21 May 1999
Vegetarian won’t quit
Welsh farm minister job
CHRISTINE GWYTHER, the vegetarian minister responsible for agriculture and rural affairs at the Welsh Assembly, will not quit.
Despite 200 delegates at the Farmers Union of Wales annual meeting voting unanimously to demand her resignation, Ms Gwyther insists she will not go.
She said that not eating meat for 20 years did not prejudice her ability to deal with farming issues.
Ms Gwyther confirmed that Welsh Assembly leader Alun Michael was fully aware of her eating habits when he gave her the job.
And she said she was aware of the need to find solutions to the serious problems faced by Welsh livestock farmers.
But her appointment was described as insensitive and divisive by other parties in the assembly.
One of the strongest attacks came from Anglesey farmer Peter Rogers, a regional Conservative member of the new Welsh assembly.
Mr Rogers described the decision to place a vegetarian in such a key assembly post as an insult to every farmer in Wales, and he demanded her immediate resignation.
Bob Parry, FUW president, used his presidential address on Wednesday to pour scorn on a decision that had made so many farmers extremely angry.
“Many people are asking how the new Welsh Food Strategy can be taken seriously when the secretary in charge refuses to eat most of the food produced in Wales,” he said.
Mr Parry claimed that angry producers at every livestock mart in Wales were complaining bitterly that a vegetarian was effectively in control of the meat industry.
He warned that members expected Ms Gwyther to give nothing less than 100% to promoting the best interests of Welsh agriculture.
Keith Jones, spokesman for the National Farmers Union Cymru-Wales, said most members were prepared to give Ms Gwyther a chance before judging her.
The union would have preferred to deal with a minister who was already up to speed on farming and rural affairs, he said.
“But we will work with anyone who is prepared to listen and act in the best interests of everyone who makes a living in the countryside,” he added.
Two Powys farmers will shadow Ms Gwyther from the opposition benches.
Tory Glyn Davies and Lib Dem Mick Bates, who farm only a few miles apart near Welshpool, have been made their parties farming spokesmen.