONAL Farmers Union president Ben Gill has appealed for unity in advance of a meeting with disaffected grassroots members.

Protest group Farmers For Action, whose representative Derek Mead will meet Mr Gill in London on Tuesday (16 May), claims small farmers are not adequately represented by the union.

The militant group, which has blockaded supermarket depots and milk processors and spilled milk in protest at low prices, wants reform of the NFU structure.

To back its demands, FFA has a petition containing 500 signatures from NFU members which it could use to force extraordinary general meeting to reform the unions constitution.

But speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme, Mr Gill said unity had to come from the meeting.

He said the purpose of talking to Mr Mead and other grassroots farmers is “to create a unified position in the industry.

“Everybody wants to achieve a fair share of the retail price of their products. The pity is that we havent had this echoed by enough members up and down the country.”

Mr Gill said he would abide by union rules if an EGM was called, but said members did not want “navel gazing” at a time when the industry faced crisis.

FFA spokesman David Handley said the group wanted to work with the NFU, and the petition was only a last resort.

“Sometimes in life these things need to happen,” he told Farming Today.

The FFA wants Mr Gill to recognise the work it has done, and involve it in discussions with processors and supermarkets.

Mr Handley said a lot of NFU work did not match the sense of urgency of protests from FFA.

But Mr Gill said it was “demonstrably untrue” to say the union had not been acting on behalf of members.

He insisted: “The key element is to take government with you, take public opinion with you. Laying down ultimatums is not always the best way forward.”