NFU urges politicians to back British farming

NFU president Meurig Raymond has delivered an impassioned plea for whoever is in power after the general election to back British farming, eradicate bovine TB, and prepare properly for the potential of ending up outside the EU. 

Delivering his speech at the NFU conference in Birmingham on Tuesday, Raymond said: “We stand here today in the shadow of a coming general election, now only 72 days away. I do not exaggerate when I say that, for farming, this is shaping up to be one of the most important elections we have ever faced.

“If the opinion polls are to be believed the chances of any single party having an outright majority are small. A coalition seems inevitable, which means that farming and rural policies of all the parties, big and small, may be crucial.”

Having highlighted that a recent YouGov survey showed 85% of British people want to see more British food in supermarkets, he said: “There is no doubt that British food and farming does get the vote of the British consumer. This is not just us saying that, this is the general public. That clear message from British people must be taken on board by the next government.”

While he also tackled global volatility and falling self-sufficiency, two key topics of Raymond’s address were the issue of EU membership, and the scourge of bovine TB. He said that now the government had a long-term plan for the eradication of the latter, it was vital that it was not abandoned: “Eradicating TB won’t be easy – not for government and not for farmers. But this strategy does have the support of farmers precisely because it is comprehensive. It addresses all aspects. Sadly there aren’t easy solutions, but I want to stress that, in the two pilot areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire, we are already seeing that TB incidence on farm has decreased from 34% to 11% compared with two years ago.

“Let me make a heartfelt pleas to all political parties. Don’t make this a party political issue. Don’t be tempted to tear up this strategy. Don’t be tempted to commit only to the politically easy bits. Don’t give up on eradication.”

On the subject of Europe, Raymond bemoaned the lack of strategy, should the UK end up outside the EU: “The other burning issue is our membership of the European Union – in or out. The European Union is important to us farmers. It gives us access to the single European market, where 75% of our exports go. It gives us access to labour, particularly from the new member states. And it gives us CAP. And yes, there are pros and cons to all of these.

“But what we don’t know is what life would be like outside the EU, because none of main political parties have given us any hint of what kind of agricultural policy they would pursue. If there’s going to be a referendum, there’s going to be the prospect that we’ll leave the EU, whether the government of the day wants it or not.

“That’s why we need more clarity for everyone, so we can make up our minds on this one in full knowledge of the facts.”

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