NFU head is cheered by change of heart

NFU president, Peter Kendall, has welcomed remarks by new Agriculture and Environment Secretary David Miliband as a change in emphasis by the government towards the farming sector.

Speaking at last week's BMPA conference - his first attendance at a major meat industry event since winning the NFU presidency in February - Kendall said he was "very pleased" to hear Miliband say "farming is critically important to the country and not just to the countryside".

The remark signalled a change of emphasis, he said, adding that he was pleased the farming sector now had someone of Miliband's profile representing it at cabinet level. Miliband, 40, is regarded as a high flyer, close to Tony Blair and a key figure at the heart of New Labour.

Kendall welcomed the new Secretary of State's 'holistic' approach noting his recent comment "we cannot have a society that takes out more than it puts in".

BSE has left Britain with high standards in the beef industry and, with the European market moving rapidly into deficit, beef exporters could benefit.

But regulation should not curtail Britain's competitive edge, he warned. The long-term view on regulation should be for the benefit of the environment and sustainability but not at shortterm cost.

It was a challenge to Miliband in world trade talks to not only look at lowering tariffs but to tackle issues like regulation and animal welfare.

On retailer relations, the NFU president launched a scathing attack on OFT chief executive John

Fingleton over reported comments that the OFT did not care about retailer and supplier trading relationships, only that prices are reducing for consumers. This signalled that the abusive powers of the major retailers was set to continue.

He accused Fingleton of having a "short term, one dimensional view of competition policy" that could not be in the consumer's long-term interest of good availability, choice or value for money. Trust and transparency in the supply chain was needed. "We don't want to see efficient businesses penalised but we are against abuse of power," Kendall added.

It was a theme taken up by MLC chairman Peter Barr who told delegates he was concerned about the long term viability of a processing sector that is facing tightening supplies, over-capacity and aggressive retailers.

Processors probably needed a 5% price increase just to stand still but, instead, faced downward price pressure.