03 September 1999
Sheep cull has merit, says Brown
By Johann Tasker
A MASS cull of hundreds of thousands of worthless sheep is a step closer after agriculture minister Nick Brown acknowledged there was “some merit” to the idea.
The cull is among a number of proposals being considered by ministers who have already ordered review of the entire agricultural sector.
A £6 million plan for the slaughter and disposal of 400,000 worthless hill ewes was presented to Mr Brown by the Meat and Livestock Commission on Wednesday.
Mr Brown has indicated that cost will be the main consideration in sanctioning the proposal but said that a cull “certainly has some merit as a short-term measure”.
His statement followed a meeting with farmers leaders on Thursday afternoon over the continuing crisis in farming and plummeting prices in the livestock sector.
The National Farmers Union estimates that farm incomes have fallen by 75% over the past two years to their lowest level since the 1930s.
Incomes for hill farming sheep producers slumped 37% last year and lamb prices have fallen by about 30% in the past 12 months.
Cull ewes worth almost £50 two years ago have sunk to less than £10.
Crisis-hit farmers have become increasingly vociferous in their accusations that the government is not doing enough to help ease their plight.
Mr Brown will be keen to avoid those accusations prior to the Labour Party conference later this month at which hundreds of farmers have pledged to protest.
On Thursday, Mr Brown revealed that he had finally agreed to ask the European Commission to introduce Private Storage Aid to take UK sheepmeat off the market.
If implemented, the scheme would subsidise the freezing of freshly slaughtered meat to keep it off the market for seven months in the hope prices would stabilise.
But Mr Brown ruled out hopes of direct financial aid to farmers, although he said would be having discussions on the subject with the Treasury.
His comments came before a summit meeting in London with farmers leaders, including Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Gill said the Private Storage Aid scheme would be a major step in easing the pain in the prime lamb sector.
It was now vital that the European Commission realised how critical it was that they acted on Mr Browns application for its go-ahead from Brussels.
“The NFU will now be turning its attention to lobbying the commission to ensure that this happens,” said Mr Gill.