Back

DOES THE NFU REALLY REPRESENT FARMERS' VIEWS?

Letters in Cumberland News Aug 31 2001

from Richard Mawdsley

I'VE read Nick Utting's reply to the letter from Liz Gwyther. I have been a member of the NFU for 35 years and I am in a position to criticise. I find his tone epitomises all that has gone wrong with the union of which I am still a member. Arrogance.

I checked with my own branch office and find that membership really is only 37 per cent of all those farmers and smallholders who are recognised by Defra as being occupiers of agricultural holdings and have ministry holding numbers.

They are all potential union members. So what's happened? It also appears that a sliding scale is applied, for example if one eliminates all holdings of less than 30 acres, then the percentage of representation miraculously climbs into the mid-forties. One wonders where the threshold is set to ensure Nick Utting's 70 per cent representation.

As regards vaccination in the UK, permission for protective vaccination in Devon and Cumbria (cattle only) was given on 30 March 2001 (Commission Decision 200/257/EC) subject to the condition that "such vaccinated animals are not subject to pre-emptive killing" (Article 1 point 2, second paragraph).

This is a clear prohibition on the slaughter of such animals in any 'cull'. Lifting of restrictions was to take place 12 months after vaccination or the last outbreak - unlike the Netherlands which was given the option of slaughtering with the lifting of restrictions three months after the last vaccinated animal was slaughtered.

Did the NFU press Maff for vaccination of all stock or sit back and do nothing?

The letter from the National Consumer Council press office following Nick Utting's letter [August 24] pointing out that they stated on April 20th '01 that there would be no discriminatory marking of products from vaccinated animals [and hence no two tier market] emphasises the point.

The NFU has misled its members. They do not represent the interests of the majority of farmers. The NFU has failed to counter the government's malicious anti-farmer propaganda. It has done nothing to point out that, far from being feather-bedded, we are the least subsidised and most heavily regulated farmers in Europe.

Richard Mawdsley,

Bassenthwaite


From GEORGE MACDONALD

ON August 24 Lord Haskins, the Government appointee to advise on the regeneration of Cumbria post-FMD, was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live. Defending the Government against criticisms of mishandling, he stated that the extent of this UK outbreak was the greatest ever encountered in world history.

The enormity of the crisis is no defence - the Government's ineptitude has contributed to the size of the outbreak.

Their culpability has extended to every aspect of the crisis. There is, to date, no clear evidence made public on the true origins of the infection.

If it was simply the pigs on Robert Waugh's farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, where the disease was confirmed on February 20, how was it simultaneously so widespread among sheep at Penrith, Carlisle and Longtown?

The two previous UK outbreaks in 1950 and 1967 both generated reports advising on how to handle a future outbreak.

From the outset Maff and the minister simply ignored the advice. Also, from the outset the Government bluntly refused to contemplate vaccination, although this ran counter to advice of world experts such as Professor Fred Brown and Dr Simon Barteling - and the advice of respected clinical virologists such as Dr Ruth Watkins.

Throughout the epidemic Maff/Defra have given sound recommendations on bio-security, correctly stressing how easily the virus can be taken from one infected site to one hitherto clean.

But the practice of Maff/Defra officials, vets, slaughtermen, hauliers, Army and police has frequently been well short of the standards needed. The people deputed to cure the infection have contributed to its spread.

The incompetence has extended to well-documented massive cruelty in the way animals have been brutally slaughtered. The total of animals killed is hugely in excess of the numbers who needed to be killed.

To examine what is increasingly apparent as the most flagrant example of maladministration in UK history, three inquiries have been set up. These inquiries will be in secret, do not have briefs that cover all the ground needed, and have chairpeople who will produce reports that will obfuscate and whitewash.

We must have a public tribunal inquiry to which ministers can be subpoenaed and to which evidence is given under oath.

To date, the only group who have had the political clout to reverse a Blair decision have been the back bench Labour MPs whom Blair tried to prevent holding membership of parliamentary select committees, three honest MPs who had the courage to ask awkward questions. It is Tony Blair's power base who should seek to restore political integrity by pressing a firm demand for a public inquiry.

The spin of this Government, and much of its efforts for NHS transport, pensioners and public services, have been less than expected by its own supporters. It is not meeting its promises, and now it seems determined on confrontation with trade unions who have traditionally done so much to support Labour. Labour supporters should work to a slogan "TRUE, not NEW Labour".

And to this end members should press their trade unions to debate the need for a public inquiry in their union conferences and at the TUC Conference.

