10 September 1999

Scots spell out need to minister

SCOTTISH farm minister Ross Finnie said he would return from Wednesdays farm summit in London to ponder the outcome and see if more needed to be done in Scotland.

He had been left in no doubt during a meeting of the Scottish parliaments rural affairs committee on Tuesday that farmers expect a cull ewe scheme. Scottish NFU and Crofters Union leaders Jim Walker and John Mackintosh painted a bleak picture of calves and ewes being shot on farms and how unpalatable that would be for the public.

"This is not the sort of image we want to put across. It goes completely against the quality and caring image which is associated with Scottish beef and lamb production," said Mr Walker.

Mr Mackintosh said a cull scheme was vital in the Highlands where the terrain was not suitable for mass graves for livestock. "Sheep must be removed free of charge from the islands and remote areas of Scotland. The cull must be co-ordinated and that means it must be controlled and funded by the government," he said.

Short-term measure

But both insisted the cull had to be seen as a short-term measure and longer term stability in the sheep industry would depend on removing the obstacles, mainly meat hygiene and BSE-related charges, to fair competition.

"These charges must be taken away from the producer and funded by the public," said Mr Walker.

The Meat and Livestock Commission, also in written evidence, told the committee that there was a particular cull ewe problem in Scotland because of the high percentage of hill farms with small breeds.

Mr Finnie asked that there be no close questioning about his position on the cull because of the meeting in London the following day. However, he did say later at a news conference that he expected to be in Brussels on Monday to talk about national aid definitions. That was taken as a positive sign.

He also said that he would be reviewing meat inspection charges and practices in abattoirs very shortly. "It seems that we might sensibly move to a risk assessment approach rather than inspecting every single thing which is the current practice," he said.