Union fears civil
unrest in shires
By John Burns
THERE is a growing risk of serious civil unrest in rural areas, according to the NFU hierarchy.
At a meeting of the unions policy committee, which is composed of commodity committee chairmen, it was agreed that, unless members energies were directed into constructive activity, there was a real danger of civil unrest which the NFU would be unable to contain.
Some sectors already faced meltdown, and farmgate prices generally were still falling. Added to that was ever more bureaucracy and threats to the rural way of life from a government which appeared to have neither a strategy for agriculture nor concern for rural area problems.
Later, however, NFU deputy director general Ian Gardiner played down the idea of civil unrest. But he promised: "You will definitely see plenty of action from the NFU this autumn, both in public and behind the scenes.
"We are well aware where the Labour Party is holding its conference (Bournemouth) and it is unlikely that there will not be a gathering of farmers at least as big as the one we had there when the previous government was in office. And it will be officially co-ordinated by the NFU."
One of the likely leaders of farmer action is Devon NFU chairman Richard Haddock, who says he has had requests from all over the country to organise some form of vigorous protest.
He told FW that he had warned MAFFs south-west director Mike Highman this week that the countryside was "a tinderbox" of growing resentment about the catalogue of unreasonable and ill-informed government behaviour which was adding to the industrys financial problems.
Examples included the imminent withdrawal of the calf processing scheme while calf exports were still banned and beef exports had yet to resume, and the outcome of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission milk investigation.
Mr Haddock said: "If Milk Marque has not come out with a clear statement within a week, its time every dairy farmer, whether supplying MM or not, got off their butts and marched on London." If they waited much longer they would be waiting for ever, he believed.
"If this government does not realise were at the point of meltdown its time the whole rural economy stood together and was seen en masse in London.
"The government has to understand that, without British agriculture, there will be nothing in the countryside, not even a park to walk in," said Mr Haddock.
EUTory leader snubs chance of top farm job
UK farmers could lose out because the leader of the British Conservatives in the European Parliament is focusing instead on the needs of developing countries.
There will be no Tory MEPs in positions of power on the European parliaments agricultural committee because the leader of the British Conservatives in Europe, Edward McMillan-Scott, instead nominated someone to join the African Caribbean and Pacific delegation.
The decision was slammed as "short-sighted and strange" by one leading insider who asked not to be named.
"With so many controversial topics on the agenda, including CAP reform, WTO negotiations and GM crops, British farmers interests could be severely disadvantaged," he warned.
But Mr McMillan-Scott insisted that the agriculture committee was not very influential and acted purely in an advisory capacity.
"In contrast, the ACP administers a budget of £30bn of EU aid to 66 countries. It is one of the most important committees in the EU parliament," he said.
UK shadow farm minister Tim Yeo, however, expressed disappointment at the decision.
"Agriculture is one of the most important committees in the European parliament. Given the large number of Conservative MEPs, it is extraordinary that we should not have been given a position of power.
"It means our voice will be weaker in one of the forums where it should be heard loud and clear," he said.
Tory MEP and Ayrshire farmer Struan Stevenson, who will sit on the agriculture committee, agreed the party should have had a position of authority, but added: "It means all three Conservative members will have to work harder to get our views across."
The committee will be led by the German Green Partys Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf.
Pig assurance scheme union
FABpigs and the Malton Code Certification Scheme are to merge to establish a single national pig assurance scheme.
The assurance umbrella group Assured British Meat announced the agreement this week and said that once the fine details of the new scheme had been settled, the scheme should be operational by Sept 30.
The details are expected to include elements of both existing schemes with ABM acting as the certification body.
Inspections will be carried out by independent auditors, Product Authentication Inspection/GB Food, who currently assess 2500 farms operating to the Malton Code standards.
Announcing the change John Godfrey, chairman of the British Pig Association said: "I know the industry will be delighted by this development. All sides have worked so hard to achieve this scheme. We must unite to ensure its success."
NFU president Ben Gill described the move as a major step forward in the unions key aim of a single farm assurance inspection system. "It is a firm move towards a reduction of duplication, particularly necessary at this time of real difficulties for the industry."
And John Hughes chairman of FABPigs added: "It is now vital that we work hard to take full advantage of this unified approach and that producers benefit from the added value this brings."
David Pearce, chief executive of ABM said that a single scheme would allow the industry to "concentrate on the central tasks of producing and selling British pig meat".
War on red tape
THE NFU has launched a campaign to cut red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy.
