NFU legal chief leaves at peak of farm crisis

Vidal quits farmers union for specialist ministry of agriculture role

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is losing its chief legal adviser as the workload peaks due to the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Richard Vidal, who has worked for the NFU for 14 years, is joining the Ministry of Agriculture as a legal adviser. His plays a general role at the NFU and more than a third of his time is taken up with management issues.

He says he is leaving because he wants to specialise. “In my new role I’ll be drafting legislation and advising policymakers on regulations. I’ll also be advising ministers on how to respond to complaints,” he says.

Vidal denies he is leaving because of the mounting pressure on the NFU in light of the recent agricultural crisis. “Work’s always fairly hectic,” he says. “Working for a trade association you need to know a bit about everything, and it requires a lot of effort to keep up with all the case law.”

Vidal’s departure comes during one of the NFU’s busiest periods, as it struggles to cope with the mounting demands of the farming industry over foot-and-mouth.

One of the main questions is whether farmers will release healthy animals for slaughter.

Vidal says there is already a huge number of inquiries into the powers of the Animal Health Act 1981 and the Foot-and-Mouth Regulations 1983.

He also expects compensation to be a major issue, because although farmers will recover 100 per cent of market value for diseased animals, those killed on welfare grounds will be worth only two-thirds of their value.

“There’s also the problem of disturbed contracts and consequential losses,” says Vidal. “Only a few farmers can afford premiums for consequential loss insurance, and a lot of people simply won’t have the cover.”

Lawyers at the NFU instruct a panel of nine law firms on behalf of the union. The panel includes Brachers, Bond Pearce, Morgan Cole, Knight & Sons, Napthen Houghton Craven, Jacksons, Roythorne & Co and Prettys.