7 April 2000
NFU attacked over summit claim

By Johann Tasker

BEN GILL, president of the National Farmers Union, is under fire after claiming the credit for a major concession from the government to farmers.

Beef producers slammed Mr Gills claim that only the NFU fought for the end of the weight limit restricting payments under the Over Thirty Months Scheme.

The Prime Minister announced the removal of the limit at the Downing Street summit last week as part of the governments 200 million aid package.

Mr Gill praised the package and drew special attention to the removal of the OTMS limit. He added: “Only the NFU fought for this change.”

The statement angered Robert Robinson, chairman of the National Beef Association, which has campaigned for the limit to be lifted since October 1998.

“They are insulting the intelligence of their membership if they expect them to be believe that only the NFU lobbied against the limit,” he said.

But an NFU spokeswoman said Mr Blairs decision to lift the OTMS limit came only at the eleventh hour at Mr Gills personal insistence.

The NBA would have accepted a cut in OTMS payments if the weight limit was lifted, she claimed.

“It was only because of our influence that the government agreed at the last minute that it should be in the package without any cut in payments.”

Other recent NFU assertions about the success of its lobbying are also under scrutiny by groups who believe the union is claiming undue credit.

Last month, Brussels postponed the introduction of its proposed “two-metre” rule to reduce subsidies for farmers with field margins wider than two metres.

After the announcement, the NFU declared: “Intense lobbying by the NFU has secured a significant victory for farmers.”

The statement dismayed 17 groups which sent a joint letter to Brussels and Westminster calling on politicians to delay the two-metre rule.

Signatories to the Wildlife and Countryside Link letter included the National Trust, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and the RSPB.

Hannah Bartram, RSPB agricultural policy officer, said: “I saw the NFU statement and it made my blood boil.

“The NFU were on that group but they pulled out at the very last minute for no accountable reason. It was a great disappointment to us all.”

The NFU claimed it withdrew because the letter said farmers would have been ineligible for payments whereas they would have in fact faced a reduction.

“Despite our agreement in principle we were unable to correct a factual error in the letters first paragraph,” said the NFU spokeswoman.