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Westcountry paper slams 'waste of space' Beckett

The Western Morning News has criticised MP Margaret Beckett for failing to help Westcountry dairy farmers who are struggling to cope with low milk prices.

The paper questioned the rural affairs secretary’s position after she said there was “no point” in complaining about the fact that farmers are losing money on producing milk.

This came during a heated Commons debate in which a Liberal Democrat MP urged Mrs Beckett to examine the WMN’s investigative series on the crisis – which showed that the typical dairy farmer in the region is facing losses of up to £24,000 a year.

In the paper’s comment column, editor Barrie Williams said her response “serves to underline, once again, what a total waste of space Mrs Beckett and her department are when it comes to making a positive contribution to the future of farming”.

Barrie continued: “With her pointless and dismissive words she finally and totally lost all credibility as a Secretary of State with responsibility for rural affairs.

“If she cannot even see the devastating knock-on effects of the dairy crisis, nor conjure up one sympathetic phrase on behalf of the farmers affected, she has no right to that title.

“The farmers, by contrast, have every right to ask just what’s Mrs Beckett for?”

Responding with her own article in the WMN, Mrs Beckett said: “We appreciate that many dairy farmers are not making enough money to sustain their businesses.

“But provided competition law is respected, the Government cannot and should not get involved in price negotiations.”

WMN deputy editor Phillip Bowern told Holdthefrontpage: “We asked Margaret Beckett to write a piece for us – which she did – saying she does believe in English farmers, but basically saying that it’s not for the Government to intervene in market forces and accepting that more dairy farmers will go out of business.

“Farmers are currently getting about 17p a litre but the production costs can be as high as 23p a litre. A report by a select committee of MPs has shown that if this carries on then 3,000 dairy farmers could go out of business next year.

“This is a big story for us. We started a series of articles about three weeks ago and have looked at the issue from all angles.

“The industry can be saved – the Government has just got to be proactive about it. It’s not just a case for the good of the farmers but much of the local landscape is defined by the dairy farming industry and that is all at risk if it goes under.”

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