Ben Gill, union president, said a survey of members revealed that 97% felt red tape had increased significantly in the past five years. For 81%, that had resulted in higher costs.
All producers surveyed felt urgent action was needed. The union would lobby for better co-ordination within and between government departments to avoid duplication. It would also encourage greater understanding of the farming calendar and the need for a common sense approach when it came to complex forms.
Mr Gill said producers lives were being made impossible by duplication, over-complexity and the sheer meaningless of much red tape.
"The bureaucracy being faced by British farmers has reached absurd levels at a time they are fighting to keep their businesses going," Mr Gill said.
Prince backs British beef industry
THE Prince of Wales has voiced his support for the British beef industry during a UK farm tour by European meat industry leaders.
The aim of the MLC organised tour of Banks Farm, Oakamoor, Staffs, was to show the EU delegates the measures taken by the beef industry to restore consumer confidence in beef.
Prince Charles said: "I believe that British beef is the best in the world. And I believe that some of the best people in the world produce this beef."
But the EU visitors warned that European consumers remained suspicious about the safety of British beef despite the lifting of the beef ban.
"The consumer is not yet ready to accept British beef," said Claude Thieblemont, managing director of Ovimpex Massicard, the largest importer of British meat into France before the beef ban was imposed.
And it will be some time before the French shopper is convinced of the safety of the British product, he added.
Ovimpex Massicard will be importing some beef, after Aug 1, but this will be destined for specialist butchers or high quality restaurants.
"No supermarket would take the risk," he explained.
He believed any meat labelled as "British Beef" would almost certainly be regarded with suspicion, beef labelled as "Scotch" or "Welsh" would not have the same stigma attached.
MLCs head of export marketing, Terry Lee, added that rebuilding the market would be a slow process.
The MLC has forecast that only 5,000t of beef will be exported in the next 12 months, compared to 246,000t in 1995.
Mr Lee said that, according to recent MLC market research, 80% of consumers in key potential markets, such as France, Italy and Spain, still did not trust British beef.
However, the situation was better in Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium where British beef was still regarded as a quality product.
Importers seemed keen to return to British beef but until consumers gained confidence then the quantities actually shipped would be limited.
Britain would not be flooding the Continent with beef; there was not yet the market there or enough beef to supply it even if it did exist, Mr Lee concluded.
Cost is counted of GMprotest
By Johann Tasker
GOVERNMENT auditors are assessing the damage caused by more than 400 environmental protesters to a 10ha (25-acre) field trial of genetically modified oilseed rape.
Protesters spent two hours uprooting the crop, which was being grown as part of a government-sanctioned trial, at Model Farm, Watlington, near Oxford.
The rape was modified to be resistant to the agrochemical Liberty, manufactured by AgrEvo.
"It was certainly badly damaged but at the moment it isnt clear whether the trial was destroyed," said Clive Rainbird, AgrEvos biotechnology communications manager.
Farmer David Parker, on whose land the crop was being grown, was unavailable for comment this week.
But if the auditors decide the crop is now worthless, only five of the governments seven farm-scale GM trials started this year will remain.
Capt Fred Barker was ordered to destroy a GM oilseed rape crop by trustees of his Lushill Farm, Hannington, near Swindon, last month.
The other five producers involved, however, appear determined to continue with field-scale GM trials.
William Brigham, said the crop of GM maize on his farm at Lyng, Norfolk, was "no more than a week away" from flowering.
"To give up because of this sort of threat is giving in to anarchy," he said.
Welsh red meat launch
THE launch of an all-Wales red meat marketing co-operative was one of the main talking points at the Royal Welsh Show.
While the farming unions, Meat and Livestock Commission and the Wales Agri-food Partnership urged producers to back the project, auctioneers used the event to campaign against it.
And Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, said his family business would not join.
"We support the concept in principle but cannot agree with the way it is going to be financed," Mr Parry said. "Our income is £6400 down this year and we cannot afford to pay nearly £1000 to a co-operative. I believe that most farmers would accept the idea of buying a £75 shareholding and paying a marketing levy, but they will struggle to find 60p a breeding ewe."
Lib-Dem peer Lord Geraint of Ponterwyd, a strong supporter of livestock markets, toured the show urging farmers not to get involved in the co-op. Similar schemes in the past, like Welsh Quality Lamb and the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, had flopped and cost farmers millions of pounds, he said.
Co-op backers announced that Geoffrey John, chairman of Food from Britain, would chair a financial panel that would commission an immediate "honest and searching" feasibility study into the economics of the proposed producer-owned marketing group.
• Royal Welsh reports – p16