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Down on the Farm

22nd July 2003 - Private Eye

After 95 years as the self-proclaimed "voice of British farming", the "No Effing Use", it seems, may soon be no effing more. Faced with plummeting membership and spiralling debts, the National Farmers Union is to close its London headquarters, sacking 50 staff.

The modern office building in Shaftesbury Avenue is to be sold, along with the “presidential flat” occupied by “Sir” Ben Gill in Covent Garden. The skeletal remains of the NFU will then retreat to a bunker in Warwickshire, either at Stoneleigh or Stratford. Thus will come to an end the farce, connived in by government and media, whereby Gill and Co continued to be treated as “farmers’ leaders”, representing the interests of Britain’s farming industry, long after most farmers had melted away from the NFU because they realised it did nothing of the kind.

Although membership figures have been kept secret, it is thought they now include less than a third of the 300,000 farmers who survive, as Britain’s farming continues to stagger through the worst crisis in its history.

What brought the NFU to its knees was its grovelling readiness to collaborate with the very forces which have made that crisis inevitable.

In the 1990s, when British farming faced unprecedented challenges, starting with the regulatory disasters which followed on such food scares as salmonella and BSE, such collaboration finally became indefensible. Faced by an across-the-board collapse in farm prices after 1997, the only response from Gill and the NFU was to bleat incessantly about how Britain must join the Euro. The last straw came during the 2001 foot and mouth disaster. As the obscurantist alliance against vaccination led by Gill and Professor Roy Anderson brought the livestock industry to its knees, the NFU played a central part in creating the most pointlessly destructive crisis British farming has ever faced.

Oft heard from farmers at the time was the comment "I will never trust the NFU again". As Gill and his henchmen slink off into their bunker, the message has finally struck home.

As reported by Private Eye on the 22nd July 2003.


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