26 January 1996

CAPreform group event funded by Brussels cash

By Liz Mason

A GROUP of leading farmers and environmentalists, called the Agricultural Reform Group, has secured EU and private funding worth £60,000 to stage a Brussels conference.

The group, an informal network of leading figures including Cambs grower Oliver Walston and environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, plans to hold the event in November to discuss the future of the CAP.

Mr Walston, who is organising the conference, said the object of the event is to provide an input into the next round of CAP reform due in 2-3 years time when the so called MacSharry reforms expire.

Mr Walston, whose outspoken views on CAP subsidies have drawn criticism from some UK farmers, said he could see no conflict between the ARGs success in securing a £30,000 EU grant and his own criticism of the large sums of taxpayers money given to some UK farmers.

"The money we (the ARG) are getting from Brussels is exactly what the subsidy is not – it is targeted.

"It has been given for a specific purpose, to organise a specific event on a specific day."

The EU cash was granted on condition that the group secured matching funds from private sources which it had already done, added Mr Walston. But it was looking for more funding to cover its expenses.

Spreading philosophy

The conference, which will include participants from other member states, also aims to "spread the philosophy of the ARG" to encourage formation of similar groups.

Mr Walston said the ARG, which has attracted a "very sympathetic" response from the Prince of Waless private secretary, did not want to become a big bureaucratic organisation with a chairman and committee structure.

Instead it wanted to start informal, unstructured and flexible groups of farmers and environmentalists who could sit around a table and achieve a consensus.

Mr Walston said the group is looking for support from farmers and environmentalists who are flexible and have an open mind on farming and environmental issues.

The ARG believed that finding common ground between environmentalists and farmers is one of the most crucial issues facing UK farming.

Since the formation of the ARG other groups, including the Country Landowners Association and the NFU (almost) are now saying that subsidies must be carefully targeted at whatever is required, said Mr Walston.

"The idea that Oliver Walston and the ARG doesnt like subsidies is rubbish," he added.

Instead it, and he argued that subsidies should be directed at specific targets, some of which would be environmental.