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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
UK farmers go on strike
Milk on supermarket shelves
Milk supplies may run out this weekend

If you like to plan for any eventuality, then it might be wise to start stocking up on fresh food right now.


If we are not listened to we will not hesitate to escalate our action

FFA chief David Handley
Because if militant agricultural lobby group Farmers For Action has its way, supermarkets across the country will be running out of milk and other perishable goods before the weekend is over.

The FFA has called on farmers to suspend food deliveries for 24 hours from early on Friday in an attempt to draw attention to a deepening crisis facing Britain's rural economy.

The group claims that about 20% of the country's farmers are planning to take part, and has warned that supplies of some fresh products, particularly milk, will be affected.

Protestors' threats can normally be taken with a pinch of salt, but the FFA's action cannot be so easily dismissed.

FFA chief David Handley
Farm strike leader David Handley

Protest veteran

David Handley, the group's chief, has a fearsome track record as a protest leader.

Mr Handley's rose to prominence in the autumn of 2000, when, as head of the People's Fuel Lobby - a hastily assembled coalition of truck drivers, farmers, and small businessmen - he masterminded a blockade of petrol refineries which nearly paralysed the UK economy.

Intended as a protest against rising fuel taxes, the blockade choked off most of the country's fuel supplies, disrupting commercial deliveries and cutting motor traffic in half overnight.

Nearly two years on, Mr Handley has lost none of his fighting spirit.

"We are not going to sit back and let our industry be taken away from us," he told BBC News Online.

"If we are not listened to we will not hesitate to escalate our action, and those who know us know that we are quite capable of doing so."

Supermarket battle

The FFA, which says it does not want handouts, is hoping the government will agree to help farmers emerge from a recession which is now entering its sixth year.

It wants the government to set up a watchdog to help farmers get better prices from supermarkets, their main customers.

"There's an impression given that supermarkets are looking after the farmer and the consumer, but it's a myth. They are profiteering on the back of both of us," Mr Handley said.

The FFA has previously threatened to blockade supermarkets' distribution centres in protest over aggressive price bargaining.

The supermarkets deny charges of exploitation, saying they are merely responding to market forces.

Risk

Tesco, the UK's biggest supermarket chain, was unperturbed by the FFA's latest plan.

"We are monitoring the situation, but we're confident we'll have the usual supplies," said a spokesperson.

Fuel protests
Protests against fuel nearly brought the UK to a halt
Meanwhile, the mainstream National Farmers' Union, the country's biggest farm lobby, has advised its members to play no part in the strike.

"We think this is an extremely risky strategy that could seriously backfire," the NFU said in a statement.

"Such action could damage the relationship between individual farmers and their buyers, and lead to long-term financial losses for the farmer concerned."

The NFU argues that in the current climate, farmers should hold onto whatever sources of income they have left.

Last month, the organisation calculated that farm incomes have fallen by over 70% since 1995.

It claims that the average British farmer now earns about 10,000 a year - less than the minimum wage.

See also:

10 Jul 02 | Business
10 Jul 02 | Europe
26 Jun 02 | Europe
10 Jun 02 | Business
10 Jun 02 | Europe
22 Aug 02 | Politics
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