SHEEP farmers are in “deep crisis” across the North and are in danger of going to the wall, an MP has warned.
Anne McIntosh, the Thirsk and Malton MP, raised the alarm over the fate of farmers who were victims of bad weather and plunging prices.
But she linked their problems to the ongoing controversy over horse found in meat products, targeting the behaviour of supermarkets.
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Ms McIntosh is the chairwoman of the Commons environment select committee which produced a damning report into the horsemeat scandal, rapping “flat-footed” ministers.
During a Commons debate, the MP went further, saying: “In my constituency, we face a deep crisis in the sheep sector.
“Across the north of England, and I am sure in many other parts of the country, there is a real fear of sheep producers going to the wall.
“Most farmers have used their winter storage, but are unable to allow sheep to forage because the grass is under snow or deep under water. This is a very worrying development.
“Farm gate prices have gone down and the costs of farm production have gone up. The cost of foodstuffs is going up, the cost of fuel to take animals to market has gone up, and farm gate prices are going down.”
Turning to the supermarkets, Ms McIntosh added: “We have seen the constant drive by supermarkets to store on their shelves low-value, low-cost and - we now know - very suspicious adulterated food.”
And, on the horsemeat scandal, she added: “There are strong indications that people with criminal intent have intentionally substituted horsemeat for beef.
“That leads us to conclude that British consumers have been cynically and systematically duped in pursuit of profit by certain elements within the food industry.”
Ms McIntosh also criticised her own government for “weakening the powers” of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), when the Coalition came to power, in 2010.
She said: “It told us that labelling policy was “not really for us”, because that is not a food safety issue.”
In December, a £300,000 emergency fund was made available to help farmers struggling through winter, as a result of last year's extreme weather.
The Prince's Countryside Fund donated £150,000 - the entire contents of its own emergency fund – a sum matched by the Duke of Westminster.
The money will be distributed through a number of charities and used to help farmers struggling with a shortage of grazing, low stocks of forage and a poor harvest -compounded by the rising cost of feed and fuel.