19 January 2001
Farmers target MPs in PR battle
By Alistair Driver
THE National Farmers Union is to launch a campaign to woo politicians after admitting it is losing the public relations battle against environmentalists.
The campaign will be launched at the unions annual conference early next month, said NFU president Ben Gill.
It will aim to educate politicians about how farming is changing and highlight key issues that the government should address.
NFU officials are frustrated that “bad” stories about food scares, welfare and environmental damage receive more media coverage than “good” farming stories.
Mr Gill anticipates a wave of anti-farming stories, emanating from welfare and conservation groups as the expected May election approaches.
The campaign comes as it emerged that the government rejected NFU proposals to avert a pesticide tax after it failed to consult environmentalists.
Treasury financial secretary Stephen Timms said the NFU and Crop Protection Association (CPA), should have gathered more outside opinion.
Mr Timms is known to favour a separate set of proposals from the Ulster Farmers Union, which consulted environmentalists and animal welfare groups.
He has given the NFU and the CPA until next Friday (26 January) to come up with new plans or face the prospect that a pesticides tax will be introduced.
The NFU has responded by calling a urgent meeting with conservation groups, including the RSPB, the Pesticides Action Network and English Nature.
Alex McGarel, of the Ulster Farmers Union pesticides working party, said: “Government is more likely to listen to … environmentalists than farmers.”
The NFU has also been stung by recent criticism over its Little Red Tractor logo, designed to boost sales of British food.
RSPB spokeswoman Hannah Bartram told the BBCs Countryfile last week that the tractor logo only guaranteed minimum environmental standards.
MPs have also criticised the unions relationship with environmentalists, not least its decision to walk out of a forum to discuss methods of controlling TB.
Brian Jennings, the NFU representative on the forum with environmentalists, said last week he was too busy for the meetings which did not produce any results.