14 September 2001

EU pressure to pay more ewe premium

PRESSURE is mounting on the European Commission and member states to pay substantially more than the k21/head (£13) flat rate ewe premium on offer under the revamped sheepmeat regime.

The call has come from the European parliaments agriculture committee, which met in Brussels this week. A draft report by Labour MEP Gordon Adam suggests that k25/head (£15.50) would be more appropriate, with k8.40/head (£5.50) extra in the less favoured areas.

Sheep producers were already the worst paid in European agriculture, he told the meeting, yet the commission was looking to freeze support for the sector.

These views were supported by chairman of the commissions sheep advisory committee, Cumbrian farmer Peter Allen. More support was justified to reward sheep farmers for their "multifunctional" role of preserving the rural landscape, which benefited society as a whole.

But it did not go far enough for Irish MEP Avril Doyle, who insisted that, to achieve parity with suckler cows, sheep producers should be getting k33/head (£20) ewe premium. Driving people out of sheep merely boosted cattle production, which was a surplus sector and much more demanding on the EU budget.

Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson agreed that over k30/head was needed to end the catastrophe facing Scottish sheep producers, whose income last year averaged just k400 (£250) each.

The full European parliament is due to vote on the reforms in mid-November, in time for farm ministers to have the final say either at their council on Nov 19, or more likely at their following meeting on Dec 17. &#42