UK’s National Farmers’ Union accused of forming ‘unholy alliance’ with Big Chem

Guy Watson, a prominent organic farmer and owner of Riverford Organics, which operates a nationwide veg box scheme based in Devon and supplied by farms around the country, has taken aim at the NFU over its lobbying activity.

In a blog post and newsletter sent out to veg box recipients earlier this month, Watson accused the country’s largest farm union of forming an “unholy alliance” with agrochemical manufacturers, and in doing so failing all but a small minority of large farmers.

The Riverford owner’s remarks were triggered by the publication of the Healthy Harvest report, commissioned by NFU and pesticide manufacturers in response to moves by the EU Commission to restrict certain active ingredients, over concerns that they pose a threat to health or the environment.  The report found that restrictions could cost the UK food and farming industries £1.6bn each year, though its findings were questioned.

Watson said, “I may be a white, male farmer, fairly well off and getting on a bit, but I don’t feel represented by the NFU. In fact I find myself increasingly alienated by their self-righteous lobbying for the short term interests of a small number of largescale farmers.”

“This especially applies to their resistance to any representation of the interests of the tax payers who prop up their industry; to even the tamest environmental regulation; to public access to land; and to any redirection of farming subsidies to encourage younger, smaller scale entrants to the industry.”

In response, the NFU has claimed it represents a number of organic farmers, and said its regional director Melanie Squires would be meeting with the Riverford founder to discuss his concerns.

In April, new farming union the Landworkers’ Alliance demonstrated outside the offices of Defra and the NFU, which are situated next to one another in Smith Square, London. The union said its protest was intended to highlight the “The stranglehold of big business over agricultural policy” in Britain.

Commenting on Tuesday, LWA spokesperson Ed Hamer said, “LWA sympathises with Guy Watson’s view. As our membership grows, it is becoming more apparent that the NFU doesn’t represent the majority of the farming industry.

“The NFU has consistently represented the interests of a few large farmers, and failed to recognise that smaller farmers have a valuable role to play in feeding the country.”

In his newsletter, Riverford’s Guy Watson wrote,

“For 60 years, farming policy in the developed world has been led by the agrochemical industry; whatever the problem, the solution is to be found in a chemical container.

“No-one could question that food has become cheaper as a result, but the costs in terms of a devastating loss of biodiversity, where bees and songbirds now thrive better in cities than the countryside, cannot be denied.

“I wonder where we might be if a fraction of the agrochemical research funds had gone into understanding the ecology of our soils, crops, pests and countryside.

“In glass houses, where insect pressure is at its highest, insecticide resistance and increased regulation has forced growers to develop alternative methods with huge success. It’s not easy but with patience, observation and learning, a more ecological approach to pest management is possible.

“I believe that a countryside where highly skilled farmers who embrace GPS technology, mechanisation and ecology to facilitate mixed farming is possible. Our industry should be learning from nature, employing only subtle and minimal intervention with chemicals.

“I suspect that will remain a dream for now and I don’t expect the NFU or their unholy alliance with pesticide manufacturers to help us get closer to it. Meanwhile, we are doing well enough without chemicals that many of you will get extra leeks in your box this week!”

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