11 June 1999

Vegetarian minister has mixed reception from Welsh unions

By Robert Davies

CHRISTINE Gwyther, the Welsh Assemblys vegetarian farm minister, was given contrasting receptions by the principalitys two farming unions when she met their executive councils last week.

The Grand Council of the Farmers Union of Wales met the minister in private at Aberystwyth for what insiders described as an openly hostile confrontation.

Four county branch delegates from Caernarfon walked out of the meeting when Ms Gwyther refused to consider eating meat again, and the council agreed to spend four weeks consulting members on whether union leaders should negotiate with her. If members vote against, the FUW could end up talking to the assembly via civil servants.

Meanwhile, opening the NFU-Cymru meeting at Builth Wells, president Hugh Richards admitted that not all members agreed with the unions decision to keep talking to Ms Gwyther until it was clear whether she could deal fairly with livestock producers.

"Your appointment has caused consternation in the farming community, and there has been criticism of our stance," said Mr Richards. "We at this top table have taken some flak, but we continue to believe our approach is the right one."

Ms Gwyther made it clear that, despite her position being "reviewed" by the FUW in a month, she would be the person farming unions would have to deal with when power transferred to the assembly in July. She said she was ready to "throw herself" into the enormous task of improving conditions for Welsh farmers.

Ms Gwyther insisted that she was not a militant vegetarian. She stopped eating meat for economic reasons when a student and had lost the taste for it. But her partner and family still ate meat.

During the meeting, delegates listed a number of issues they wanted Ms Gwyther to tackle.

She was applauded when she made it clear that she favoured Milk Marque being allowed to continue operations and develop its processing facilities, and there was similar approval when she admitted that the new Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme was underfunded and that the situation would be reviewed during the next budget round. &#42

WOADattacked at NFU-Cymru council meeting

THE performance of some Welsh Office Agriculture Department offices came under attack at last weeks NFU-Cymru council meeting.

John Davies from Pembrokeshire described one divisional office as a disgrace, and accused its staff of acting like the SS when dealing with farmers.

When he complained about the "pathetically" slow processing of a problem, he had been told that he would get an answer sooner if he got off the phone and let people get on with their jobs.

Other delegates complained of poor service and late payments resulting from offices being starved of resources, and of lack of co-operation between departments and different offices.

Senior WOAD spokesman Huw Brodie acknowledged farmers concerns and said £16m was being spent on a project to provide a harmonised, more coherent, competent, faster and user-friendly service. &#42