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May 2011 Archives

The EC's failure to allow rules which deal with technological failures while using electrical instruments to read electronic sheep identification (EID) tags was slammed by Farmers' Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan today (Wednesday May 18).

Speaking at the NSA Welsh Sheep Event near Machynlleth, Mr Vaughan revealed he had written to the EC's agriculture and rural affairs commissioner Dacian CioloÕs and health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli expressing the union's deep concern and dismay at the EC's response to discussions on tolerance levels for the "inherent and unavoidable problems" associated with compulsory sheep EID.

"The rules in place at the time of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak were a world away from those which came into force in subsequent years, yet the tragedy which befell UK farmers then is being used to justify regulations which require the use of a technology which cannot deliver the accuracy required by those same rules" said Mr Vaughan, a Newtown sheep farmer.

"It is basically a Catch 22 Regulation which is tailor made to create financial penalties for farm businesses, and we had therefore been in discussion to ensure that the inherent shortcomings of the technology were recognised."

Mr Vaughan added that the EC is well aware of the problems with EID technology after being repeatedly presented with evidence which confirms it is not yet capable of delivering 100% accuracy, and had initially accepted the need for dialogue over changes which took these failings into account.

But at a meeting between the UK's devolved administrations and EU officials last week, at which a paper on tolerances was discussed, EC staff were dismissive of any approach which takes account of problems with the technology.

"This leads to the ridiculous situation whereby EC regulations require all those in the supply chain to record animal movements with 100% accuracy using a technology which - despite meeting standards set by the EC - cannot deliver such accuracy, and for farmers to then be financially penalised for these failings."

"Many farmers are now under the impression that the Commission's intention is to deliberately generate penalties by enforcing the use of an expensive technology which cannot deliver full compliance."

Mr Vaughan urged both European commissioners to ensure their officials take a proportionate approach to the issue of tolerances or provide guidance as to how all businesses involved in the supply chain can affordably get technology, which meets EC standards, to deliver "100% accuracy 100% of the time".

The Farmers'Union of Wales has once again urged the Westminster Government to appoint a Grocery Market Ombudsman without delay in a bid to end unfair market practices.

The union stressed its concerns in a letter to Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman pointing out it is almost five years since the Office of Fair Trading authorised an initial investigation by the Competition Commission which published its final report in 2008.

The setting up of a Grocery Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) in February last year marked the first of the key remedies outlined in the report.

The Government later announced it would proceed with the establishment of an Ombudsman to oversee the GSCOP and the FUW has responded to two separate consultations about the powers and roles of such an adjudicator.

"But more than a year after the first consultation on the introduction of an Ombudsman the industry still remains void of such a body," said FUW president Gareth Vaughan in his letter to Mrs Spelman.

The issue was also raised at the union's milk and dairy produce committee, meeting at its headquarters in Aberystwyth on Thursday, when members felt that without an Ombudsman the GSCOP remained hollow and ineffectual.

"Over the last decade the FUW has consistently argued that the UK Government should take the action necessary to redress the imbalance in the powers held by primary producers, processors and retailers,"" said Mr Vaughan.

"We are urging the new Government to remain committed to the establishment of a groceries adjudicator with sufficient powers to address the concerns raised by the Competition Commission.

"In 2010 the Grocery Market Ombudsman Bill brought forward by Ynys Mon MP Mr Albert Owen received cross party support and presented an ideal opportunity to take forward the establishment of a supermarket Ombudsman," added Mr Vaughan.

The Farmers' Union of Wales' milk and dairy produce committee today gave its full backing to a milk price formula produced by National Farmers Union Scotland which could fundamentally alter the dynamics of the UK milk market.

The unanimous backing followed a meeting of the committee at the union's head office near Aberystwyth during which NFU Scotland's chief executive James Withers outlined their proposals.

The formula, which is based on the widely recognised market indicators of Actual Milk Price Equivalent (AMPE) and Milk for Cheese Value Equivalent (MCVE), in a 20% to 80% split - or variations thereof, was identified by a producer working group set by the Scottish union.

Supporters of the formula believe it could form the foundation for prices which, while continuing to vary between contracts, nevertheless represent the true value of milk. This would reflect a supply and demand dynamic that UK milk prices have failed to recognise over the last decade.

Speaking after the meeting, FUW dairy committee chairman Eifion Huws said: "The FUW has always welcomed the opportunity to work with other UK farming organisations to further the interests of farming families, and we welcome the work and enthusiasm put into this initiative by NFU Scotland.

"Committee members scrutinised the proposals at length, and many of the key issues which have faced the dairy industry over the years were discussed."

Mr Huws said the committee fully recognised that the proposal is a starting point for further discussions. However, it was felt that the union should support it as a move towards greater transparency and a means by which to break the cycle of rhetoric and action that has dominated dairy politics for decades.

Mr Withers said: "If a market-related pricing formula were incorporated as a baseline into producer contracts, it would break the cycle of market failure in the dairy supply chain.

"Such a move could allow dairy farmers, irrespective of whom they sell their milk to, to move forward with improved confidence and greater certainty. It would also deliver sustainability, which is in the best interest of whole supply chain."

Following the committee's backing for the proposals, the FUW will look at further ways in which the proposal can be developed and promoted.

"With dairy farmers in both Scotland and Wales leaving the industry in droves, something desperately needs to be done," said Mr Huws.

"A contract which incorporated this kind of formula could prevent our prices consistently being lower than those on the continent, provide significant transparency, which is what Europe wants, and could put much needed confidence and stability back into the market."

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