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The BBC's Robert Pigott
"No easy answer"
 real 28k

Tony Blair
"I won't pretend the government can solve all farming's problems"
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Tim Yeo MP
"A chilling message for farmers"
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BBC Political Correspondent Nick Robinson
Farmers will be clamouring for what cash is available
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Tuesday, 1 February, 2000, 15:41 GMT
No quick fix, Blair tells farmers

combine harvester 300 Agriculture will be subsidised by non-farming activities

The UK Prime Minister has told the country's farmers he will do what he can to help them through their worst crisis for 60 years.

But Tony Blair made no offer of cash help for an industry struggling in the face of the strong pound, collapsed foreign markets and problems over British beef.

Britain needs a strong, thriving agriculture industry
Tony Blair
Addressing the annual conference of the National Farmers Union, Mr Blair said he understood the depth of the crisis, and how painful it was.

But he told farmers: "I have come along today with no quick fixes. I passionately believe that the answer is not simply subsidy and compensation."

His message failed to satisfy some delegates - there was a smattering of boos and hisses as Mr Blair left the stage after his 15-minute speech.

He promised to help farmers work towards a new direction for agriculture, subsidising the production of food with non-farming sidelines.

'New partnership'

"We need to build our way out of the crisis and create a new partnership to set UK agriculture on course for a healthy and profitable future," said Mr Blair.

"British agriculture has a special role. You directly employ more than half a million people. You provide the materials for a food industry which contributes 55bn of our gross domestic product.

Blair 150 Blair: "We need to build our way out of the crisis"
"More than any other activity, farming defines the special character of our countryside and the unique fabric of our rural life. So Britain needs a strong, thriving agriculture industry."

Mr Blair said that legal action to lift the French beef ban was "a hard road", but a trade war with France would have been worse. He called on farmers to use the high standards imposed on British beef farms because of the BSE crisis to the UK's advantage.

He said that farming faced similar challenges to other sectors, with consumers demanding higher standards and world competition becoming more fierce.

To respond, farms would have to be diverse and farmers would have to develop new skills - the government had already pledged 150m for English farms over the next seven years.

"There will still be room for large and small farms, full-time and part-time. The entrepreneurial family farm will continue to thrive - but it will often be supported by income from non-farming activity," he told the conference.

In some regions, farmers are already being encouraged to diversify, setting up shops and offering bed and breakfast and even aromatherapy treatments.

Labelling guidelines

The prime minister also announced that new labelling guidance would be introduced to ensure foreign goods were not being passed off as British because that was where they had been processed.

"Danish pork can no longer be labelled 'British' or 'Produced in Britain' simply on the basis that it has been cured here," he explained.

Pigs 150 The pig industry has suffered badly
And he said plans for a proposed pesticide tax would be scrapped.

Mr Blair did not rule out the possibility of cash help for the beleaguered pig industry, saying he was prepared to listen to ideas.

This sector has been hit particularly badly, as many farmers have had to spend on improved accommodation for pigs to meet new UK welfare standards.

But Mr Blair said that while investment could help, it had to be tied to long-term change and reform.

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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  Business
Farmers get the message
01 Feb 00 |  Business
Fischler pledges aid for farmers
31 Jan 00 |  Business
Farmers win sympathy but no cash
11 Nov 99 |  UK
UK farmers angry and dismayed
08 Nov 99 |  Wales
Dairy industry sees exodus

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