FEBRUARY 29, 2008: The NFU claims its President, Peter Kendall, was “misquoted” by The Times when he was reported as saying that smallholders should be licensed.
The Times reported that the NFU regarded the growing number of “hobby farmers” who keep livestock mainly as pets as a threat to the future of British agriculture unless they undergo tough new licensing and inspection regimes.The newspaper quoted NFU President Peter Kendall as saying: “We have to ask, should hobby farmers be allowed to jeopardise the professional industry. “In these days of bluetongue, foot-and-mouth disease, avian flu and increased disease threats from climate change, should these keepers not need a licence or some form of competence, to look after farm animals.”The Times reported Mr Kendall as saying that the NFU had made a formal request for new supervision of hobby farmers in a submission to the Anderson inquiry, which is examining the handling of last year’s Surrey foot-and-mouth outbbreak.There was a furious reaction from many smallholders. The Sheep Protection Society said ‘hobby farmers’ should not be demonised. Mary Marshall, who represents the Smallholders Forum, told The Times: “Hobby farmers often spend more on proper prevention practices than do commercial farmers, and tend to have more veterinary involvement and spend more time per animal.” This week the NFU issued a press release saying it was putting right “incorrect newspaper reports that claimed Union President Peter Kendall had called for smallholders to be licensed”.It said:”Mr Kendall was quoted in The Times on 18 February as saying that ‘hobby farmers’ with livestock should be expected to have a licence or certificate, to reduce the risk of their activities impacting on professional livestock farmers.””His remarks had been taken out of context and been distorted to create controversy.”The President had, in fact, said that it may be sensible to have a debate on whether licensing, certification or other policy options could reduce the risk of diseases – such as foot and mouth – resurrecting.”The NFU does not at present favour licensing livestock keepers, as we consider that the burden would be disproportionate to the benefit.”If we were to consider it, it would be on the basis that any requirements would apply to all livestock keepers. However, it might be possible to make allowance in the requirements for farmers participating in recognised farm assurance schemes, so as to avoid duplication.”The NFU statement said: “We are well aware that the existing inspection regime makes no distinction between livestock farmers on the basis of the number of animals kept and we do not favour any change in that situation.”It said the NFU does not endorse the expression ‘hobby farmers’ as shorthand for small-scale farmers, as there was no correlation between farm size, animal welfare and record keeping.It said the thousands of small-scale farms in England and Wales were “an important part of rural communities and cared for livestock to the highest standards”.But it said there could be a minority of farms – big and small – that did not, and were not well enough equipped to identify disease or other risks. This could have significant implications under the government’s cost-sharing agenda, as farmers who invested in measures to reduce the risk of disease could end up paying for the consequences of farmers who did not, said the NFU.”How to address that situation, in ways that do not add to the already huge regulatory burden on livestock farmers of all shapes and sizes, needs to be the subject of debate.”