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January 2010 Archives

The Farmers' Union of Wales today welcomed the Food Standards Agency's move to push for a change in European Union (EU) law to allow production of smoked skin-on sheep meat - commonly known as "smokies" - for human consumption.

Representatives from the FUW currently out in Brussels today discussed the FSA's recommendations with all four Welsh MEPs and have urged them to support the action taken by the FSA board.

Research by the FSA and representatives of the UK meat industry have indicated that it is possible to produce such meat safely and hygienically in approved slaughterhouses.

"The FUW has long campaigned against the illegal trade in smokies, and was one of the first organisations to push for FSA research into making their production legal," said the union's president Gareth Vaughan.

"We have been well aware for several years that there is a demand for this type of skin-on-meat amongst certain communities, but we remain concerned that until now the only way this demand can be met is via illegal means.

"The manner in which this meat is currently produced in unlicensed and unhygienic conditions not only puts the health of the customer at risk but also does farmers no favours.

"So we welcome this latest news and if the EU agrees, then skin-on-meat could soon be produced under clean conditions in licensed abattoirs and sold openly to those customers who want this type of meat.

"It will be good news for Welsh sheep farmers, who will have the opportunity to add value to their older sheep as a new market place opens up for them," said Mr Vaughan.

Last year research undertaken by Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales indicated that the legal production of "smokies" could be worth more than £3m to the Welsh red meat industry.

"I hope the European Commission will look favourably on the results of the research and give the go-ahead for the legal production of smokies at the earliest opportunity," he added.

The FSA board will now seek clearance from Ministers to make an approach to the EU to allow for the legal production of smoked skin-on sheep.

FUW ISSUES ARSON WARNING

By Marian Jones on Jan 26, 10 12:54 PM

The Farmers' Union of Wales today warned farmers in Gwynedd to be vigilant after two suspicious fires in one week badly damaged farm buildings and equipment some 10 miles apart at Pencaenewydd and Llaniestyn on the Lleyn peninsula.

North Wales Police and the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service are investigating and the FUW urged farmers to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious.

"This is a cause for concern for a great number of farmers in the area," said FUW Gwynedd county executive officer Gwynedd Watkin.

"Farms, because of the nature of the industry, have been expanding, and there are also fewer people around in rural areas to keep an eye on what is going on," he said.

Mr Watkin said that because the farm house was often a distance from farm buildings it made them "easy targets" for anyone intent on causing damage.

He said the fires had not been confirmed as definitely deliberate, but there was nothing - such as electricity - in either of the two sheds which could have started a fire.

Mr Watkin added he was hopeful the situation could be sorted out soon. "This is a massive loss for the farmers, even though the insurance should reimburse them.

"I cannot put enough emphasis on how important it is that everyone keeps an eye out and reports anything suspicious to the police," he added.

FUW Insurance representative Irfon Hughes said the fires highlighted how important it is to keep all paper work up to date.

He said that location made it difficult for people to find their way around, and it was possible that anyone responsible would be familiar with the area.

"I've been working on the Lleyn for two years, and it has taken me that long to get to know all the little lanes in the area," he said.

He warned too that it was only a matter of chance that no livestock was lost during the recent incidents, as a shed of calves were saved just before the fire spread.

A bid to put Welsh Lamb on the menu in China could take a step closer following a function organised by the Farmers' Union of Wales at the House of Lords tomorrow (Wednesday, 20 January).

A top-table guest at the union's annual lunch to celebrate the Home Grown Cereals Authority's Farmhouse Breakfast Week will be Zhou Xiaoming, Minister Counsellor of Economic and Commercial Office of the UK's Chinese Embassy, who is in charge of all trade and investment issues between China and the UK including agriculture.

The function is being hosted by Lord Livsey of Talgarth, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnor whose successor to represent the constituency Roger Williams, currently Lib Dem Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, led a delegation to the Chinese Embassy in London two years ago to promote Welsh Lamb.

Although Mr Williams doesn't run his Breconshire farm himself anymore, he is still responsible for a flock of 600 ewes and 60 beef suckler cows. He will also be on the top table at the lunch - one of three FUW functions to herald Farmhouse Breakfast Week (24-30 January).

