alliance launches campaign to save farming
By Robert Uhlig, Farming
Zac Goldsmith, the millionaire
environmentalist, will lead an alliance of
farmers, professional campaigners
and consumer activists to Whitehall today
to challenge the Government and the
National Farmers' Union over their
failure to rescue farming from the threat
Frustrated by the lack of political will among existing
and concerned at the failure of successive governments to
long-term farming strategy, they have set up Farm, a campaigning
aims to tackle the real causes of the rural crisis.
Goldsmith and the five farming members of Farm's management committee
present Margaret Beckett, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
with a draft of the first Farm Bill since 1947.
The Bill sets out
objectives for establishing a coherent, long-term strategy
for farming and
food production, including national food security, fair
sustaining rural communities, opportunities for new
entrants into farming and
maintenance of countryside and wildlife.
They will also put up missing
persons posters outside Defra's headquarters
at Smith Square in London to
symbolise the 4,000 farmers a year driven out
of business in the past 50
Many Farm supporters are former NFU members who left the union
it is too close to Government and interested only in furthering
ambitions of "agribusiness" at the expense of the small, family and
farms run by three quarters of Britain's farmers.
For some, foot
and mouth, when the union ignored many members' calls for
the turning point. For others, it was the NFU leadership's
failure to address
their concerns over GM crops.
Farm's founding members believe the
wholesale disappearance of ordinary
small and medium-sized farms is
undermining rural economies, damaging food
quality and security, endangering
wildlife habitats and destroying the
familiar shape of the
Their list of villains, blamed for driving 50,000 farms out
of business in
the past 50 years, includes the increasing control of the
global food chain
by a few, vast "agrifood" companies; supermarket bullying;
incompetence and indifference.
Farm believes farming will
survive only by bringing consumers and farmers
together, making shoppers
aware of the difficulties facing farmers and
forcing farmers to realise they
need to view consumers as allies against the
marketing muscle of food
processors and retailers.
Mr Goldsmith, who runs an 80-acre mixed organic
farm near Tavistock, Devon,
has provided the initial funding. The son of the
late Sir Jimmy Goldsmith
will step down from the leadership committee once
Farm is established.
He said: "Farmers, consumers and environmentalists
have the same interests -
a viable, sustainable and secure food supply - but
we often see one another
as enemies. The NFU has overseen a steady decline in
farming, and done
little to stop it, while alienating consumers.
are all being fleeced by the multinationals that dominate the
"Farmers are being paid so little for their food that they
are being forced
out of business, yet British food prices are among the
highest in the world
and we pay farmers £2.6 billion a year in
Fifty years ago, before a handful of multinational firms
global food chain, farmers received half of every pound spent
on food. Now,
they get just 7.5 pence of every pound spent by shoppers; the
bulk goes to
retailers and food processors.
John Sanderson, 46, a
Suffolk dairy and arable farmer who is one of Farm's
founder members, said:
"The whole culture of farming is threatened.
"If the kind of farmer that
formed the backbone of rural England starts to
disappear it will start to
affect the entire rural landscape and rural
"We're now in a
situation where for the first time in my farming career
leaving fields fallow because it's not worth growing a
"People should be concerned about what happens if hundreds and
farmers drift off the land and conglomerate agribusinesses take
over. It's a
Nicola Francis, 27, a Shropshire
sheep and dairy farmer, said that with
Friesian bull calves fetching £10
each, "we find ourselves in the terrible
position of struggling to get a
newborn calf to breathe, and then shooting
it because no one wants to buy it.
It's soul destroying".
She added: "The NFU is good for legal problems but
the people at the top are
totally out of touch with the issues concerning
small and medium farmers.
"Everything looks so pretty round here but the
truth is that half a mile
either side of us there used to be four dairy farms
and now there's only two
"Young people aren't going into
farming, local businesses are being
decimated and the countryside is heading
towards terminal decline unless we
do something fast."
In a survey of
533 family farmers, Farm found more than a quarter felt no
represented their interests, and two thirds wanted a new body