Walker fury over FMD levy plan
PG WODEHOUSE said there was no mistaking the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.

Step forward Jim Walker, president of NFU Scotland, yesterday with messages for government which had nothing to do with the season of goodwill or the belief that it is better to give than to receive.

For a start, farmers don’t want to give towards a compensation fund for any future livestock disease outbreak, a levy which the Treasury wants after the foot-and-mouth epidemic cost it an estimated £8 billion.

The department of environment, food and rural affairs proposal is bargain basement compensation, for example a flat rate of £300 for cattle regardless of breed, pedigree or market value, of which the farmers’ levy would pay £150.

Walker told journalists that farmers had learned the lessons of foot-and-mouth. They stuck to the 20 day movement rule, took bio-security precautions and had full traceability for sheep.

He went on: "And what have government done? They now have three sniffer dogs to cover all airports to detect illegal meat instead of one and in the 27 UK airports I have been through in the past year, I have seen three posters warning passengers about illegal meat.

"They say that Customs & Excise is now in charge of illegal meat detection. Customs & Excise tell me they have not the resources. Yet government tell farmers we’ll have to pay a compensation fund levy and insure - tell me one insurance company which will touch foot-and-mouth cover with a bargepole?"

Advised that this was an interesting, but elderly, story, Walker said: "It might have been reported before. But many people still don’t realise what a disaster it would be for farming. A disease outbreak on DEFRA’s terms could wipe out many farmers. Do farmers realise that? Do their bankers realise that? Do they realise that DEFRA has agreed to introduce it within two years?"

The Scottish Executive must not accept such a levy, he said. In its response to FMD the Executive had pointed out that animal health is a devolved matter and Ross Finnie, minister for rural development, was on record as saying he opposed a levy or insurance. Walker said: "We must have a Scottish decision on this."

There were also warnings about a bleak future for pigs - two more farmers, with a total of 1,400 breeding sows, went out of business this month, taking the Scottish sow herd to fewer than 50,000 and producers to barely 200 - cereals and milk with only beef and sheep producers having a better year.

It made the case for the NFU even stronger, said Walker. Sectoral organisations such as those for beef and sheep and, recently, malting barley growers in England made a contribution.

"But politicians only listen to an organisation which can talk of the wider economy. That’s us."