21 November 1997

Minister faces the music from WFU

"I HAVE his CV here. He comes with full traceability," said chairman Meg Stroude introducing the Minister of Agriculture to the annual meeting of the Womens Farming Union.

At question time the Devon branch co-chairman Barbara Anning gave him the benefit of the doubt. She asked him if he had been misquoted in the Westcountry News where he was reported to have called farmers lazy.

"Of course I dont believe that farmers are lazy at all," said Dr Cunningham. Farmers work longer days than I do, he said, and he pointed out that he was in his office by 7am each morning.

But he maintained that the OTMS scheme was being abused. "The scheme allows farmers to put clean beef into OTMS," he said. "It is still happening. Clean beef should go to market rather than the OTMS. It may be for some people a rather lazy way of getting a cheque rather than taking them to market."

Devon members refused to accept this, insisting that he had not been properly advised and Mrs Anning will be writing to him.

Earlier he had commended the WFU on its role as a link between producer and consumer. "I heartily endorse it," he said. "What I am now doing reflects exactly what you do."

The Institute of Food Research is another bridge, explained director Alan Mal-colm. Its wide brief includes improving safety in the food chain and persuading consumers to have a healthy diet.

Consumers, Prof Malcolm said, will accept risks so long as they are the ones making the decisions, and they are more likely to accept genetic modifications in connection with medical matters than where food is concerned.

WFU members have spent a lot of time informing the public about biotechnology in the past year, through their work with the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, which was represented on many of the 75 displays and stands that members staged during the past year at national, county and city shows.

WFU has the backing of numerous organisations within the food and farming industries, and its views are sought by many others. For example, WFU council member Helen Bowers from Nottingham, whose special interest is research, represents WFU on the Pesticide Forum where she is able to bring consumer concerns as well as on-farm experience to its discussions.

WFU has long been involved in getting people onto farms to let them know how their food is produced. School visits are among their specialities and now members are developing their work within schools through the WFU panel of trained speakers. The project began in Scotland, the north-west, East Anglia and the south-west and is now spreading into other areas.

But agricultural education is not the only thing they are striving to take into schools. The reintroduction of school milk is among WFUs aims, and one spearheaded by Staffordshire members. "The project has required drive, professionalism, understanding and numerous other skills," said Meg Stroude announcing that £158,000 funding had been secured from the Milk Development Council to pilot six areas in England and Wales for a two-year period.

Ann Rogers

Chairman Meg Stroude: The Minister has fully traceability, she joked.