FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE to help promote UK food exports and investments in the new EU member states should be provided, a government committee has recommended.

A new report from the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee says this is necessary so that the opportunities for British agriculture offered by enlargement can be fully realized.

According to the report, weaknesses in the agricultural situations of the new member states could prevent them from benefiting fully from the enlarged marketplace for food.

“The competitive position of farmers in these countries will suffer while they initially receive lower direct payments than their counterparts in the EU-15.”

An opportunity therefore exists for UK farmers and food companies to take up the slack.

The report also stresses the importance of ensuring that enlargement does not lower food safety.

“Lax standards in the new member states could undermine consumer confidence in all food products across the whole of the EU,” it warns.

Environmental concerns about agricultural intensification or abandonment, and the impact of industrial scale animal production also deserve serious attention, the cross-party committee concludes.