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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY HUW EDWARDS INTERVIEW
NICK BROWN MP AGRICULTURE MINISTER AUGUST 20TH, 2000

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

HUW EDWARDS
Well after the massive crisis that's affected the British beef industry is it possible that British pork might go the same way, no says the government, there's no doubting the concern about swine fever, it's the first outbreak in England for 14 years.

[FILM CLIP]

HUW EDWARDS
And with me now I'm pleased to say is the man in charge, the Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, good morning to you Nick.

NICK BROWN
Good morning.

HUW EDWARDS
Now how serious is this outbreak?

NICK BROWN
Well it's very serious for the pig industry in this country, I hope that we've got it contained and that we've nipped this in the bud. There are five farms with confirmed cases, there are 38 that are under restriction but there are no new cases confirmed this morning.

HUW EDWARDS
So in terms of the scale of it and as we look at sort of previous outbreaks how do you rate it in terms of the last one 14 years ago?

NICK BROWN
Well we're not quite sure what we're dealing with yet, there are some very important test results that are due either later on today or tomorrow which I hope of course will prove negative and if that is the case we'll have a much better idea that this is confined to the existing farms, in other words confined to East Anglia but I cannot say that with certainty this morning.

HUW EDWARDS
Now there have been several measures taken, I know that, and we know what the European Union has done as well, in terms of banning the export of live pigs, the big worry is that they will meet this week and say, okay we've had a look at what's going on, we're still very worried, we're now going to ban the export of pork and bacon as well, now is that a likelihood do you think and what's your view on it?

NICK BROWN
It's a possible outcome but it isn't justified by what we know at the moment I think the response from the European Commission has been reasonable and proportionate and you can understand why our partners don't want to take the risk of importing classic swine fever into their own pig herds and frankly we take exactly the same view when the situation is the other way round.

HUW EDWARDS
What could be the consequences for the industry if there were to be a ban extended in the way I've just described?

NICK BROWN
We're ban resistant to that by far and away the best thing that I can do to help the industry is to bear down on this outbreak, get it contained and then get it extinguished as quickly as possible and that's why we've responded in such a tough way right at the beginning.

HUW EDWARDS
You've said and you've said consistently that you'll do all you can to help the farmers involved many of whom of course are, you know, incredibly worried by the prospects for them. Could you describe just briefly what the measures are you've put in place before we go on to discuss what you've, what else you might do?

NICK BROWN
Well the, the measures are well understood within the industry where there is a suspect, a pig looks it's ill then we put the farm immediately under movement restrictions and then we go and take tests and then we go back to confirm the test results to make absolutely clear that the, that the farm is negative before the movement restrictions are lifted. If the results are positive as they are on just these five farms in East Anglia then of course the government intervenes, buys the affected stock and it's destroyed.

HUW EDWARDS
Are you happy that the compensation scheme as it exists does reward adequately the farmers who are most affected, because one of the things I've been reading about and listening to over the last few days is farmers saying, look actually it's not that good, it is patchy and it does leave quite a few of us vulnerable, those of us who are worst affected?

NICK BROWN
The, the people who are worst affected are those that have got the disease of course and there they do get compensation, 50 per cent for the positives and for the cohorts, they're compensated at 100 per cent of the value of the animal. The problem arises for those pig businesses that are under movement restrictions but there is not a confirmed outbreak but of course the animal cannot move and therefore they cannot be solved and it is what happens in those circumstances that farmers are raising with me.

HUW EDWARDS
And what can you do about that specific case?

NICK BROWN
Well compensation is a matter of European Union law, it is in the cases for the directly affected farms and it is, that would also be true of any special measure that I wanted bring in. I am determined that farmers in this country in the same circumstances are treated in exactly the same way that they were in Germany and that they were in Holland when there were similar outbreaks.

HUW EDWARDS
They've had a dreadful time haven't they, farmers?

NICK BROWN
The industry collectively is going through a very bad time at the moment, there is a downturn in commodity prices┐

HUW EDWARDS
Do you feel any responsibility?

NICK BROWN
I certainly do and I'm doing everything I can to help. Of course the government wants to stand by our own farmers and indeed that's why we've introduced these short-term packages of aid mostly targeted at the livestock sector but not exclusively.

HUW EDWARDS
Shouldn't they be more generous, I know this is a call on government money of all kinds and we get it across the board in all kinds of policy areas but when you see farmers in desperate trouble as they are very often do you not think there's a case for more money and more compensation for them at this stage?

