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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 17:03 GMT
Angry farmers cream Brown

Nick Brown had chocolate cake pushed in his face

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has felt the full wrath of farmers' anger over the agriculture crisis at the National Farmers' Union conference.

Farming in crisis
Mr Brown was smeared with chocolate cake by a protester after being heckled and shouted at by delegates in London.

Afterwards, he dismissed the chocolate incident as a "silly stunt".

He said: "I do not think today's silly stunt has anything whatever to do with agriculture.

"It was not a samurai sword. It was a chocolate eclair.

Gill 150 Ben Gill: Saw the incident
"Although I am not a particularly brave person I am not frightened of a chocolate eclair."

NFU president Ben Gill said the incident had occurred during a changeover of speakers.

He said: "I saw her out of the back of my eye, she had a piece of bread with chocolate on it and put it in his face.

"The person is a non-identified lady with a media badge on. She disappeared it seems down the back steps of the Hilton Hotel which I certainly don't know and I would be very surprised if any farmer did."

The NFU later named the protester as Birgit Cunningham and said she registered at the conference as a journalist for The Ecologist magazine.

Editor Zac Goldsmith said Ms Cunningham was a freelance journalist and event organiser.

"She should not have registered as being from The Ecologist. She does not have any formal relationship with The Ecologist. She has spent some time in the Ecologist offices recently but she doesn't write for the magazine."

'Appalling slur'

Mr Brown suggested the incident could have been a right wing stunt as Tory leader William Hague was due to speak after him to the conference.

But shadow agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo dismissed the suggestion as "an appalling slur".

Earlier, Mr Brown got involved in an angry exchange with Devon farmer Tony Mason, who lost his land in the BSE crisis.

Waving his finger at Mr Brown, Mr Mason accused the government of ruining cattle farmers by slashing compensation for cows that had to be slaughtered.

"I have heard all about help but they have taken so much away from us that there is no way they can compensate," he said.

Blair 150 Tony Blair: Was hissed and booed
As Mr Brown replied that the measure was necessary to protect the public, the angry farmer shouted him down, forcing the minister on the defensive.

Mr Mason, 58, added: "This government just do not understand farming. They have crucified us. BSE may have caused the problem but this government have made it worse."

After the clash the minister, whose initial speech announcing grant aid to farmers had been greeted with muted applause, was shouted at from the floor.

At one stage Mr Brown was handed a glass of milk by a delegate who told him it was cheaper than the mineral water available on the conference platform.

The scenes followed a speech by Tony Blair on Tuesday, when the prime minister was hissed and booed for saying solving the agriculture crisis was not just about "subsidy and compensation".

Mr Brown told the conference that 2m in grants was being made available to help market British pork and that the Ministry of Agriculture would make radical moves to reduce red tape affecting farmers.

Farmers were facing "the worst agricultural recession for many years", he said.

But he added: "We are all in this together and it is only by working together that we will get through."

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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  Business
No quick fix, Blair tells farmers
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

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