2 January 1998

Mass rally aims

to keep protest

pot on the boil

By Shelley Wright

A HUGE rally in central London, involving more than 10,000 farmers and their supporters, is being planned for later this month.

NFU president Sir David Naish said the action was needed to continue to highlight to government, and the public, the crisis facing UK agriculture.

He acknowledged that the £85m aid package, announced by farm minister Jack Cunningham just before Christmas, would throw a lifeline to hill farmers and to lowland suckler producers. But, compared to the huge losses being suffered by every sector, the package addressed only a minor part of the problem.

The £85m comprises an extra £25m on hill livestock compensatory allowance payments, split equally between beef and sheep, plus £60m from the EU commissions agrimonetary compensation fund – only 6% of the total available to the UK for green £ revaluations – which will be paid to suckler producers.

That will provide an estimated increase of £47/beast for hill suckler units, and £37/cow for those in the lowlands. The HLCA rise for sheep will add £1/breeding ewe.

While the money was welcome, Sir David said it represented a broadly neutral package for hill farmers compared with the aid they received last year, since when market prices had collapsed

And lowland suckler producers had lost more than the £37/beast now on offer because of Dr Cunninghams decision in June to cut over-30-month scheme compensation, and to introduce the 560kg payment ceiling.

The package would provide an immediate lifeline for some, but Sir David added that it did not resolve the crisis facing the farming industry. There was an overwhelming need for government to apply to Brussels for the entire £980m green £ compensation. So, the NFU campaign would continue.

"We will continue the Keep Britain Farming campaign, to ensure that British consumers realise how important it is for them to ask for British produce," Sir David said, welcoming Dr Cunninghams intention to introduce compulsory country of origin labelling for meat in the spring.

The union was cautiously optimistic about the ministers decision to consider adopting the EU early retirement scheme, as part of his determination to restructure the beef industry. But Sir David stressed that it was vital that reform was EU-wide, and not confined to Britain.

&#8226 Shadow farm minister Michael Jack likened Dr Cunningham to Scrooge, because, despite trumpeting that he was giving an extra £85m to the industry, the minister had already taken away £127m through OTMS cuts, charges for cattle passports, Meat Hygiene inspections and a £35m deficit on last years HLCAs.

Thousands of farmers and supporters are expected to descend on London later this month as the NFUsteps up its Keep Britain Farming campaign.