30 May 1997

Naish says militant beef protests crass stupidity

By John Burns

MILITANT protests by beef producers would be acts of the most crass stupidity, NFU leader, Sir David Naish, has warned.

Faced with calls for urgent action at a packed meeting at Launceston Town Hall, Cornwall, Sir David said empty threats of action, or civil disobedience would be acts of equally crass stupidity.

He wished to give the new government time. And he said he had personal assurances from EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, and EU consumer affairs commissioner, Emma Bonino, that they wished to see the beef export ban lifted.

"I do believe there is a chance of getting the beef ban lifted. And I have got a bit of political nous," Sir David added.

But Ian Scott, Altarnun, Corn-wall, drew thunderous applause and cheers when he asked the NFU president: "How much longer should we carry on losing money and waiting for your talks and meetings to produce results?"

Mr Scott suggested farmers should adopt the fishermens tactics. Their protests and demonstrations had gained them strength, sympathy and positive awareness.

Ian Pettyfer, Devon suckled calf producer and finisher, also warned that effective action was urgently needed. "I am not prepared to go on drifting in the wind not knowing any timetable for lifting the ban. We must get a timetable from the commission to allow us to plan."

He called for compensation for changes in the green £ saying it should be automatic. And he warned that farmers would not put up much longer with being forced to produce to difficult and restrictive standards while their market was taken by others less restricted.

If farmers were forced to act it would be to explain to consumers who had loyally supported British beef producers, both by buying their beef and by contributing taxes, that it had all been in vain.

"I hope Sir David realises how desperate some of us are. By God he had better watch out. We are close on his heels and we may overtake him if we have to, if he is not moving fast enough," said Mr Pettyfer.

Roy Cook, Devon, also raised concern over the standards demanded of UK producers by supermarkets who were selling beef imported from the most dubious sources simply because it was cheap.

But Sir David urged farmers not to knock supermarkets "I need the supermarkets – 88% of the produce they sell comes from British sources. I am not going to kick my customers in the shins."

The best approach was to persuade consumers to ask for British beef. "Supermarkets buy what their customers say they want," said Sir David.

Richard Haddock, Devon, said the message about imported beef was not getting through to consumers, especially in the big cities.

"We and the Welsh farmers showed how to do it in our own areas last year. Now it is time to extend it into the big cities. The burger give-aways are so cheap compared with TV advertising we could do all the big cities for the price of one advert." &#42