DEFRA minister Jeff Rooker admitted to pig and poultry producers today that he had “taken his eye off the ball” in not intervening when the Environment Agency introduced the much-maligned IPPC regulations.

At the time, Lord Rooker was engrossed in handling the single farm payment debacle, but he told producers attending the Pig and Poultry Fair at Stoneleigh that he regretted not “delving into it more”. The IPPC has turned into a regulatory nightmare for many poultry producers blighted by the volumes of paperwork and substantial cost of acquiring the essential permit.

John Godfrey, who described himself as a “diminishing pig producer from North Lincolnshire”, claimed it was taking him 1-2 days a week to handle all the forms and regulations and he warned that the Environment Agency was out of control with the IPPC.

Jeff Rooker agreed: “I am not here to criticise the EA, but they think I don’t like them. I regret that my eye was not on the ball in the first nine months in the DEFRA job. I spent the first six months on SFP, which was of terminal five proportions.

“The EA has a job to do and no one has taken them to court. I cannot micro-manage them, but I would like to think if we’d got in earlier we could have got a more industry-friendly version.”

DEFRA has since intervened and asked the NFU to work with the EA to look at ways of reducing the cost and duplication of the permit by embedding it into existing farm assurance schemes. These negotiations are ongoing.

One pig and arable farmer suggested to Mr Rooker that one way of helping the stricken pig sector would be to deliberately depress production while demand was high to force prices up. This was viewed by the Minister as a negative idea that would distort the market.

Norfolk poultry producer Nigel Joyce called for a lifting of the ban on meat and bonemeal in poultry feed. He argued that huge quantities of meat and bonemeal were being destroyed and wasted at huge cost to the country.

Lord Rooker said he was comfortable with inter-species feeding providing the science supported it. But other delegates were wary about whether consumers would find this acceptable following BSE scares a few years ago.

Overall, Mr Rooker was optimistic about the future, although he remained concerned about the impact of EU regulation and decision making on the sector.

“There are 26 ministers in Europe,” he said, “and many do want to keep milk quotas, subsidies and control the market, which is damaging us in world trade. DEFRA is a regulator and facilitator but most regulation starts in Brussels. It is not in our interest to over regulate and put people out of business”.