Winterton writes to PM on 5 years of failing farming

The Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Ann Winterton MP, has written to Tony Blair on the 5th anniversary of the Labour Party's election victory of 1997. In the letter, delivered today, she accused the Prime Minister and his Government of failing British farming.

Mrs Winterton wrote:

"It is now five years since the Government was first elected to office and you became Prime Minister, on the back of both urban and rural support.

During the last five years it has become increasingly apparent that this government neither cares about nor understands rural Britain. You and your Ministers have presided over the deepest farming recession since the Second World War.

Nothing illustrates this crisis more starkly than the plummeting of farm incomes. In 2001 the average income for a farmer was £7,861 - a figure which was 72% below the peak in 1995 and one of the lowest figures for seventy years.

As incomes have fallen so rural jobs have disappeared. In the three years to June 2001, nearly 60,000 jobs had been destroyed in the UK's agricultural and horticultural industries and I have no doubt that following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease, the numbers will be considerably higher.

The Foot and Mouth epidemic taught us that agriculture underpins the whole rural economy and, if that is damaged, then tourism and allied rural industries also suffer.

After five years of decline and failure, after the report from the Policy Commission into the future of food and farming and now that foot and mouth has been declared over, is it not time for some real action and not just weasel words and talking shops?

A good start would be to slash the amount of unnecessary red tape that your Government has imposed on farming. Since 1997, over 15,000 regulations concerning agriculture have been introduced and, in 1999 alone, your government broke the record by imposing a staggering 3,500 new regulations.

Your Government could press for honesty in labelling which would recognize the stringent animal welfare and food production standards that are a matter of pride for this country. Farmers should be allowed to reap the rewards of their professionalism. Consumers would also benefit and would welcome the chance to buy food from the UK helping indirectly to sustain the traditional country landscape that they so value.

In addition, it is imperative that this country prevents the importation of food that does not reach the high standards we expect from our own producers. Illegal imports are a threat to human as well as animal health and enforcement at ports of entry must be strengthened to ensure effective deterrence.

The agricultural industry has suffered under five years of a Labour Government. It is essential that profitability is restored to farming because otherwise, by the time of the next General Election, British agriculture as we have known it will be beyond saving." ENDS