03 September 1999
Ministers pledge to consider aid halts calf dump
By Robert Davies
DUMPING unwanted calves and cull ewes in Wales appears to have stopped, after the Welsh Assemblys farm ministers pledge to consider unilateral aid schemes.
Christine Gwyther has so far failed to persuade UK farm minister, Nick Brown, to fund disposal schemes, but she promised to examine the assemblys agriculture budget to find the cash.
Though union leaders immediately rejected any idea of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, Ms Gwythers statement halted the direct action.
“I think things cooled down because farmers want to give her and her Scottish counterpart [Ross Finnie] the chance to come up with some workable ideas,” said Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales.
“They also realise that leaving calves in telephone boxes and 350 old ewes at an RSPCA centre risks alienating public opinion.”
As he prepared to lead a delegation of office holders to an emergency meeting with Mr Brown in London, the FUW president insisted that UK-wide action was needed. He was concerned that a unilateral Welsh ewe disposal initiative would suck in sheep from English farmers who wanted to avoid paying market commission and MLC levy.
“We will tell Mr Brown that we want a no-compensation, free disposal scheme to take the poorest ewes off the market and out of the food chain. In just a few weeks this would put a floor in the market for the rest, especially if spinal cords do not have to be removed for export.”
Mr Parry and NFU Wales-Cymru president, Hugh Richards, left an earlier meeting with Ms Gwyther saying the assemblys powers were so limited that they must in future also insist on direct talks with Mr Brown in London.
“On every issue Ms Gwyther has to go cap in hand to ministers in London. If they reject her suggestions, as happened over the Milk Marque report and the need to finance calf and ewe schemes, she can do very little because the Treasury controls the assemblys budget,” claimed Mr Parry.
Mr Richards, who attended a separate NFU meeting with Mr Brown, said the assembly was a fact of life and the union would continue to talk to its farm minister, but Westminster retained real control over agricultural and financial affairs.
He pledged: “We will continue to ensure that Welsh farmers views are also put directly to the Minister of Agriculture and the Cabinet.”