|COUNTRY NEWS & VIEWS
[Week 5 · Jan. 23rd - Feb. 4th, 2001]
GROWING MARCH SUPPORT
According to the Countryside Alliance 125,000 people have registered to join the Countryside March on March 18th; a huge increase on the number registered for the previous London protest march which attracted an estimated 300,000 people. Meanwhile the CA has become aware of threats by animal rights activists who might want to disrupt the march. The CA has also said that it only wishes to have people on the day who agree with the full CA agenda on hunting with dogs, and not other general rural and liberty issues.
The Daily Express [Jan 29th] reported on the problems hill farmers in Cumbria are facing through sheep rustling. Over 1000 animals have been stolen in the last six months.
The Ministry of Agriculture announced figures on the 31st which showed that average net farm income dropped by 10% last year, the fifth year of falls. Last year the net income average was £5,200 per farm. The statistics also show that there was also a drop of 29,000 people working in the agricultural industry. The strength of the pound has also resulted in a 4.5% drop in farm sales during the year.
Although some input costs have been reduced [low cereal prices resulting in lower animal feed costs, for example, and pesticide price reductions], such items have been offset by prices rises in red diesel and rising fertiliser prices.
Supporters of Farmers for Action [FFA] picketed several Dairy Crest depots around the country [Cumbria, Warwickshire and NE Wales] and other milk plants nationwide. At a Dairy Crest creamery at Stonehouse, in Gloucestershire, the Chairman of the FFA, David Handley, was arrested and charged at Stroud police station with obstructing the highway. Mr Handley returned to the depot to continue the protest against the small increase in milk prices offered to producers.
[Week 4 · Jan. 22nd - 28th, 2001]
On Wednesday the cross-party Agriculture Committee published a report which said that funding for organic conversion of farms was undermining UK competitiveness in organics. About 3% of UK farmland is under organic cultivation.
The TGWU's [Transport and General Workers Union] agricultural branch will not be supporting the Countryside Alliance's Countryside March on March 18th. The two main obstacles to support were quoted as being the branch's opposition to hunting with dogs and their campaign for greater access to the countryside. The TGWU's agricultural section has over 21,000 members. Meanwhile it is expected that hunt supporters from America, Germany and Denmark may join the event to show their support.
[Week 3 · Jan. 15th - 21st, 2001]
THE GLOVES ARE OFF
On Tuesday protestors supporting the Countryside Alliance's objection to the government's plans to ban hunting with hounds gathered in Parliament Square in readiness for Wednesday's Commons vote. Apparently Londoners were supportive too and donated food parcels to the awaiting protestors. Meanwhile the agriculture minister, Nick Brown, indicated that he had looked at the 'third way' on hunting - that of licensing the activity - but still came out on the side of a full ban. His junior deputies, Elliot Morley and Joyce Quin, also rejected self-regulation. When the Commons vote on the Hunting Bill came on Wednesday there was a majority of 387 to 174 in support of an outright ban.
Thursday [Jan. 18th] saw the launch of an All Party Group for the Countryside, attended by 45 MPs. The aim of the Group is to provide a forum where important movers from outside the parliamentary circuit can discuss the problems of rural Britain with MPs and Lords.
[Week 2 · Jan. 8th - 14th, 2001]
At a seminar held in London by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors a representive of the Rural Housing Trust charity has suggested that the government's recently released Rural White Paper will not properly address the shortage of affordable rural homes. According to the speaker the money pledged was only a restoration of funds previously cut by the government.
The week's BBC Countryfile programme drew attention to the public's lack of knowledge about the British Farm Standard little red tractor logo, launched about seven months ago. From interviews with the public it appeared that some thought the logo indicated the produce was British. In fact the logo could legally be carried by other EU producers who meet the hygiene, welfare and environmental standards of the BFS.
[Week 1 · Jan. 1st - 7th, 2001]
BAD NEW YEAR VIBES
On January 2nd the Daily Mail ran an article which suggested that only twenty five percent of the money earmarked by the Countryside Agency for the improvement to rural transport projects was spent. £5.8m was set aside, £1.3m spent by the CA.
On Thursday [Jan. 4th] the 'Oxford Farming Conference' - a gathering of agricultural industry experts from around the world - kicked off, but with the absence of a major spokesman from the government. The Prime Minister was reported to have rejected an invitation to attend. Meanwhile, the 12th Soil Association conference opened the following day at Cirencester. Apparently Ministers Brown and Meacher were due to address this rival organic gathering which expected to have some 450 delegates.
One item at the Oxford event, which is sure to upset farmers, was an address by an economist who suggested that because farming represents such a small proportion of GDP [2% apparently], the government is right in not providing special support for the industry.