NICK BROWN
No the one thing I cannot do is to buy out with public money cyclical problems of the agriculture sector. What I can do is to apply those resources that are available to me in the best possible way to help as many farmers as possible get through the current difficult times. But there are changes taking place world-wide in agriculture and we have to respond to those changes not, not just hope we can wish them away, or use public money to buy them away.

HUW EDWARDS
But that's true and there are things you can do as well to help and farmers of course you're well aware of the demands being made, farmers are always saying with some justification maybe, that they are saddled with huge bills for fuel for example, diesel bills have gone up enormously over the last few years since you came to power, the pound is at very high levels and the government isn't minded to do anything about that. These are two big factors for example which you might want to do something about but which you won't do anything about?

NICK BROWN
Yes but the two most crucial factors affecting British agriculture today are the world commodity prices and the way in which the common agricultural policy distorts the market for European Union agricultural projects and that is why we┐

HUW EDWARDS
Now they wouldn't turn down cheaper fuel would they?

NICK BROWN
Well but this is not at the heart of the issue, at the heart of the issue is the shape of the cap and world markets and that's why we're trying very hard to get British agriculture even more market orientated than it is at the moment and we've much to be proud of in this country and why we're setting out to reform the common agricultural policy.

HUW EDWARDS
Understood, the NFU is still saying that if for example farmers had far cheaper fuel as farmers do in Europe that would at least be less of a burden on their pockets, you must at least accept that?

NICK BROWN
You have to look at the overall tax burden on farm businesses, you can't just take one aspect of it and in terms of treating farm businesses as a whole they do have privileges within the tax system?

HUW EDWARDS
You don't think that fuel prices for them are exceptionally high by European levels?

NICK BROWN
It's a part farming, but it's not the only part.

HUW EDWARDS
They would say to you that if you're talking about help it's one area of help that you might want to adjust especially in exceptional circumstances?

NICK BROWN
You know it's not within my gift, I mean there are the farm diesel scheme and so on but these operate at the margins, I cannot alter the tax rates, that's very much a matter for the Chancellor. What I can do is what is, within my own Ministry's power to do and there we're doing absolutely everything we can.

HUW EDWARDS
Okay on the question of confidence, it's a huge question. There's a confidence in the industry and in British meat generally, not just pig meat but of course beef as well in view of what the industry's gone through over the last few years, is it your fear that even if you contain the swine fever outbreak that damage to confidence will again be pretty substantial?

NICK BROWN
When this, when we finish this interview you and I are going to have breakfast and I'm going to tuck in to good British bacon here at the BBC and I'm going to do so with absolute confidence. People should buy British pork products with confidence because our standard's are very high and in particular our animal welfare standards are very high in this country and the same is true of British beef as well. We spent an enormous amount of money making absolutely certain that our beef is amongst the safest in the world.

HUW EDWARDS
Consumers take a lot of convincing don't they and when they're talking about feeding their families especially they think well do I want to take a risk, frankly well there's a bit of doubt I'm not going to take the risk and while that's there farmers are going to be damaged in terms of their livelihoods and surely the recovery in terms of confidence is a far longer process?

NICK BROWN
And the government has a duty to explain the science and as far as the current outbreak of classic swine fever in this country is concerned although it is very dangerous to pigs it poses no threat at all to human beings.

HUW EDWARDS
Are you still drinking French wine Mr Brown?

NICK BROWN
No I don't drink French wine, I drink British beer.

HUW EDWARDS
Probably a good choice, are you still annoyed by the fact the French are still banning our beef and the fact that we don't seem to be able to do anything about it even though there's a long legal process underway?

NICK BROWN
The French have no case at all, not based on science and not in law either and that is why the European Commission are taking them to court. The other member states in the European Union agree with us, this will now have to be settled for the, through the courts and it's because we're a member of the European Union that we have access to this legal route against the French, their ban is wrong, we're not saying they have to eat our products, we're saying we have the right to offer them for sale just as they have the right to offer their products for sale here.

HUW EDWARDS
Do we have any idea at all when that legal course might come to an end?

NICK BROWN
No it's a matter for the courts and not a matter for me but I'm convinced that the Commission are getting on with it in an expeditious way.

HUW EDWARDS
You look forward to the day?

NICK BROWN
I certainly do because I'm convinced we will win.

HUW EDWARDS
I'll let you get to the bacon, I'm going to be very good and have my muesli, thank you very much.

NICK BROWN
Soft.

HUW EDWARDS
I know - thank you very much.

END

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