At its AGM in Liverpool yesterday, members rejected a vote on the issue as it felt references to ‘factory farming’ would prohibit a reasoned debate. Instead, it called on industry and relevant bodies to open up a rational and transparent debate on the future direction of UK farming.
A statement from the National Federation of Women’s Institutes said: “While the lack of debate on the issue is disappointing, it demonstrates a real need for wider discussion of the issues surrounding large-scale farming enterprises on both sides of the debate.
"The WI is not afraid to take on challenging and complex issues. WI members have welcomed the opportunity to explore the issues in some depth on a local level, but members recognise that the WI is a strong campaigning force and believe that the subject is too important to go forward as a national mandate without further discussion and research.”
The National Union of Farmers (NFU) supported the need for debate. NFU president Peter Kendall said: “The WI is an organisation that passionately supports British agriculture. Like the NFU, the WI wants to have a debate about the future of farming that’s based on the facts rather than myths and misconceptions. For our part, we very much look forward to being part of that debate.
“If British producers are going to rise to the challenge of feeding a growing population in this country – an estimated 70 million by 2030 – it is vital that the industry can join forces, to grow and to invest in the very latest equipment, housing and technology.
“If we don’t do that, we will find it difficult to compete against cheap, lower animal-welfare meat from the rest of the world. Right now, we are less than 60% self-sufficient and the risk is that this will drop to 50% if we cannot find new ways of producing more here.
“The NFU will carry on tackling myths about livestock farming, and engaging in the debate about how British farmers can meet the food production challenge. Our farmers will continue, regardless of scale, to work to world-class welfare and environmental standards and to deliver a whole range of high-quality, affordable food to the British consumer.”