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EATING OUR OWN PRODUCE IS VITAL 

09:00 - 08 October 2002 
Westcountry MEP, farmer, and Conservative agriculture spokesman

There is no doubt that farming is on the verge of collapse, and with rural incomes and optimism in the future at an all time low, many of our farmers in the South West see little prospect of survival.

Yet there is reason to believe that we can make a future for ourselves if the right decisions are made. Firstly, our farmers deserve to have their ideas and their proposals heard by those in Whitehall. All around Europe, agriculture is valued enough to be listened to and promoted by those in government.

It is hard to see the farmers in France being so roundly ignored and dismissed by the French government. Given the opportunity, farmers in the UK have as much flair, entrepreneurship and business acumen as the dot.com gurus and high-tech business leaders who seem so important to Tony Blair. However, there are a number of key areas where if they wanted to, the Government could help us over this current problem.

Firstly, they should apply for the agri-money compensation available to us from Europe. There were good reasons for not taking this EU cash in the past, but with farming at an all-time low, it is unacceptable that the UK does not take this money whilst farmers are going to the wall.

Secondly, they could address the ridiculous situation over milk co-operatives. Farmers can simply not survive when the price they receive for milk barely covers the cost of production.

Most importantly, when the discussions of reforming the Common Agriculture Policy in Europe takes place in the next few months, farmers need to see our Government resolutely defending their interests, not simply selling them down the river in another EU deal.

Our salvation in these dark times may be the huge potential for quality home-grown produce. Why is it that we will pay a small fortune for Parma ham or Mediterranean sun-dried tomatoes, but we seem to dismiss the things we grow in our own backyard?

We should be eating our own produce because we know it is safe; we know it is quality, and we know exactly where it comes from. Not only does it allows us to stand out from lower-quality imported goods, by encouraging people to pay for the best, it should also help to maximise profits. In addition to the farmers markets, which seem destined to be a huge success, I want to see South West produce championed in our restaurants and bistros. Visitors to the region should be encouraged to sample Westcountry beef or lamb along with their Devon cream teas and Somerset cider.

There is no doubt that the future of our farming hangs in the balance. The 400,000 people who took to the streets of London were voicing much more than their opposition to a ban on hunting. They were venting the frustration and fear that has come from being accused, ignored, abused and abandoned by Government Ministers who have shown a contempt for country people and their way of life.

These are hardworking law-abiding citizens who expect their contribution to society to be valued.