5 February 1999

Link payments to wildlife aid

PAYMENTS to farmers should be tied to the environment and, in future, vary depending on the amount of environmental work undertaken on a farm, according to two new reports published this week by the Wildlife Trusts.

The organisation has called for £1.6bn a year to be redirected from existing production subsidies to be used to finance a single UK-wide agri-environment scheme.

Of the current £3bn, or so, of public money spent on agriculture in the UK, only £100m goes to agri-environment projects, the trusts point out.

In the short-term, environmental conditions should be attached to all production subsidies for as long as they still exist, the first report, Farming For All Our Futures, concludes. And in the longer term, the system should be completely revamped so that farmers are paid only for the provision of social or environmental benefits.

In its second paper, the trusts provide a blueprint for action it believes should be taken beyond the current Agenda 2000 reforms.

Farmers should be given the choice of different options so they can select their farming practices. Those complying only with environmental regulations and legislation would receive no public money. But payments of up to £200/ha (£80.94/acre) would be available to those prepared to maintain or create wildlife habitats on at least 10% of their farm. &#42

EU members under pressure to comply with CAPreform

By Philip Clarke Europe editor

EU MEMBER states who continue to resist CAP reform came under heavy pressure in Brussels this week, as the commission hammered home the importance of trade liberalisation.

In the dairy sector in particular, France and Ireland were looking increasingly isolated in calling for the status quo, during high level group discussions.

Six delegations, led by the UK and Italy, said they would not support any continuation of milk quotas from 2000 unless there was some increase in their level.

The commission added that delaying reform would only lead to deeper problems later on. The first wave of central European countries were due to join the EU as soon as 2003 and, unless the proposed 15% price cut was in place, markets would suffer from burgeoning production.

World Trade Organisation talks could also be wrapped up by then, leading to increased competition from Third countries.

Furthermore, if it was left until 2003, no budget would be available to compensate for the reforms.

The commission also dismissed suggestions by France and Ireland that relaxing milk quotas would lead to problems with extra beef from the dairy herd. Most of the 2% quota increase would be met by raising milk yields, it argued.

Significantly, the German presidency also now sees dairy reform as inevitable, accepting that for some countries.

The commission also drew more support this week for its cereal ref-orms, particularly its plan to put oil-seeds on the same area aid as cereals.

Five member states, including the UK, support this measure outright, as a way of avoiding the stringent Blair House penalties for over-planting (Business, page 21). Another four countries would accept a reduction to a single area aid rate, phased in over three years.

Only Greece still favours the status quo for oilseeds, despite having just suffered a 24% aid penalty due to Blair House.

&#8226 The high level group meets for the last time on Monday (Feb 8), to examine UK and French papers on making aid payments degressive, as a way of controlling the budget. Its conclusions will form the basis of a German compromise to go to the council on Feb 22 where farm ministers aim to strike a deal on Agenda 2000. &#42

Pig producers win support in parliament

THE House of Commons agriculture select committee has backed pig farmers claims that British producers are unfairly disadvantaged by higher costs and more stringent animal welfare laws compared with the rest of Europe.

The conclusions of the cross-party committee of MPs criticised the government, supermarket chains and the Meat and Livestock Commission for failing to back the British pig industry.

The government was blamed for unilaterally introducing stringent animal welfare standards years ahead of similar legislation across the rest of Europe. The report said that such standards should in future be implemented across the EU rather than just the UK.

The report also condemned supermarkets which fail to operate a British-only policy for pork products.

And it levelled strong criticism at the MLC for doing too little, too late to promote British pigmeat. The commissions £2.5m campaign budget for pigmeat promotion was inadequate and the MPs recommended that more funds should be made available.

But the MLC retaliated, insisting it spent £12.4m on pigmeat promotion last year, and that the £2.5m was for the specific promotion of its "pig mark" campaign.

MLC director general Colin Maclean did, however, acknowledge that communication between the organisation and pig producers could be improved. &#42

Danes need to raise standards

ONLY 12% of the pigs produced in Denmark meet British standards of welfare and hygiene, according to pig industry leaders who have just returned from a fact-finding visit to the country.

That represents only one-third of the amount needed to supply the present Danish share of the British market.

Commenting on the visit, James Wyllie, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commissions pig strategy council, said: "It is clear that Denmark is making progress in producing pigs under its high welfare UK contract. But they still have some way to go to achieve an independently audited supply chain for the UK." &#42