Anti-farmer backlash feared asFarmers Ferry buys Brindie

27 August 1998

Anti-farmer backlash feared as
Farmers Ferry buys Brindie

By Johann Tasker

A LEADING figure in the dairy industry has warned of a backlash against farmers as it emerged that Farmers Ferry has finally gained control of the live-export company Brindie.

John Sumner, policy advisor to the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, said plans by Farmers Ferry to restart live calf exports once the beef export ban is lifted were “a bit like a desperate measure that may, if it wasnt handled well enough, backfire.”

Putting live calves on a ferry would also anger consumers and animal welfare groups, Mr Sumner added.

“The thought of putting live calves – even if it were possible – on a ferry would certainly not engender in our consumers the right sort of attitude,” he said. “Im not talking about the extreme welfarists, Im talking about the very sensible welfare lobbies.”

Farmers Ferry, the not-for-profit export company founded by five Welsh farmers, bought Brindie for an unspecified sum earlier this week. In doing so, Farmers Ferry took over the charter on the roll-on roll-off ferry Cap Afrique, which sailed from Dover today (Thursday) carrying more than 11,000 sheep to Dunkirk.

Farmers Ferry has now written to 25,000 dairy farmers asking them to fund calf shipments once the beef export ban is lifted. Company secretary David Owen was a major calf exporter before beef exports were banned during the BSE crisis. He is eager to restart calf exports once that ban is lifted.

But some dairy farmers and industry leaders are worried that donating money to Farmers Ferry will bring little benefit. They queried the profitability of exporting calves and disputed claims that exports were the answer to dairy farmers problems.

Farmers Ferry pledged to adhere to the highest welfare standards and claimed a “very encouraging” response to its mailshot. A spokesman said exports would provide an outlet for the glut of calves expected when the Calf Processing Aid Scheme ends in November. More than 1.2 million calves have been slaughtered since the scheme was launched two years ago.

But any lifting of the export ban will not initially apply to live animals. Asking farmers to donate money is therefore premature, agreed NFU milk committee chairman Michael Lambert. “The immediate problem is that were going to see the end of the slaughter premium scheme and were not going to be able to export,” he said.

Devon dairy farmer and former Milk Marque director Allin Bewes questioned whether calf shipments would be profitable. “If there isnt the demand, they wont make much of them anyway,” he said.

The Government is opposed to live exports and lifting the beef export ban for live animals remains some way off. “At the moment weve got enough on lifting the ban on meat products,” said a MAFF spokesman. “A detailed consideration will be given thereafter to lifting the ban on live exports.”

A spokesman for the Farmers Union of Wales, which has backed the Farmers Ferry, refused to comment on the methods used to raise money. “That is a matter for individual farmers to consider,” he said.

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