The other two are traditional Welsh breakfasts at the National Assembly's Senedd building in Cardiff Bay today (Tuesday, 19 January), where rural affairs minister Elin Jones is the main speaker, and at the European Union headquarters in Brussels next week (Wednesday, 27 January) when an FUW delegation will meet Welsh MEPs.

Mr Williams' began his bid to boost exports to China when he helped arrange for farmers from his constituency provide 40kg of Welsh Lamb for a Chinese New Year reception at the Chinese Embassy in January 2008.

The idea was first discussed when Mr Williams' neighbour Glyn Jones, a farmer and director of Farmers Fresh which manages an abattoir and is directly involved in the export market, came up with the idea to promote Welsh Lamb.

Mr Williams said: "Welsh Lamb is the best lamb in the world and the Chinese market presents a massive opportunity for the Welsh agricultural sector. In the past decade alone, meat consumption in China has been rising at an average of 2kg per capita per year.

"Over the past few decades, consumption of meat in developing countries has grown at a rate of five to six per cent a year and is growing 10 times faster in newly industrialised countries. This is a trend that will continue as China's economy carries on growing and one that should create a nation that has more disposable income.

"If Chinese consumers choose to spend this money on Welsh Lamb then, apart from the high quality product they will receive, domestic meat producers will benefit."

Average meat consumption in China is now 54kg/person, compared to 70-130kg/person in Western countries. Forty years ago, it was just 4kg/person in China.

Another top-table guest at the Lords function, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales chairman Rees Roberts, said: "Welsh Lamb is big business overseas, with one in three lambs destined for export.

"Europe has traditionally been our largest overseas market, and continues to be so, but Welsh Lamb has an enviable reputation as a quality brand, leading to new markets opening up across the world.

"One of those markets is China. There is already demand for Welsh Lamb in the restaurants of Hong Kong and HCC is working on ways to make our produce available in mainland China. Meanwhile, we are continuing our marketing efforts in other parts of the Far and Middle East, including Singapore and Dubai."

Another speaker at the Lords lunch will be Andrew Denham, chairman of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

FUW president Gareth Vaughan said: "In 2008 RABI gave out some £318,000 to beneficiaries, both working and retired in Wales. As well as regular quarterly grants it helped with specialist items such as mobility scooters, riser recliners and stair lifts.

"For working farming families, help has been given for domestic bills, where there has been illness within the family or TB in the herd, and help towards farm worker costs where the farmer has been incapacitated due to injury or illness. Income for 2008 from Wales, where RABI has 223 of its total of 1,434 retired long-term beneficiaries, was some £92,000."

FUW's Caernarfonshire office has organised the following farmhouse breakfasts at members' farms and Bryncir Market in support of the Home Grown Cereals Authority's Farmhouse Breakfast Week (24-30 January) - Ty'n Hendre, Talybont, Bangor (on Monday, 25 January); Bodnitho Farm, Botwnnog (Wednesday, 27 January); Fferm Llwyndyrys, Llwyndyrys (Thursday, 28 January); Dylasau Uchaf, Padog, Betws-y-Coed; Gwern, Saron, Llanwnda; and Bryncir Market (all on Friday, 29 January).

Everyone is welcome and to book your place at the table contact FUW county executive officer Gwynedd Watkin or Gwenda Williams on 01286 672 541. The cost is £10 per person and all proceeds will be shared between the FUW president's charity, Wales Air Ambulance, and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

Farmers' Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan today repeated previous pleas to the Chancellor to slash fuel tax and introduce a fairer vehicle taxation system after numerous 4x4 vehicles had provided a lifeline to people living in the countryside during the current icy weather conditions.

"The treacherous Arctic weather conditions prevailing during the past fortnight have clearly illustrated how essential and important 4x4 vehicles have been. Without them whole areas of the countryside would have been no-go areas," said Mr Vaughan.

"I am taking this opportunity to urge the government once again to review its tax position on some types of non-luxury, work-horse types of 4x4s. They should no longer be described as 'Chelsea tractors' because time and time again they have provided a lifeline for fully stretched rural areas during severe weather conditions including flooding."

