Farming ‘needs to be priority’

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Published: Sunday 22nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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British food and farming need to be priorities for the next government in the face of a growing population, market volatility and climate change, farmers have warned.

Ahead of the annual National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference this week, the organisation’s president Meurig Raymond urged prospective MPs to set out how they would champion the high-quality British food farmers produced and the public wanted to see.

And with the prospect of a European Union referendum looming after the general election, Mr Raymond said parties needed to explain how they would make sure British farmers were not disadvantaged by a possible “Brexit”.

Mr Raymond, who farms in Pembrokeshire, Wales, said he wanted to highlight the importance of food and farming to the British economy.

He said there had been a trend of falling self-sufficiency over the past 25 years and the UK population was estimated to increase by 13 million.

“With climatic change and volatility, and we’ve seen the fall in self-sufficiency, the UK government ought to be concerned, ought to consider food and farming as one of the priorities,” he said.

“We’ve got the public support, it’s the worrying trend we’ve seen of self-sufficiency falling over the last years, and knowing demand is going to increase.

“We need a government that will champion British farming, give us the tools to invest to become more competitive, more efficient and carry that message to Europe.”

On a possible EU exit, Mr Raymond said Ukip had pledged it would underwrite British farming to the tune of the subsidies British farmers receive under the EU Common Agricultural Policy, and other parties needed to spell out their position.

He warned: “If we are going to increase our productivity we must not be disadvantaged to the rest of Europe, we need that investment into the UK.

“The single market within Europe is very important to our members, we want to be part of that marketplace, it would be so important that we would not be disadvantaged exiting Europe.”

He asks for the next government to engage with and champion the industry at home and in Europe and to “take the politics out of TB eradication”, following through with the 25-year strategy that had been agreed – including badger culling.

And he urged that the new government “in all areas, from crop protection to biotechnology, make decisions around robust scientific evidence”.

“Far too many decisions, especially in Europe, have been made on the back of emotion rather than scientific evidence,” he said.

Controversy has raged over a partial EU ban on “neonicotinoid” pesticides amid fears over their impact on bees, as well as the issue of genetically modified crops.

Mr Raymond also said the NFU was never against free trade, as long as it was carried out on a fair and equal basis, but there were both concerns and opportunities with the controversial “TTIP” trade deal being negotiated between the US and Europe.

While the deal could open up demand for British lamb, beef and speciality cheeses, British pig and poultry farmers would be “very nervous” as lower welfare standards and regulations in the US could see American farmers undercutting UK producers, he said.

The NFU conference in Birmingham will hear from senior politicians from the Conservative Party, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Ukip, as well as EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan and business leaders.

Published: Sunday 22nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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