17 November 2000

Farm red tape burden is

far too heavy – report

By Alistair Driver

MINISTERS are examining a damning report from government advisers which tells them to ease the burden of red tape on farmers and shelve plans for a new tax on pesticide use.

The Better Regulation task force says UK farmers are being hampered by "prescriptive" interpretations of EU regulations. In a report commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Blair and published on Weds (Nov 15), it makes 21 recommendations to reduce the burden of environmental regulation on farmers.

Key finding

Farm minister Nick Brown acknowledged the reports key finding that care for the environment must be balanced with the needs of farmers. Mr Brown said it would be discussed at the industry forum next Thursday (Nov 23). The government will give its official response in the New Year.

"I and my colleagues in other parts of the government will be considering the reports recommendations very carefully," he said.

The recommendation to shelve pesticide tax plans in favour of a voluntary agreement to reduce chemical use came days after the government rejected industry proposals for voluntary measures.

Chancellor Gordon Browns comments that they "failed to meet a number of concerns" prompted fears that a £120m a year pesticide tax will be introduced in the spring Budget.

But task force chairman Lord Haskins told farmers weekly this would be yet another tax for farmers when they can least afford it.

"We also see it more as a means of raising money for the Treasury than improving the environment," he said.

The Crop Protection Association, which is campaigning against the pesticide tax, said the report renewed hopes that the industry proposals would be accepted (see p51).

"It backs up what we have been saying all along. The pesticide tax will hurt British farmers and have no environmental benefits," a CPA spokesman said.

Further criticism

The report, Environmental Regulations and Farmers, also criticises the government and farming organisations for being slow on the uptake when new EU laws are being proposed. It urges "more intensive and co-ordinated" lobbying in Brussels to ensure the interests of British farmers are properly reflected.

It calls for more co-ordination between government departments and says the UK should not implement rules ahead of other member states. Neither should the government "embellish" EU rules.

Co-ordinated visits

The various statutory authorities should co-ordinate farm visits to reduce the number of inspections, while the myriad of farm assurance schemes should be incorporated into the NFUs British Farm Standard scheme, it said.

The report also says an ombudsman for the environment should be considered and urges the government to ensure all farmers can access the internet by 2005 .

Lord Haskins, a close adviser to the PM, said his task force had the backing of Mr Blair and that he expects most of the recommendations to be implemented.

The NFU said the report vindicates its concerns about red tape within the industry. "It is important it is seen as just the beginning of the process, rather than a culmination in the fight against over-regulation," said union president Ben Gill.