1 October 1999

Hague food policy gives false hope

CONSERVATIVE leader William Hagues promise that, if re-elected, a Tory government would ban imports of food not produced to British health and hygiene standards, has drawn sharp criticism.

Launching what he called a "two line defence of British agriculture", Mr Hague also said the Conservatives would introduce stricter laws to ensure that food labelled as British was, in fact, British.

He claimed the policy would help pig farmers in particular.

"Conservatives will help British agriculture in many ways, but our top priority is to ensure that our farmers can compete on fair terms with their European counterparts," he said.

But, speaking during the CLA fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, farm minister Nick Brown accused Mr Hague of offering false hope to farmers.

Not smart option

"Banning imports is not a smart option for a country that exports £10 billion of food and produce every year. If we try, we will be taken to court and we will lose."

"To offer them [farmers] a panacea that will not work is a very cruel thing to do."

The Danish Bacon and Meat Council said it was "astounded" by Mr Hagues comments.

In its view, any proposals to ban imports would not only be unlawful under European law, but also unjustified.

But, despite the criticism, a Conservative Party spokeswoman confirmed that Mr Hague stood by his comments. The party had checked whether or not a ban would be legal and had been told it would, she said.

Meanwhile, the sectors continuing problems have prompted the Meat and Livestock Commission to write to Mr Brown and his counterparts in Scotland and Wales to ask for part of the recent aid package to be used to help the pig industry.

To highlight the problems, more than 100 pig producers travelled to the Houses of Parliament last week, taking two sows with them.

The animals, which were tethered and crated, were used by the members of the British Pig Industry Support Group to highlight that pigmeat produced under conditions that are illegal in the UK is still being imported.