Right of Reply

The President of the National Farmers Union responds to an article which asserted that farmers do not deserve our sympathy until they end their secrecy about food production

JAMES ERLICHMAN'S article "Let the farmers bleat" (15 September) demonstrates a classic case of a little knowledge being dangerous.

True, cattle and sheep have to be slaughtered. True, we used to export 500,000 calves into Continental veal units. True, there is wide differential between supermarket and farm gate prices.

We export so many calves because, following the Government's ban on veal crates in the UK, our consumers failed to demonstrate a willingness to pay a premium for domestic veal produced in welfare-friendly systems. We had to export our industry to Europe, which led to imports of cheaper veal produced in systems that are now banned here.

Following the BSE crisis, UK export of live cattle was banned. The Government therefore introduced an EU scheme that removed unwanted calves from the market. This scheme initially accepted only dairy calves and caused a move away from the normal use of beef bull semen.

With such an abrupt ending to the UK scheme, the consequence has been serious. The change back to more beef-type inseminations will not appear until later this year and we cannot export the calves, which has caused an imbalance in the market.

We are continually seeking to re-establish a veal production system in the UK for domestic consumption and export. But bureaucratic obstacles delay our endeavours. With a long bovine breeding cycle, is it unreasonable to ask for breathing-space?

On sheep, Mr Erlichman misses the point. The slaughter is not caused by overproduction; it is the result of legislation implemented in a heavy- handed way, so that the value of older sheep is more than offset by the cost of slaughterhouse procedures. If a government chooses to take such punitive action, why should farmers pick up the cost?

Whatever happened to British common sense?

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