Farmers put on a brave face for the Royal Show

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With its sea of ruddy faces, glossy livestock and booming brass bands, the atmosphere at the opening of The Royal Show at Stoneleigh, Warwick, yesterday could have been described as bullish.

But beyond the bowler hats, rosettes and well-trodden cattle dung at Britain's biggest agricultural event there were signs that this was an industry under siege. Visitors had to drive past protesters bearing placards of factory farming images. "Beef farmers," they read, "is your industry worth this?"

Overhead, a small biplane circled. The banner streaming out behind it read: "CJD-BSE - don't risk lifting calf ban - RFA" and every Land Rover bore imploring stickers: "Eat British beef with con- fidence."

Feelings are running high. And the decision of Franz Fischler, the European Agriculture Commissioner who is responsible for upholding the European ban on British beef products, to make himself the prize exhibit, was widely regarded as a brave one.

Mr Fischler (a sturdy Aust-rian breed, well groomed) told the show: "I know these are particularly difficult times ... all the more important to keep the dialogue going," he said.

June Jenkinson, a farmer from Cumbria, was not impressed. "It's nothing that we haven't heard already, is it?" she said. But the Minister of Agriculture, Douglas Hogg, who was keen to stress his intention of remaining in his present post, was doing what he could. In a day that encompassed visits to the stands of Farmers Weekly and the Hereford Breed Society, Mr Hogg (small British breed, well over the 30-month age limit) was keen to reassure farmers that the Government was doing everything possible to speed the end of the crisis, which has seen consumption of beef fall by 20 per cent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 1995. On a day of brave faces, it was left to one stall to highlight the strains on farmers - the Samaritans, who attend every year.

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