Farmer reform or see government turn away

6 July 2001

Farmer reform or see government turn away

WITHOUT farmer-driven reform of the UK sheep sector, there is a real danger that the government will turn its back and leave the industry to restructure itself, NFU Scotland president, Jim Walker, has warned.

Speaking to delegates at the NFUS conference Mr Walker said: "Tony Blair has already told me that agriculture is not a priority – it is not even in his top 15.

"We have to deal with reality. And the reality is that the government has, for years, made clear that it wants a reduction of sheep in the hills.

"Added to that, the numbers of sheep and the numbers of movements around the country are being blamed for the spread of foot-and-mouth disease," he said.

"This disease has left the Treasury having to write its biggest ever cheque to agriculture. More than £800m has already been paid out in stock compensation alone and the Treasury is far from happy about it."

Changes, therefore, would have to be made if the industry was to have any hope of securing short-term government aid to help it recover from F&M. "We have got to be able to offer the government guarantees that we will do everything necessary to provide a livestock industry that they can trust. We have no option. We have to prove that we are of benefit to the country and that we can change. Whether you like it or not, that is the political reality.

"There is a huge danger of us being ignored by the government. It could easily turn its back on us and leave the sheep industry to restructure itself."

Ideas being discussed by the government and UK farming unions include individual sheep identification and a central movement database, genotyping to eradicate scrapie, and a voluntary quota buy-out scheme to reduce sheep numbers.

"If people do not like the message and do not want to change then that is fine," Mr Walker later told journalists. "But they need not come back to us later and complain that the market has fallen apart.

"We have this chance, and it will be our only chance, to set a new agenda and to move forward." &#42

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