Reform of CAP 'must leave UK able to produce enough food'

A new year begins with old problems unresolved and fresh ones lining up. Chris Benfield rounds up the concerns for 2011.

ANOTHER big and busy year is coming up for agriculture.

CLA president William Worsley says: "This will be the year in which most of the big decisions on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy are made. We need a policy that will promote and protect our ability to produce sufficient food. However, this must not be at the expense of the environment and we may need to find new ways of creating incentives for farmers to provide more positive land management.

"It is vital that farmers and land managers get involved with the Campaign for the Farmed Environment to stave off the threat of further Government regulation.

"2011 will also see a shift from regional government to a more decentralised structure with Regional Development Agencies being abolished and replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships. It is essential rural businesses get involved.

"The New Year will also bring major reforms to the planning system. We need a system that is flexible, transparent and efficient – not a charter for the 'Nimby'."

Greg Bliss, chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association, adds in his new year message: "We are expecting the report from Richard McDonald on reducing the burden of regulation for farmers; the Government's response to Rosemary Radcliffe's report on taking forward policy on animal health and welfare; and an announcement from Defra on action to deal with the scourge of bovine TB. We are also looking forward to seeing the draft Bill for the establishment of a Grocery Supply Chain Code of Practice Adjudicator."

Other areas of potential showdown include the Mercosur negotiations, which are heading for a trade-off between the EU and South America – more food from them in exchange for more industrial exports to them; the proposal to shift the cost of meat inspection from government to suppliers; and the pressures on the dairy and pork industries, which foreshadow the future for all sectors as deregulation opens Europe to the winds of change.

The National Farmers' Union livestock board chairman Alistair Mackintosh wrote to Defra secretary Caroline Spelman just before Christmas to protest at the Food Standards Agency's proposal for full cost recovery for official controls in meat plants.

He said: "If the FSA will not do more to reduce its costs, we should look for alternatives. This could be the delivery of inspections by an external provider, with the FSA carrying out an audit function."

Also looming is a Coalition commitment to phase out the use of peat in amateur gardening by 2020 and professional horticulture by 2030 "at the latest".

NFU horticulture adviser Chris Hartfield says: "It would be wholly unacceptable to continue to allow the import of plants potted in peat, or indeed any products grown in peat media, if UK growers were effectively banned from using peat."

Another problem which has just blown up is a Home Office proposal for a new and more expensive inspection and licensing regime for hemp, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which the NFU calls "ludicrous".

CW 1/1/11