Mr Vaughan has already written to Mr Darling and his predecessors on numerous occasions regarding the impact fuel duty and vehicle taxation has on the viability of Welsh rural businesses and has regularly highlighted the necessity for an equitable system that reflects the unique needs of rural Wales.

"Welsh farmers and many other rural businesses are heavily reliant on 4x4s due to Wales' geography and topology, meaning that successive hikes in the taxation classes of such vehicles have a disproportionate impact on rural families and businesses.

"In view of the acute and growing pressure fuel price increases represent for rural businesses, not to mention businesses across the UK, I believe that we have reached a critical point at which action must be taken by the Chancellor to significantly reduce fuel tax in order to aid the economy.

"I also believe that an equitable vehicle taxation system must be introduced that recognises the stark differences between those who choose to drive 4x4s and those who do so out of necessity."

Support for the FUW's campaign arrived earlier this week when the Association of British Drivers (ABD) stressed the recent wet summers and snowy winters - that the Met Office's "global warming alarmists failed to predict" - had once again demonstrated the usefulness of owning a 4x4.

ABD stressed the extra traction can be a life saver in the dry, wet, mud or snow and on un-gritted roads but 4x4s had been attacked by so-called "environmentalists" using exaggeration, myths, "direct action" and punitive vehicle excise duty rates imposed by "our tax-hungry, anti-car government".

ABD environment spokesman Paul Biggs bought a Honda CR-V "soft-roader" in 2006 following the association's "Freezelock" prediction of severe winter conditions. "It has proved to be invaluable in summer floods due to its higher ground clearance and the extra traction certainly helps in snow or ice.

"I can also tow my touring caravan safe in the knowledge that I'm less likely to get stuck on muddy fields. For me, it's an ideal, roomy, safe, multi-purpose family vehicle.

"With potentially colder winters predicted for the next 20 to 30 years unjustifiably demonised 4x4 owners may yet have the last laugh on global warming alarmists and anti-car campaigners."

Mr Vaughan added: "Mr Biggs' experience proves that 4x4s are not for show and in the countryside they are absolutely essential. Owners should not be penalised for using their common sense and opting for such vehicles which have really proven their worth in the current cold snap."

The Farmers' Union of Wales today described its 10-year campaign for legislation to ensure supermarkets provide a fair deal for all their suppliers, including farmers, as a step nearer after the UK Government accepted the need to set up a Supermarket Ombudsman.

"Of course we welcome the Consumer Minister's announcement today that he has accepted the Competition Commission's recommendation for a body to enforce the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP)," said FUW president Gareth Vaughan.

The code will come into force on 4 February and will be quickly followed by a consultation on how best to enforce it, including who that body might be and the powers it could have.

"Meanwhile, we are also supporting Anglesey MP Albert Owen's Private Member's Bill, introduced in Parliament last month, which will provide the perfect opportunity to appoint a Supermarket Ombudsman," said Mr Vaughan.

"Mr Owen's Grocery Market Ombudsman Bill will enable the Government to implement the Competition Commission's recommendation for the creation of a new independent arbiter with the power to settle disputes between major retailers and their suppliers.

"The Bill has received wide cross-party support and was sponsored by MPs from Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP. It has also been warmly welcomed by the FUW and a number of significant charities, consumer organisations and business groups.

"The FUW has repeatedly expressed major concerns regarding the dominance of major retailers over supply chains and believes there is significant evidence to suggest that such dominance has in many cases been abused to the detriment of suppliers and local economies.

"We have, therefore, campaigned for an enforceable and robust supermarket Code of Conduct and the introduction of a supply chain ombudsman for the past decade and have, on numerous occasions, provided evidence supporting these calls to the Competition Commission and Office of Fair Trading.

"We welcomed last year's recommendations by the Competition Commission and believe that Mr Owen's Bill provides an ideal opportunity to take these forward. Therefore, we hope the cross-party support which already exists for the Bill will increase and ultimately result in an Act which addresses many of the concerns we have about unfair practices by supermarkets.