And members of CLPs should press their executives to submit a similar action at the Labour Party Conference.

GEORGE MACDONALD,

Brownieside,

Northumberland


From Yvonne Lee

WHEN will our Government realise that Joe Public is totally disillusioned with how the foot and mouth epidemic has been handled by top officials?

To announce three different inquiries into FMD, knowing that the people want a full public inquiry, really means our own Government is stabbing us in the back.

We elect the Government, which means they have a duty to answer and be totally accountable for their actions.

The media and others have petitioned to 10 Downing Street, demanding a full public inquiry into this FMD epidemic.

YVONNE LEE,

Calthwaite, Penrith


from LIZ GWYTHER

IT IS clear, from Mr Utting's reply to my letter criticising the leadership of the NFU (The Cumberland News, August 17 & 24) that I have touched a raw nerve.

Since I live on a farm from which a 'D Notice' has only just been lifted (and which, like many others, will show a substantial loss this year) and having seen and shared the distress of several of our less fortunate immediate neighbours, whose stock were culled, I find it surprising and insensitive that Mr Utting should suggest that I have no right to criticise the NFU, with whose present policies I strongly disagree, when that organisation, of which I am not a member, claims to represent my views and speak upon my behalf.

The statistic that the national membership of the NFU represented 37 per cent of British farmers, which I quoted in my previous letter, was obtained from the NFU's own London headquarters and has since been verified.

I also understand that the membership figure for Cumbria is slightly less than the national average, at about 33 per cent.

When a poll of Cumbrian farmers was undertaken by David Maclean MP, in April (something which the NFU should themselves have done if they really wished to represent the views of their members), 80 per cent of those questioned stated that they were in favour of some form of vaccination policy.

So far, therefore, from representing the views of 70 per cent of farmers, as claimed by Mr Utting, it is questionable whether the current NFU leaders even speak for the majority of their own members.

Having listened to Ben Gill, at the public meeting in Carlisle on August 15, I was angry that he criticised British farmers for failing to do enough to help themselves and compared them unfavourably with their European competitors, when his own NFU has been totally ineffective in attacking EU inconsistencies, or in proposing or encouraging any positive measures for the creation of new British purchasing or marketing co-operatives or other creative ideas.

Most of all, however, I was dismayed by Mr Gill's negative attitude to the arguments about vaccination.

While claiming to be open minded on this subject, he attempted to play down or disparage the evidence of acknowledged international authorities who disagreed with his views, while quoting totally unsubstantiated opinions, alleged to have been written by some of his overseas farming friends.

At the same time the NFU has, in the past, consistently either refused to meet, or at the last minute cancelled agreed meetings with independent scientific supporters of vaccination, such as Dr Ruth Watkins.

Tragically, the latest re-infections of a previously cleared area may lead to further mass culling of thousands, if not millions more animals, which will affect not only farmers, but the whole of the economy.

May I therefore urgently suggest to Mr Gill that there should be a national televised debate, preferably on ITV and chaired, possibly, by Jon Snow, in which Mr Gill will select the speakers opposed to vaccination and Dr Richard North will select those in favour.

Whilst this may not resolve the problem, it would at least allow both farmers and the public, perhaps, for many, for the first time, to hear the real facts and to form their own opinions.

LIZ GWYTHER,

Inch Farm, Longtown


From SUZANNE GREENHILL.

THE exchange of correspondence between Nick Utting of the NFU and Liz Gwyther looks set to run and run, and Miss Gwyther does raise a very important issue.

The NFU is, by definition, a union. The members' subscriptions presumably pay for the structure of the union, including the salaries of its officials, of which Mr Utting is one.

The other normal facet of organisations calling themselves unions is that they arrive at their broad objectives by consulting their members. On contentious issues, this process is more sharply focused by a ballot.

While the NFU seems to be saying that they are not opposed to vaccination as a control mechanism for foot and mouth disease, the officials appear to block its introduction - perhaps they could say what mandate they have received from their livestock membership and how this was achieved?

Perhaps they would also like to elaborate on the statement by Les Armstrong that the NFU has consulted experts about vaccination yet none of the experts within the UK appears to be aware of any approach from the NFU.

I am not a member of the NFU, nor am I a stockholder, but Mr Utting should remember that the decisions taken by the NFU, to which this Government appears to listen, affect a much wider group of people whose businesses are still being ruined by this awful disease.

It seems sensible that the NFU should consider this and we should have a reasoned answer based on the collective view of the NFU members, few that they seem to be.

SUZANNE GREENHILL.

Parkside Avenue,

Cockermouth

Back