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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Look to future, farmers told
Lord Haskins talks to the media in Cumbria
Lord Haskins delivered a stark message in Cumbria
Farmers must look to the future or risk "living on borrowed time", the head of Britain's foot-and-mouth recovery programme has warned.

Lord Haskins issued the warning during a news conference on his first official visit to Cumbria, the area worst hit by the disease.

If farmers want to rely on the past for handouts they are going to be living on borrowed time

Lord Haskins
He avoided returning to some of his more controversial comments that have sparked anger among farmers in recent days.

But the Labour peer stuck to his overall message that British agriculture needs to embrace radical change.

Asked about the views of the Prince of Wales, who has urged farmers to return to more traditional methods, he said: "I think that the idea of turning the clock back is not the way of dealing with the problems in Cumbria today. We have to turn the clock forward.

"The future is looking at the future, not building up fantasies of the past, like some people might think.

"I am not mentioning any names.

"If farmers want to rely on the past for handouts they are going to be living on borrowed time."

September briefing

He said he would be briefing Tony Blair by the end of September about "medium term" issues he had identified in Cumbria.

The long-term picture for the region was positive, Lord Haskins predicted, as "tourism will be back with a bang".

But he admitted to concerns about the prospects for more remote farming communities that did not have a parallel tourist trade, such as north Wales.

During his visit Lord Haskins met farmers and tourism officials as well as the foot-and-mouth task force steering group.

The press in August have a hard time filling their pages - they have had a bit of fun

Lord Haskins
Earlier, in an interview for BBC Radio Five Live Breakfast, Lord Haskins said farmers were already taking action to help themselves.

He also insisted he understood the needs of small farmers, despite his role as chairman of food giant Northern Foods.

And he offered an apparent olive branch to those angered when he said farmers who had lost their herds to foot-and-mouth were economically better off than those that had not, saying "everybody is terribly badly affected".

State handouts

Among his other reported controversial comments have been assertions that farmers rely too much on state handouts, should become more enterprising and learn from their French counterparts.

Lord Haskins - appointed by the government last week - has also predicted that half of all farms would be out of business by 2010.

And it was claimed he suggested small farmers should take a second job in between milking in the morning and evening.

As a result the critics lined up, with National Farmers' Union leader Ben Gill saying Lord Haskins was "totally out of touch with reality".

Misquote claim

One green campaigner said his comments were "absolutely breathtaking" while the Conservatives called them "depressing".

At one point Downing Street stressed he was independent and did not speak for the government.

But Lord Haskins insists he was misquoted.

"The press in August have a hard time filling their pages - they have had a bit of fun," he told Tuesday's news conference.

See also:

13 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Rural recovery chief under fire
06 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Profile: Lord Haskins
12 Jul 01 | Business
Regulators seen as too bureaucratic
17 Jul 01 | UK Politics
End wasteful subsidies - Beckett
09 Jun 99 | The Company File
Northern Foods bows to GM pressure
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