"Over the past three decades the proportion of food sold by supermarkets, rather than private outlets, has risen to around 75%, with the largest four supermarket chains controlling over 70% of sales. Competition Commission figures show that 65% of milk, 85% of beef, and 90% of lamb is sold through the multiple food retailers, with buying power being concentrated among a few companies.

"The power currently wielded by the major retailers represents a major challenge, not only for primary producers, but for the food sector in general.

"For this reason, the FUW has long argued that Government should take action to redress what is currently an imbalance between the powers held by primary producers, processors, and retailers, and that the first step towards doing this should be the appointment of a Supermarket Ombudsman responsible for enforcing a strict Code of Conduct."

The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) has welcomed Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones's confirmation today that the Welsh Assembly Government intends to proceed with a badger cull to combat bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) in Wales.

The decision to cull badgers in a limited Intensive Action Pilot Area (IAPA) in west Wales, which has already received overwhelming cross-party support from members of the National Assembly for Wales during plenary votes, marks the final Ministerial decision regarding the matter - notwithstanding the outcome of a legal challenge by the Badger Trust.

Welcoming the decision, FUW bTB spokesman Brian Walters, a Carmarthenshire organic dairy producer, said: "This final Ministerial decision marks an important step towards reducing bTB incidences in an area that has one of the highest rates of the disease in Europe.

"The work undertaken and commissioned by the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer shows that this decision is the right one, and the only one likely to result in significant falls in bTB incidences in an areas where badgers have been shown to have high levels of infection.

"It is supported by the science, and has therefore received the support of the Welsh Assembly Government and the overwhelming majority of Assembly Members from all political parties. However, it should not be forgotten that it is just one part of a host of measures being undertaken to combat bTB in Wales."

Mr Walters also expressed his concern that a legal challenge by the Badger Trust should not derail the Welsh bTB Eradication Programme. "It has taken a great deal of work to get to this position, but as time marches on the epidemic continues to grow.

"While the Badger Trust's legal challenge is disappointing, it comes as no surprise. However, it should not be allowed to derail the progress made to date, as a lengthy and drawn out court case would see the epidemic continue to escalate."

Mr Walters also hit out at misleading and inflammatory claims by animal rights organisation aimed at misleading public opinion. He said: "There seems to be no end to the unfounded and misleading statements being issued, by many of those who oppose the cull, which fly in the face of conclusive scientific evidence gathered over almost four decades.

"In areas where the disease is endemic in the badger population experience has shown that no amount of cattle controls will help without parallel moves to significantly reduce transmission from badgers.

"The Royal Society, the world's oldest and most respected science academy, has published work indicating that cattle movements are likely to be responsible for just 16 per cent of bTB herd outbreaks, and that 'High-risk spread is probably the result of cattle-badger-BTB interaction', and the English badger culling trials have succeeded in slashing bTB incidences by more than a half.

"There is no doubt that badgers are the major obstacle to controlling the spread of bTB to cattle and that badger culling works. Any talk about farming practices being a significant factor are unfounded and have been shown to be such following numerous initiatives aimed at cattle alone.

"The bottom line is that badgers and cattle share the same fields, yet we have been culling tens of thousands of cattle while ignoring the wildlife reservoir.

"It is also completely wrong to talk about the eradication of badgers - the aim is one that should be supported by all parties, namely to have healthy badgers and healthy cattle living alongside each other."


An opportunity for Meirionnydd farmers to consider the future of their industry will be provided during the Farmers' Union of Wales' Meirionnydd county branch annual general meeting at the Ship Hotel, Dolgellau, on Friday 29 January at 7.30pm.

"We are fortunate this year to have the following speakers - Isabel Owen, head of the Caernarfon Divisional Office, Welsh Assembly Government; Sion Aron Jones, Hybu Cig Cymru industry development manager; and Emyr Williams, director of land management, Snowdonia National Park," said FUW's county executive officer Huw Jones.

"The theme for the meeting is 'Food, the environment and farm support - what is the future?'. This will be an opportunity, therefore, for us to consider the future direction of the industry.

"I will also be presenting a short report of the union's activities during 2009 at the start of the meeting. I am expecting a strong representation of members from all parts of the county."

