Vegetarian is farming chief

IT IS probably the most incongruous political appointment since cigar-chomping Kenneth Clarke was made Secretary of State for Health. The agriculture post in the new Welsh Assembly has gone to a confirmed vegetarian.

Welsh farmers are dismayed at the prospect of their interests being represented by Christine Gwyther, 36. How eloquently, they wonder, will she argue against the European ban on beef on the bone, having not touched meat herself for 20 years?

As one farmer, John Lloyd-Ellis, said bitterly yesterday: "It's like putting a teetotaller in charge of a brewery."

Mrs Gwyther, formerly a business development officer on West Wales Council, was elected last week to represent Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the Assembly. Her appointment as Agriculture Minister was announced yesterday by the Welsh First Minister, Alun Michael, who insisted that her aversion to red meat would not affect her ability to do the job. "I chose her because of her track record in farming communities," he said.

But beef and lamb farmers in Wales, where there are three times as many sheep (11 million) as people, were not reassured. Mr Lloyd-Ellis, who farms 120 acres near Prestatyn said: "Vegetarians are fanatics who want to kill off the meat industry. How can she speak for farmers?" Another farmer, Huw Price, from Brecon, described her appointment as "crazy". Mrs Gwyther denied any conflict of interest. "I totally support those whose livelihood is dependent on farming," she said. But if she does feel disconnected from her portfolio, she will not be alone.

The education and culture post, which includes responsibility for protecting the Welsh language, has gone to a non-Welsh speaker, Merseyside-born Tom Middlehurst.

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