November 18 2002 Link to framed website: warmwell.com
David Handley, of Farmers for Action spoke
I think I can offer you all a slight glimmer of hope. I've probably met the DEFRA Minsters more recently than anybody on this panel in the past 84 hours. There is that much flak flying around at the moment about the Animal Health Bill, I think even Margaret Beckett is beginning to realise that maybe things need to be changed.
It's very interesting to hear the NFU "vision", "version", whatever you want to call it. I know a lot of people who are group secretaries, county chairmen, vice-chairmen, and ordinary NFU members and they are very good people. They're people you'd stand next to any day of the week. But unfortunately they have a hierarchy, especially one gentleman, who seems to think he's above God. (Murmurs and approval and "Yes!" from the audience).
I am chairman of an organisation that, fourteen and a half months ago, Ben Gill said were "an insignificant bunch of people" and that if you ignored them they would all go away. Well, now with a member ship of just over ten and a half thousand, I think that possibly he ought to change his mind. but he doesn't. He doesn't want to unite with anyone to fight the cause of British Agriculture. He thinks that he can do it on his own. I think the quicker they wake up to the fact that if they don't unite with others .......well, the first thing I heard here tonight was that to fight this battle we need unity and I was really glad to hear it. As a lone voice we will get nowhere but as a uniform bunch of people all walking as an arrow-head towards Government then I think they will take notice.
I'm going to cover a couple of points that I think are of interest on the Animal Health bill. For those of you who don't know, this has been up for discussion since as early as June this last year.
Anyone who's a farmer in this room who buys the farming press, have they seen any information that any of our associations have been addressing DEFRA with regard to that bill? (no hands) Right. On October the 22nd, I actually got from the House of Commons, Margaret Beckett's comments on what she was going to bring in. Has anyone in this room seen that information in the farming press? No. No association representation. I think that says a lot from what we've just discussed in the NFU, the CLA, the Countryside Alliance or whatever. But now, everybody is jumping on the bandwagon shouting the cause that it's wrong.
I know for a fact that DEFRA consulted with the NFU during the Summer and I wish there was someone here from the NFU to deny that because I will call them a liar to their face. There is so much collusion going on at the moment between associations that should represent my industry and should represent you, the members of the general public.
But the sad part about it all is the farming community in a crisis, become introvert. They go into a shell and think that everyone else will sort it out for them.
And I have a very simple message. That it is very, very easy to be brave from a distance. But they'll all need to be very proud people in fifteen years' time when they tell the next generation that they're not going to be able to farm because they weren't prepared to come up and fight.
Within the FFA we've a name for some of you and I hope you won't take offence at it. But I am not afraid to say what I think. We have a name for people who have farm animals as pets as " Bunny Huggers" . But I commend every single one of you. Because without you, the bunny huggers, we would have been stuffed. You were the ones who came out when we asked you to, you were the ones who came out and supported us. And it's about time the farmers of this country realised that. If you want to keep a cat , a dog, a budgerigar, a sheep, a cow, a goat or a pig I see no reason why you shouldn't. And neither should any other member of the farming community, because what that will do, if you've got young families, it will bring them up to understanding more about farm animals and farm animal practices because they will ask questions, and that can only be good for the industry.
But I'll move on to finish by asking you some questions: and I'd like to see a show of hands.
The first question is, how many of you in this room shop at a supermarket? Come on, be honest. According to national statistics there shouldn't be one of you with a hand down. (all hands are raised)
How many of you, within a one month period, go out for a meal? (they take a long time to think about this, don't they!)
How many of you, in meat form, buy either ready-cooked or processed meals? (well there's three honest people, four honest people in this room...)
Right, you want to know what you can do to assist the british farming community? Number one, when you go to your supermarkets you can refuse to purchase any form of imported meat unless it can be proven to come up to the same standard that is produced in the United Kingdom.... welfare, bureaucracy and health
Secondly, when you eat out, ask the restaurant, "Are you serving us English, Irish Scotch Welsh - or imported?" If it's imported ask where from. Because if you then say, " I don t want that," that again will have an effect.
Thirdly, if you do go down the road of processed meals look at the label and see what you're getting because there's been a lot of talk about illegal meat imports. They are a problem. But they pale into insignificance when you see the amount of legally imported meat 60% of which is sold through the retail outlets and the remaining sold through restaurants and processed foods. And that figure is growing year in year out. That's not my assumption but the actual figures from the MLC.
You, the people of this country have an effect on what diseases we as British farmers have within the future. If you want the cheap shopping basket it's very simple. Don't come here again like this all emotional about this disease and animals and what farming practices are because you are the people who can affect this. We, as the FFA went to the Food Standards Agency twelve months ago where we met the top team of the FSA to address a scheme we have running which is called Label Watch and the highest thing on that agenda that day was foot and mouth disease with the fact that six main countries we import bovine meat from had endemic foot and mouth disease. The senior veterinary officer said, "It's not a problem because these countries have zones. Foot and Mouth free and foot and mouth infected areas."
So we asked the very sensible question, "Well what separates the one from the other?" (we already knew) and we were told,
" A wire fence."
So then we asked the question, "Well we were led to believe that this disease could be spread by wind."
So we asked, "Well, would you like to change your reply and tell us that they're thirty foot high concrete walls with some sort of extractor fan?"
And the reply was: "Well, you're getting ridiculous now. There's no point in discussing this matter any further."
We came out from that meeting and on the following friday, Ben Gill of the NFU chastised Farmers for Action for poking their nose in to the Food Standards Agency in its infancy, for asking the Food Standards Agency and the British Government to call for a total import ban on all meat products until that could be shown that they were up to the same standard as the UK producer had to supply the market with. That is what we face. If our own industry cannot even work it out between themselves you the consumer don't even know what road to go down. I leave you with this message and I hope people won't be offended. The people of this country shouldn't get all kootchy about sheep and pigs and cattle unless they are prepared to buy British and stop all these imports. (Many cries of hear hear and applause.)
Our view, all the way through, is that there is only one inquiry and that it is a PUBLIC INQUIRY. We tried to highlight the situation about eight weeks ago
We put a call out right across the country, and if anyone didn't get a call, I apologise for that, to come to a meeting in Cheshire where we would try and put forward a strategy in the form of a peaceful demonstration in London on a working day to tell Tony Blair that we'd accept one and one only inquiry and that would be a public one. I don't care if it takes three years for the answers to come out but the answers have got to come out. People are going on about how an Inquiry doesn't need to take that long, and I agree with that, but I don't care if it takes three or if it takes five because I'm telling you there'll be that many scalps hanging up on the tree by the time it's over.. and then there's a lot of people who have been a pain in the arse who won't be one any longer. (laughter and agreement)
But to highlight the public inquiry in London we thought was very important. A lot of people attended that meeting full of what they were going to do and what they were not going to do. They were going to have buses, trains and everything and the outcome of it was that 980 people - and that was the official police count - were prepared to come to London on that day and that was it. And the attendance of the farming community was nothing more than disgraceful - but I go back to my friendly saying, and believe you me I mean it friendly - the bunny huggers supported us 150% Our view still is that it's the only way to make Blair realise, either a mass united front or we take to the streets of London on a working day - peaceful - we bring London to a standstill. It's the only thing this man will understand and I put out a call to every political party, I'd expect to see every individual one of you bang up front. It's the only way you're going to get a public inquiry
(loud final applause)
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