THE GOVERNMENT has denied fears that its interpretation of cross-compliance guidelines could compromise basic legal rights.

The concern follows the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs‘ recent launch of the consultation on proposals for the new regime.

Director of rural research at Bidwells, Carl Atkin, said the government is in grave danger of adopting a “guilty until proven innocent” stand when it comes to enforcing the Statutory Management Requirements.

“It remains to be seen whether farms will have to demonstrate compliance with the SMRs to secure the single farm payment, or whether they can only have their SFP withheld for non-compliance,” he said.

“The biggest concern is that DEFRA will put the onus on farmers to prove they are adhering to regulations, and that would over-step the mark.”

DEFRA denied there was any basis for these concerns.

“Where there is a dispute it will be up to our inspectors to show non-compliance,” said a spokesman.

But making sure farmers understand the new standards is one of the problems it is currently trying to overcome, he added.

“In the longer term we‘ll be looking to a whole farm approach and do want to simplify the schemes.”

Under the mid-term review agreement, all member states must link direct payments to SMRs covered by various existing EC Directives and 18 new ones coming in over the next three years.

Potentially up to 14 different agencies will be involved in enforcing these, although it is likely to be one single inspection body, either the Rural Payments Agency or the Environment Agency.

Mr Atkin warned that interpreting and implementing the legislation on farm, especially if the SFP hangs on it, could lead to many farmers “getting in a terrible muddle”.