Industry rejects CAP reform's 'greening' plans
The farming industry has closed ranks in a rare show of unity at the prospect of a new CAP that makes them turn "greener" and docks their direct payments.
A package of proposed reforms to the EU's controversial CAP were voted through the European Parliament last week.
They sparked the immediate formation of an unprecedented coalition of 24 farming organisations, headed by the NFU, CLA and TFA – and the demand that the British Government must insist on a fair deal. The major concern is that farmers will be further disadvantaged by the way that the Government may choose to implement the CAP, likely to be finalised this summer.
The farming coalition is asking for MPs to raise concerns with Defra and Government ministers based on the two threats: more costly and demanding forms of "greening" for English farmers than will be required from farmers in the rest of Europe, and increased rates of voluntary modulation.
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Peter Kendall, the NFU President, said: "CAP reform is about fairness and making sure English farmers are not disadvantaged by our own Government."
Tory MEPs are making their feelings known, too, saying the CAP measures represent a major step back to the days of wide-scale intervention and protectionism.
Julie Girling, an MEP for the South West and Conservative spokesman on agriculture in the European Parliament, said the majority of measures in the CAP would be retrograde.
As MEPs pored over the outcome of hundreds of detailed amendments and votes on the minutiae of the package, she said: "This was a golden opportunity so set up a fairer and less wasteful system, but that opportunity has been squandered.
"Overall the MEPs have ended up approving something less fair for British farmers, less helpful to consumers and less supportive of the environment and bio-diversity.
"The whole reform package needed to be more market-oriented and less interventionist. Instead we shall continue to see French farmers enjoying much more favourable terms than their British counterparts. We shall continue to see inadequate support and encouragement for more-efficient medium-to-large farms.
"Worse than that, we shall see a return to the bad old days of butter mountains, wine lakes and rampant intervention which destroys any realistic market and punishes consumers."
The "hugely-expensive" greening measures would misfire, she said. The proposals would allow set-aside schemes to pay farmers to take up to seven per sent of their land out of production altogether. Mrs Girling sees this as recklessly wasteful in times of global food shortage, while doing little to improve ecology.
Instead, she believes, the EU should be concentrating on successful agri-environment schemes such as the UK's high-level stewardship scheme, which rewards farmers for managing their land to support bio-diversity directly and to create habitat for threatened wildlife.
The proposals would also do nothing to reform the discredited and outdated system of coupled payments which directly link subsidies to specific production volumes.
And new rules would lower the price-level at which the EU would intervene to buy up and store excess crops created through over-production. Nothing would be done to end the quota system for foodstuffs such as sugar. Agriculture will be excluded from EU competition law. Mrs Girling said: "Taken in combination, these measures will effectively do away with a free market in farming and food production."
She hit out at proposals that would see the EU paying taxpayers' money by allowing "wine planting rights" in regions where only recently growers were being paid handsomely to take vineyards out of production. And the package would ubsidise tobacco growers in Eastern and Southern Europe. Mrs Girling said: "It is plainly ridiculous for the EU to be subsidising tobacco farmers with one hand, while spending millions with the other to launch health campaigns to stop people killing themselves by smoking."