18 April 1997

Campaign to close loophole

ENVIRONMENTALISTS are stepping up their campaign for a clampdown on what they say is a flax loophole allowing the crop to be grown on land ineligible for arable area payments.

But MAFF ministers and the NFU warn that such a move could jeopardise the development of an alternative environment-friendly crop.

Friends of the Earth want politicians to support a campaign to protect SSSIs and bring the EU fibre flax regime in line with arable area scheme rules. That would mean the crop could no longer be grown on land that was in permanent grass, woodland or non-agricultural use on Dec 31, 1991.

Last month FOE raised the issue in a letter to junior farm minister, Tim Boswell. He told FOE that "a sensible balance must be found between the need to protect valuable sites and the equal need to support the development of new alternative crops, particularly those like flax, which are relatively environmentally friendly, and for which demand is increasing."

NFU spokesman Phil Hudson agreed. He warned that if fibre flax were brought within the arable area scheme it would not be produced.

Flax offered growers an alternative crop which was a sustainable resource produced in response to environmental concerns. Increased demand for sustainable products had meant new markets had opened up for flax fibre in car body manufacture and sound-proofing, said Mr Hudson. &#42