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Dairy Farmers

Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the prospects for dairy farmers' incomes during 1990–91.

Net income from dairying in 1989–90 was estimated to be 75 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1983–84, before the introduction of quotas. This year, the sector will benefit from the substantial devaluation in the green pound and from the shorter intervention payment delays that took effect earlier this week.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his extremely helpful reply, which will be widely welcomed by farmers not only in my constituency but throughout the country. Does he expect that the improvement will continue, and what does he think are the industry's long-term prospects?

Many of the factors behind the improvement are continuing. I hope that the dairying industry will take seriously the new challenges of 1992 and of the single market, seek to be more competitive than ever against our European partners, and look to the type of structure that will most help to ensure that.

In his calculation of the prospects for dairy farmers' incomes in the coming year, has the Minister taken any account of the certain consequences of his step-by-step resistance to the imposition of effective measures to control the menace of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, including the suggestions put forward by the National Farmers Union? Will he accept that he is meant to be responsible for food as well as agriculture and that his imitation of Corporal Jones running around saying, "Don't panic", is not good enough? Can we have some action to restore confidence in the meat and dairy industry?

If what the hon. Gentleman suggested —step-by-step resistance—was the case he might have some basis for his argument, but the farmers are being protected by the consumer interest of my Ministry, which puts the consumer first and is therefore able to say categorically, in the words of the chief medical officer, that

"British beef is entirely safe to eat".
Farmers know that by putting the consumer first I ensure that their future is safeguarded. The people that farmers and consumers are looking askance at are people such as the hon. Gentleman who seek to spread scandal and fear when it is not necessary.