9 January 2002
Militants will forfeit sympathy – Union

By Adrienne Francis

PUBLIC sympathy after foot-and-mouth will be damaged if militant farmers press ahead with plans to blockade supermarket depots, it has been claimed.

The National Farmers Union said it was concerned with threats made by Farmers for Action which is in dispute with the retail giant Tesco.

Farmers for Action chairman David Handley has claimed that up to 4500 of his organisations supporters are preparing to blockade Tesco depots.

He has accused the supermarket of forcing down farmgate prices and is demanding a meeting with its chief executive Sir Terry Leahy.

But an NFU spokeswoman said: “There is the fear that sympathy and support for British farmers will be at risk, and this is one of our concerns.”

The public would be inconvenienced and producers who supply some depots directly could also end up suffering, she added.

The NFU sympathised with the plight of farmers, but was unable to support any illegal activity, the spokeswoman said.

Mr Handley said he would try to keep the blockades “as legal as possible.”

But he added: “There will be times when we have to step over the margin.”

He continued: “If going to court and getting media attention means a securer future, we are prepared to take that risk.

“Our membership is very hungry to do something as they are fed up with being pushed around by companies and government.”

Mr Handley acknowledged that Farmers for Action must keep consumers on its side, but said it was ridiculous that a meeting had not been granted.

In response to the NFUs refusal to support the blockades, he accused the union of being “too far away from the grassroots level of farming”.

Leaflets explaining the reasons for the protests will be distributed to consumers at supermarkets from next week, Mr Handley said.

Tesco said its producer clubs were the appropriate forum for farmers to discuss farmgate prices.