25 February 2000

Bishops set for action

CHURCH of England bishops are set to call on the government to rethink its long-term strategy for agriculture and demand that ministers do more to help farmers.

The motion is one of five included in a new report prepared by the churchs Board of Mission which will be debated at the General Synod next Wednesday (Mar 1). Synod members will discuss the whole report which also includes motions for better labelling, a reduction in red tape and the introduction of an early retirement scheme.

Bishops are influential because they have seats in the House of Lords. They will be also asked to vote on whether the church should urge the government to grant financial help to organisations, like the Farm Crisis Network, which support for farming families in times of crisis.

The report suggests that government should re-examine its decision not to introduce an early retirement scheme as a matter of urgency.

And it warns that the government may be misguided in its belief that national food security is no longer important.

"Previously strong economies which have made similar assumptions about their nations ability to buy food in the world market found that the fickle international currency market could bring food shortages into their previously well-stocked shop," it says.

"Such a scheme could prevent further severe distress among those who would like to retire if only they could. This could contribute to the survival of remaining farm business by releasing land for them or for younger farmers trying to make a start."

In terms of "hands-on" solutions, the report suggests that local churches could play a big role in advertising local producers and farmers markets. Schools and social events could be encouraged to use British produce in their catering and auction markets should have a team of chaplains on hand ready to listen if people want to talk.

Church representatives sitting on the Regional Development Agencies could also bring the needs of rural communities to the fore, emphasizing the importance of agriculture to the environmental management of the countryside as well as food production.