Today's announcement that an Anglesey meat plant plans to axe nearly half its workforce was described as a highly disappointing development by a Welsh farmers' leader who also expressed relief that the lamb slaughtering facility at the plant would remain operational.

"The loss of more than 200 jobs at Vion UK's Welsh Country Foods plant would be a serious blow for the island's economy and beyond, especially for the livelihoods of the workers and their families involved, but we are heartened that they will keep the slaughtering facility open," said Aeron Prysor Jones, chairman of the Farmers' Union of Wales livestock committee.

"We understand the Dutch-owned company plans to close the meat cutting operation at Gaerwen and transfer the retail packaging and distribution work to their plant at Winsford in Cheshire. We hope the economic climate will improve sufficiently for the Anglesey plant to return to a higher level of operation in the not too distant future."

The Farmers' Union of Wales today welcomed the UK Government's latest vision for food production outlined at this week's Oxford Farming Conference but it also expressed strong opposition to the government's determination to abandon the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Food 2030, launched during the conference by UK environment, food and rural affairs secretary Hilary Benn, sets out the government's view of food production in 20 years time.

"The FUW welcomes the fact that the UK Government has recognised the importance of food production and agriculture, and agrees with many of the broad principles laid out in the document. However, we are fundamentally opposed to the abandonment of the very framework which was designed to address food production and security issues, namely the CAP," said the union's president Gareth Vaughan.

"The Food 2030 document continues to advocate Defra's 2005 Vision for the Agricultural Policy which, their own research shows, would devastate UK agriculture and rural communities, increase food miles, and undermine food security by increasing food importation.

"While many of the principles outlined in the Food 2030 document are commendable, none of them appear to be robust enough to mitigate the devastating impact of abandoning the CAP.

"In fact, the document actually criticises the CAP for resulting in 'higher prices for farmers', which makes any talk about wanting profitable farms seem hollow.

"The FUW is fundamentally opposed to abandoning the CAP framework, which was specifically designed to address many of the problems referred to in the Food 2030 document.

"Rather, we believe that the CAP needs to be looked at in the context of an excellent starting point for developing policies that will address food security, environment and climate change concerns."

The Farmers' Union of Wales today welcomed the Tories plan - revealed at the Oxford Farming Conference - to appoint a supermarket ombudsman but described the move as long overdue.

"As far back as the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak even Prime Minister Tony Blair was saying supermarkets had farmers in an 'arm-lock' and wielded too much power," said FUW president Gareth Vaughan.

"At the time the FUW welcomed his comments, too, but made the point that despite his rhetoric he had failed to take practical action to assist farmers and other suppliers."

Since then the FUW has repeatedly called for a supermarket ombudsman and, in April 2008, described the Competition Commission's bid to create an independent Ombudsman to enforce a strengthened Groceries Supply Code of Practice as a major step forward in efforts to curb the dominance of the large supermarket chains.

"But, regrettably, there is still no such ombudsman in place even though we had been pressing for a fresh investigation into the practices employed by the large supermarket companies long before the Office of Fair Trading asked the Competition Commission to investigate the issue in 2006," added Mr Vaughan.

"The Commission fully endorsed our campaign which followed bitter complaints from farmers and other suppliers over many years that their prices were being forced down to satisfy the demands of these companies to make even bigger profits for their shareholders.

"We were heartened when Wales' Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones expressed her support in December 2007 for an Ombudsman to regulate supermarkets and called for the existing voluntary Code of Conduct to be updated and strengthened.

"The FUW still maintains an independent Ombudsman, coupled with compliance officers employed by supermarkets to oversee the implementation of the new code, will be a major step forward in ensuring supermarkets provide a fair deal for all suppliers, including farmers."

During the Oxford Farming Conference shadow environment spokesman Nick Herbert said the voluntary code of practice governing the relationship between supermarkets and food suppliers is not "worth the paper it is written on" unless properly enforced.

"It is not enough to talk loosely about a fair market or the need for better labelling. We need action, with a supermarket ombudsman and legislation to enforce honest labelling if the retailers won't act."

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