12 December 1997

NFUturns screw

with £150,000

crisis campaign

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By Tony McDougal

FARMERS leaders stepped up the pressure on government this week as they launched a £150,000 advertising campaign to highlight the plight facing the UKs farming community.

And with government refusing to bow to demands for green £ compensation, worth £980m under an agreed EU formula, NFU president Sir David Naish gave his backing to lawful protests at ports across Britain.

That brought a stinging rebuke from farm minister Jack Cunningham, who said port blockades would lose the UK friends in Brussels when allies were needed to get the beef ban lifted.

NFU county chairmen were summoned to London on Monday to discuss the crisis, and all 47 reiterated their support for the Keep Britain Farming campaign, which aims to collect as many signatures as possible on a national petition launched by the union last week.

Sir David said farmers were furious because of the lack of government acknowledgement of the current crisis. "Many are asking if the government really cares for the countryside and those who make their living from it."

He added that eight other EU member states, which had suffered from green currency revaluations, had received compensation totalling £408m from the EU Commission, yet the UK government had ignored the issue.

Dr Cunningham has until Jan 16 to apply for the first of four tranches of compensation, but NFU deputy president Tony Pexton said farmers were also looking for increased Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance payments.

Dr Cunningham said the case for revaluation compensation was not a cost-free option for government, as the Treasury would end up paying £800m because of the Fontainbleu agreement.

That was an unrealistic demand when other sectors of industry had also been badly affected by the strength of sterling.

Any extra funding for HLCAs, with rumours in Scotland that there could be an extra 6% for suckler cows, would have to come from the Treasurys contingency reserve. To win that, he would first have to convince cabinet colleagues of the need.

But he accepted that hill farmers had faced a rotten year, and hinted they might receive some additional support.

&#8226 NFU president Sir David Naish met EU food safety commissioner Emma Bonino in Brussels yesterday (Thur) to press for an early lifting of the beef export ban.