'Don't take our cash', Somerset farmers say

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 April 2015

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FARMERS in Somerset are calling on the Government to ditch plans to take cash raised in the county to help promote rival products from Scotland and Wales.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and farming minister George Eustice have proposed changes to the way cash raised through farming is distributed.

As it stands, livestock farmers and abattoirs pay a compulsory levy to industry body Eblex for every cow or sheep which is slaughtered in England.

This money – about £15.5million a year – is then dished out and used to promote English products and invest in young farmers.

Some of the money, for example, is used to promote the West Country beef and lamb quality standard marks, while another portion is used to train farmers to help the industry become more efficient.

But pressure from neighbours within Britain is growing for some of this funding to be passed across the border.

Although no exact figure has been suggested, Scotland alone is asking for about £1.5million.

But some Somerset farmers are unhappy at the prospect of their levy money effectively being used to promote the products of their Scottish and Welsh competitors.

James Small, the former chairman of the Somerset branch of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “I think the money needs to stay in the country where the animals are reared.

“There are a number of reasons I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Mr Small suggested if the Government changes the law for this levy, it could pave the way for a number of unwanted changes to local farming rules being imposed from Westminster.

He said: “It is rather a Pandora’s Box. If they open it for one thing what’s to stop them trying it for other things?

“It could mean the levy comes from animals born and reared in England, but the money goes to promoting Scottish beef or Welsh lamb.

“Because we have to pay the levy where the animal is slaughtered, what they are saying is if an animal is born and reared in Scotland but slaughtered in England, the levy goes to England.

“But we have that problem too. It works both ways; if a farmer in the South West slaughters his animals in Wales, they get the levy – it all goes round in circles.

“I just think it is a bit of a non-starter. They might see it as broken, but I don’t think it is worth trying to fix it.

“It’s not major, it’s not going to make a big impact if it changes and there could be some unforeseen consequences.”

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