4 September 1998

Pork & bacon labelling is just not on

THE government has abandoned any hope of EU legislation to label all pork and pigmeat products with country of origin. The admission came from Scottish farm minister Lord Sewel during a visit to an Aberdeenshire pig farm on Tuesday.

"I cannot bring in a scheme to label all pork and bacon. That would require EU agreement and such agreement simply isnt there," he said.

But he did promise to renew efforts to persuade British supermarkets and caterers to adopt a voluntary labelling scheme. He also announced a £150,000 grant to bolster Scottish pig meat marketing and consumer education. The news, however, did not impress the 30 farmers who had gathered at Womblehill, Kintore.

"I would need all that money myself just to break even this year," said host farmer Kevin Gilbert. "This is a drop in the ocean, it will do nothing to stop more pig farmers going out of business," said John Rennie, Gask, Turriff.

The £150,000, which has to be matched by MLC cash, will be used to enable the Scottish Pig Industry Initiative to employ a marketing manager and produce educational material for retailers, caterers and consumers.

The nearest the minister came to confrontation with the farmers was at the end of the visit when one producer, complaining of unfair trading, said his European competitors were still allowed to use meat and bonemeal.

"You return to meat and bonemeal and you will have no market left in a week. BSE is a British problem, not a European one," said Lord Sewel spinning on his heel and heading for his car.

In the evening he met local Lib-Dem MPs Malcolm Bruce and Robert Smith with a delegation of four leaders of Aberdeen and Kincardine NFU. The audience lasted 90 minutes but the best the farmers could report was that the minister had listened closely to their case.

"We got little comfort there tonight and I fear the mood of our members will turn ugly at our area meeting on Thursday," said Allan Smith, Ellon.

Throughout the day there were clear indicators that, unless some government help is forthcoming, militant farmer action will start as soon as harvest is gathered.