Where's the beef? In Downing Street

A cow and her calf gate-crashed Downing Street yesterday as 3,500 farmers converged on Westminster to keep up the pressure for more help for their industry. Farmers have become the new militants of British industry but ministers have dug in their heels against further hand-outs after last month's pounds 85m of extra aid.

Sir David Naish, President of the National Farmers' Union, protested that businesses were being "crippled by political disinterest in the plight of rural economies". The Prime Minister's spokesman said the Government could not solve all the industry's problems. "There have been difficulties for the beef industry," he said. "We have done what we can to help, but there are limits."

Farmers voiced their anger during a packed meeting near the Commons and later met MPs. However the orderly lobby descended into chaos when a petition signed by more than half a million people was taken to Downing Street.

Police guarding the entrance to the street originally barred 750kg Mayflower and six-month-old Mayflower III on security grounds. But when the gates were opened to let in a van, there was a surge and both cow and calf ended up inside the gates, clearly panicking. Eventually they were calmed down and followed the delegation out of Downing Street.

Jack Cunningham, the agriculture minister, has rejected appeals to seek compensation of up to pounds 980m from the European Commission to make up for the effects on farming of the strong pound.

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