Backlash fears as ferry group woos milk and calf men

28 August 1998

Backlash fears as ferry group woos milk and calf men

By Johann Tasker

ATTEMPTS by Farmers Ferry to raise money from milk producers and restart live calf exports are a desperate measure which could backfire, it was claimed this week.

Originally expected to export only sheep, Farmers Ferry has now written to 25,000 dairy farmers asking them to contribute to the project. Company secretary, David Owen, was a calf exporter before the beef export ban was introduced. He is eager to restart the trade once that ban is lifted.

But many dairy farmers and industry leaders said donating money would bring little benefit. They queried the profitability of exporting calves, warned of a backlash from animal welfare groups, and disputed claims that exports were the answer to their problems.

"It is a bit like a desperate measure that may, if it was not handled well enough, backfire," said John Sumner, policy adviser to the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers. Putting live calves on a ferry would also anger consumers and animal welfare groups.

"I am not talking about the extreme welfarists, I am talking about the very sensible welfare lobbies," he said.

Farmers Ferry pledged to adhere to the highest welfare standards and claimed a "very encouraging" response to its mail-shot. A spokesman said exports would provide an outlet for the glut of calves expected when the calf processing scheme ends in November.

But, under current proposals, any lifting of the export ban will initially be restricted to meat. Asking farmers to donate money for live exports was, therefore, premature, agreed NFU milk committee chairman Michael Lambert. "The immediate problem is that we are going to see the end of the slaughter premium scheme and we are not going to be able to export."

Devon dairy farmer and former Milk Marque director Allin Bewes questioned whether calf shipments would be profitable.

"If there is not 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 we have got enough on lifting the ban on meat products," said a MAFF spokesman.

A spokesman for the Farmers Union of Wales, which has backed the Farmers Ferry, refused to comment on the fund-raising methods.

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