Mariann Fischer Boel’s “health check” proposals take the common agricultural policy in the right direction, but do not go far enough in eliminating the potential for different treatment for farmers across Europe, warns the NFU.

“Some of the measures are welcome, most notably the abolition of set-aside,” said NFU president Peter Kendall. “We also support the elimination of dairy quotas by 2015, while the introduction of a new minimum claim threshold will reduce the administrative burden.

“We also welcome the elimination of partially coupled payments in the arable sector. But the proposed continuation of coupled payments for suckler cows and ewes in some other EU countries betrays the spirit of the 2005 reform and distorts our domestic markets.”

Increase modulation

As part of the health check, it is also proposed to increase compulsory EU modulation from 5% to 13% by 2012, and to add an extra “progressive” element according to subsidy receipts up to 22%.

The NFU says it is opposed to the principle of progressive modulation, and insists that any increase in EU modulation must be accompanied by a corresponding cut in national modulation.

The possibility for member states (under a reformed Article 69) to use up to 10% of their CAP budget for specific measures is viewed with real concern by the NFU.

“I am deeply suspicious of a measure that in some countries might result in ‘modulation through the back door’ while in others might lead to trade-distorting forms of coupled support,” said Mr Kendall.

Criticism

The health check has also been criticised by the RSPB, for not doing enough to support wildlife.

“The reforms proposed give a token nod to farming’s role in restoring wildlife, combating climate change and preventing droughts,” said RSPB head of agriculture policy, Gareth Morgan. “But there will be no new money for tackling any of these issues in the UK.

“Set-aside was a lifeline for farmland birds and, while we accept it should go, we do not accept the paucity of measures to replace its benefits.”

But DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn is adamant that the health check will shift the emphasis of the CAP even more towards protecting the environment.

“We want to see more funding diverted from production subsidies towards targeted measures which will improve our landscape and biodiversity,” he said.

“The health check must also phase out all the price support measures which have kept consumer prices high, and the export subsidies which have undermined farmers in developing countries.

“And it must cut the bureaucracy which has hampered the competitiveness of farmers, so they can respond to the growing global demand for food.”