Horsemeat on agenda at annual NFU conference
The horsemeat scandal is likely to play a prominent part in the discussions and debates at the National Farmers' Union (NFU) annual conference, which opens today in Birmingham.
Scores of farmers from across the Westcountry have travelled to Birmingham for the opening of the annual conference at a critical time for British farming.
The atrocious weather last year – first drought and then torrential rain – saw abysmal returns, and incomes plummet in the worst crisis since the foot and mouth disease epidemic of 2001.
But the horsemeat scandal has focused attention on buying British produce and has lifted the market potential for Westcountry beef and lamb.
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The Westcountry contingent at the conference will make up at least a tenth of the 1,000 there, including guests and speakers, said the region's NFU spokesman Ian Johnson.
"It should be a particularly interesting conference for the South West because in David Heath we shall have a Farming Minister there who is one of our local MPs, highly supporting and active in helping the region's agriculture," he said.
The controversial pilot cull of badgers in two South West bovine TB hotspot areas – in West Somerset and around the Tewkesbury area of Gloucestershire – is bound to be a major topic in question-and-answer sessions. Due to take place in June over a three-week period, the culls are part of the Government's campaign to defeat bovine TB, currently causing the death of 26,000 cattle a year.
Changes to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy will also be high on the agenda, with NFU President Peter Kendall likely to speak about British action to keep direct support payments as they are and counter moves towards further "green" legislation, with existing British voluntary stewardship schemes – and a world shortage of food.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, is scheduled to speak about farming and the current political situation during the morning sessions, while Philip Clarke, chief executive of Tesco and John Cridland, director general of the CBI, will speak about farming's contribution to the nation's economy.
But the conference is, above all, a meeting place for farmers to exchange news, experiences and to network, and the late-afternoon programme includes a series of breakout sessions for smaller groups, discussing fresh produce, sugar, the economics of poultry keeping, and other sectors. That programme continues tomorrow with more breakout sessions and workshops, with the NFU's annual general meeting closing the conference. There are no elections this year.