Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

UK farming union in bed with multinationals, say pressure group

The National Farmers Union fails its members, is elitist, undemocratic and deeply embedded with multinational businesses, according to a new report by pressure group Corporate Watch.

December 1, 2003
5 min read

The investigation reveals that 65,000 farmers lost their jobs between 1996 and 2002, predicting that by 2005, 25% of small farmers will have also gone out of business. In the wake of this mass exodus from agriculture, the Corporate Watch report reveals a National Farmers Union (NFU) who appears to favour the wishes of the government and the multinational business, over those of their own core members, the farmers themselves.

NFU literature proudly proclaims itself to be, “The Democratic organisation for farmers in England and Wales”. However ground members may not vote for the NFU’s Council Heads, nor do they hold any power to determine who is chosen. As Oliver Watson, a frustrated farmer put it, “89 decrepit, unimaginative, superannuated, self-important male ex-farmers and one woman sit round a table playing the game called “Buggins Turn”.

The rules are as simple as they are stultifying. All office-holders move slowly up the totem pole and – provided they don”t say anything which will upset anyone – they take their turn near the top”. The undemocratic nature of the Union’s ruling Council can be partly explained by the self-selecting elitism of its structure. In order to be on the Council, farmers have to be able to regularly leave their farms to spend days in London.

In the current farming climate, where average annual farming incomes do not exceed £11,000, it inevitably ensures that only the wealthy farmers who employ assistants can ever afford, let alone hope, to sit on the Council. No wonder then, that this same NFU Council continues to allow 80% of farm subsidies to go to just 20% of Britain’s farmers.

According to Corporate Watch the NFU has over £20 million pounds of its members money invested in large companies, including five biotechnology companies and the supermarket giant, Tesco. The launch of the NFU’s Red Tractor Logo scheme was at a South London Tesco store.

When the NFU was asked about this apparent conflict of interest in their investments, their spokesperson, the Director Roger Ward, told Red Pepper: “We don”t entertain Tesco. We meet with the largest buyer of foodstuffs in the food chain. We don”t like this, but this is the reality. Our members supply produce to Tesco and it is our duty to do business with them”.

Upon probing him further on the Union’s link to biotechnology multinationals, he responded by saying that, “I can tell that your article is rubbish”. On the pretext of being transferred to another spokesperson, the reporter was duly cut off.

However, according to Corporate Watch, prominent NFU members have in the past accepted paid trips to the United States as guests of Monsanto. Furthermore, one of the NFU’s Council members, Guy Smith, was until very recently, a high ranking panel member of CropGen, an organisation “whose mission it is to make the case for GMcrops”.

FARM is an alternative farming group, born out of deep distrust of, amongst other things, the NFU’s handling of the Foot and Mouth crisis. In line with Corporate Watch, they are also deeply critical of the NFU. As Zac Goldsmith a co-founder of the group says, “The NFU is a powerful group, it’s dominated farm policy for decades, and has all the political access it needs, and yet it has at the same time presided over the near total collapse of British farming. In short, yes, I think the NFU has let us all down very badly.”

Much of the criticism stems from perceptions that the NFU Council is closely embedded with big businesses and Westminster. Far from taking the grievances of farmers to government, the reverse has been seen to be happening, with many seeing the NFU unapologetically siding with government departments and multinationals. The Foot and Mouth crisis was a case in point. At the time of the outbreak, the NFU regional representative for Cumbria conducted a poll as to whether farmers favoured immunisation, or culling of livestock. The poll showed that 70% of NFU members in the affected region favoured immunisation, and yet the NFU still sided with, and even justified, the government’s mass slaughtering program.

The NFU also used to boast about the precise amount of members that it has. However in the wake of a recent survey which showed that 18% of farmers had let their Union membership lapse, the organisation is perhaps fighting for survival. Having recently built a lavish £20 million HQ in the heart of London’s West end, it immediately declared another move, this time away from London to an office in the Midlands. Such a move arguably reflects a cost-saving measure in an era of unprecedented falling support in the farming community.

A recent farming survey showed that 67% of farmers, and 71% of all young farmers, identified an urgent need to create a new representative farming body to replace the ailing NFU. FARM, whose soaring membership reflects this groundswell of opinion, argue that NFU decision-making emphasises Agribusiness over the livelihood of Agriculture. This is why, according to the words of the NFU’s Roger Ward himself, 17,000 farmers left the industry last year alone.

As the farmer and NFU activist Marie Skinner puts it, “Until the NFU tackles its own internal problems, it will not be able to offer effective leadership to a headless, worried industry and the next generation will continue to walk away from the land”.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum