Benn heckled by farmers

Farmers heckled secretary of state Hilary Benn after he failed to address key issues at the Oxford Farming Conference last week.

After delivering a confident speech on his vision for the future of agriculture, Benn was heckled over bovine TB and cost-sharing issues.

Benn's speech about the challenges and opportunities in agriculture was delivered with conviction and optimism, but he failed to win over delegates, who were angry that he failed to even mention bovine TB.

When one farmer said that livestock producers had lost trust in Defra and asked what action the government would take over TB, Benn refused to commit to a decision and said he would embark on another set of discussions with stakeholders. He defended his department and described the Defra staff as "dedicated, passionate people". Benn's composure faltered slightly when his assertion that Defra did not exist to make life difficult for farmers was met with laughter from delegates. "I am struck by the irony of this relationship - there is no other industry that receives this level of support," he said.

Stepping into the debate, Neil Parish, Conservative MEP said to Benn: "Farmers are desperate and something needs to be done about bovine TB, I urge you to go forward quickly."

Parish also criticised the government's move towards cost-sharing, which Benn addressed in his speech. "You are asking farmers to contribute to disease control after a government outbreak," he said. "Talk about rubbing salt in our wounds - this is the wrong time."

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