THE FACE OF FARMING RAGE; Agriculture Minister Gets a Taste of the Anger in the Countryside

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Byline: NICK CRAVEN;DAVID HUGHES

AGRICULTURE Minister Nick Brown faced humiliation yesterday as he tried to defend the Government's record to hundreds of angry farmers.

A woman smeared a chocolate eclair over his face in protest at Labour policies.

The attack by environmental campaigner Birgit Cunningham, 36, came minutes after a farmer who was forced to sell up a month ago after losing [pounds sterling]200,000 hijacked the platform to launch an emotional onslaught on Mr Brown - and won thunderous applause.

The mood at the National Farmers' Union conference at the Hilton Hotel in London left Government spin doctors anxious at the reception Tony Blair is likely to receive today when he tries to convince rural dwellers they have never had it so good.

At the start of a two-day visit to the West Country, he will tell them they live longer, have better schools, suffer fewer crimes and are more likely to be in work than those in towns and cities.

Mr Brown last night attempted to shrug off his ordeal by eclair as a 'political stunt'. He insisted that, despite his reception, he enjoyed a good relationship with farmers.

His appearance at the conference began badly when former Devon dairy farmer Tony Mason threw the planned question session into disarray with a heartfelt outburst.

He described how he was forced to sell up his farm and 230-strong herd of pedigree cattle because they had been so badly devalued by the Government.

In a finger-wagging exchange just feet away from Mr Brown, he accused him of just

'waffle', castigating him for failing to support the thousands of farmers who have lost their businesses.

'There are so many farmers losing their farms and their livelihoods.

Wake up Minister and get on with it,' he said.

As Mr Mason broke down and was being comforted by friends, Miss Cunningham walked up to the platform and pushed the eclair into Mr Brown's face.

'It was just the atmosphere and having listened to the farmers and the unfairness that's been dealt towards them,' she said. 'I got very emotionally involved with the goings-on and was just heartbroken by what some of them were saying, particularly Mr Mason.

'I was almost in a trance and I was so upset and angry, frustrated that nobody could see the direction the Government is heading in.

'I had bought a chocolate eclair to give to a girlfriend whom I was planning to see at lunch.' Later on BBC Radio 4's PM programme, Mr Brown tried to defend the Government's record

on agriculture.

'No government could buy up every farm business,' he said. 'I understand their problems very well, but where people are asking for yet more money, it simply is not going to solve the problem.' Mr Brown described the incident as a 'silly stunt' and dismissed suggestions that he should have tighter security. …