Blair talks ‘productive’

NFU president Tim Bennett has described his meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair (News, 21 October) as frank and productive.

The threat of avian influenza dominated discussions last Thursday (20 October), he said.

But a number of other important issues relating to farming were discussed such as the CAP and the EU budget, sugar reform, competition in the food chain, the situation in the beef and milk industries, the need for reduced regulatory costs and the contribution farming can make in reducing carbon dioxide emmissions.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly, Mr Bennett said he remained confident that the Prime Minister was keen to remove any barriers that stood in the way of a sustainable future for the farming industry.

“We discussed a number of timely issues, especially with regard to the UK’s presidency of the EU,” said Mr Bennett.

“We agreed that any reforms of the sugar regime should benefit the best producers and the best processors and I made it clear that there is no point having these reforms if they lead to increased inefficiencies in production,” he said.

On biofuels, Mr Bennett told the Prime Minister that there were three things the government could do to help farmers meet his own agenda on reducing the impact on climate change.

“Those three things are: Obligatory inclusion of biofuels in the UK via the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation; a single lead department and strategy for biofuels; and changes in planning guidance, incorporating renewable power sources.

“We know of many businesses that are waiting to invest lots of money in biofuels once they receive the right indications from government,” he added.

Mr Bennett said during the meeting – which also included DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett and NFU director general Richard Macdonald – he also asked for a commitment to tackle bovine tuberculosis.

“TB has now become a cost issue, as well as a disease issue, for government and I told him we need a policy that tackles diseased wildlife as well as infected cattle.

But while he listened attentively, he made no commitments.

But we won’t give up in our determination to get a policy that attacks all aspects of the disease,” said Mr Bennett.