|REPORT OF WIGTON MEETING, 18 DEC 2001
Astrid Goddard writes
Elli Logan, of the group SAD - Stop Animal Deaths - organised a most important and interesting meeting at The Stocksman, Wigton in Cumbria, on the 18 December 2001.
Titled, "Farming Post FMD : In the context of the EU and Globalisation", the speakers were; Will Cockbain (Deputy County Chairman of the Cumbrian NFU), Dr Richard North (EU Researcher, expert in food hygiene and, as Tom Lowther described him "Part-time firebrand") and Professor John Marsh (Agricultural consultant and ex-academic from Reading University). The meeting was chaired by Tom Lowther, Cumbrian Hill Farmer.
Will Cockbain (pictured left) spoke first, from an encyclopaedic and personal knowledge of the situation facing farmers in the UK. He told us of their unbelievably low incomes - particularly shocking since, as he pointed out, farming world-wide is not in recession. He pointed out what is good about farming, and praised the high standards of animal welfare and hygiene in this country. He contrasted this with what is not so good, confirming the fall in the income of our farmers in contrast to the rest of the EU and worldwide. He attempted to find cause for optimism, but doubted that the other speakers would agree that any such cause existed.
Dr Richard North did not find any cause for optimism, as long as UK farmers remain on their current course. He has recently visited Japan, where instead of the major cultural differences he expected to find, he was struck by the similarities between Japanese and UK farmers. Farming in Japan is reaching crisis point also. The worried looks on the faces were the same.
In Japan, Dr. North told us, for EU, read WTO. Dr. North also contrasted the plight of the UK farmers with the positively excellent conditions for farmers in most other countries, especially in Europe. Ninety percent of Austrian farmers pay no tax at all! Other governments go out of their way to maximise payments to farmers, whilst our government goes out of it's way to minimise them.
In summing up, Dr. North pointed out that our farmers need to get more active in order to fight their cause. British farming will change, he said, when a million people get out onto the streets demanding change.
Sir John Marsh gave an erudite and interesting talk, which also painted a bleak picture for the future of farming in the UK. He spoke of the reality of politics in this country, and told us that farmers are pressurised to choose between finding additional revenue working off the farm, as part-time farmers, or in tourism instead. In some cases it might be possible to combine these approaches, but in others it will not be possible to do so.
The regulatory environment is likely to intensify. No Government is going to ignore the public's anxiety about food safety. We can expect to see more regulations and inspections. There is going to be more concern about regulation on animal health issues with corresponding legislation. There are going to be more regulations relating to the environment.
There were questions from the audience. The first being "Has anybody got a rope?" A comment reflecting the despair among many when they contemplate the apparent bleak future on offer, and a particularly poignant comment in a year that has seen many suicides of our farmers. This government and it's agents certainly have much to answer for.
Sadly, an especially important question from a Mr George Nicholson, seemed not to have been understood. He wanted to know why the Government cannot offer debt-free financial support to our farmers. A simple suggestion, perhaps, and possibly too simple for most to accept as a genuine alternative. It seems that such apparently unsophisticated thinking only draws ridicule from those who do not understand such basic and radical ideas....