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Jim Nicholson blasts minister Liz Truss over 'U-turn' on EU aid for farmers

By Chris McCullough

Published 18/08/2015

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson

The key to solving farming crisis lies with the European Union, according to the UK Environment Secretary.

She spoke following a second summit in London, where she met farm leaders including Ulster Farmers' Union president Ian Marshall.

But her words meant little to Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson, who said that Liz Truss had been against any form of EU support in the past.

He added that the situation was a repeat of a similar crisis in 2008 when the Government and the European Commission "sat on their hands doing nothing until things got really bad".

Ms Truss said: "I convened today's meeting to work to help our farmers through the current tough period. It was an encouraging meeting and I believe we can help build stronger foundations that give the industry the long-term stability and commercial opportunities it needs to manage global volatility.

"I recognise the seriousness of the current situation for the dairy industry and for farming as a whole. Our hard-working farmers and the £100bn food and farming industry are vital for our economy and our countryside.

"A global surplus of milk is causing low prices around the world well beyond the control of farmers. I want to see this situation taken seriously by the EU, which has the means to help farmers manage this volatility.

"That is why when I meet agriculture ministers next month, I will be emphasising the need for a futures market and insurance for dairy products - as they already have for cereal farmers - to give them long-term security over price.

"It is in everyone's interest that supermarkets, caterers and the food industry have a security of supply of milk. That's why I am pleased to see some supermarkets share the risk with farmers over price fluctuations. We are urgently setting up a new working group with the UK farming ministers and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to develop best practice models with the industry.

"As well as milk, more than 50% of the UK dairy market is in products such as cheese and butter. Yet we have a dairy deficit as less than half the butter and cheese we eat is made from British milk.

"I want to see better branding and clearer labelling of dairy products in supermarkets, retailers and throughout the catering industry so that people know when they are buying British, and we have agreed to discussions with the food industry on this.

"Dairy exports topped £1.4bn last year, but I am determined to see this rise more. I have invited the dairy industry to play a bigger role in future trade missions, including my trip to China in the autumn where there is growing demand for British produce."

But Mr Nicholson said the Government had been less than helpful in the situation. "The Secretary of State's remarks clearly show a change in attitude from Liz Truss as she has been totally against any form of European support in the past," he added.

"I await with interest her contribution to the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels on September 7. It will be very interesting to hear.

"The Government has been less than helpful with this entire situation. Neither Europe nor the Government have recognised the report on the dairy industry that I drew up. Everything is in that report on how to restore confidence into the dairy industry.

"Liz Truss has not supported it either. Unfortunately all this is deja vu for me as it is a repeat of 2008 when the European Commission and the UK Government sat on their hands until the crisis got very serious. Farmers do not need promises or sympathy from politicians, they need hard action now.

"The big question is, how long will it take before EU Farm Commissioner Hogan and everyone else involved bring back stability into the markets and restore confidence in the industry and with farmers?"

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