6 March 2001
Farm woes have silver lining – Blair

By FWi staff

THE cloud over European farming has a “silver lining”, says Tony Blair.

“The opportunity to change direction is the silver lining of the European farming crisis,” claims the Prime Minister.

British farmers have been rocked by the foot-and-mouth crisis while counterparts on the Continent are reeling from higher-than-expected BSE rates.

But the Prime Minister says this creates the conditions to switch the Common Agricultural Policy from production-led to environmental-linked support.

CAP reliance on intervention, export subsidy and import protection is outmoded, Mr Blair told a World Wildlife Fund conference on Tuesday morning (06 March).

It distorts global markets to the detriment of the developing world and promotes farming which damages the environment, he said.

“In the wake of the BSE crisis in the EU, member states are starting to question old orthodoxies,” Mr Blair told delegates in London.

“Other member states – Germany most recently – are calling for greater emphasis on environmental good practice, quality food and high standards of care for farm animals.”

Mr Blair said Britain has long led the argument in Europe for CAP reform, backing cuts in production-linked support, which consumes 90% of the CAP budget.

“A policy that simply pays farmers more for producing more cannot respond to environmental concerns, changing consumer tastes or regional needs.”

Mr Blair insisted that the EU must reform the CAP and redirect resources towards sustainable farming, environmental protection and rural development.

The Prime Minister said his Government has committed 3.1 billion to Rural Development Plans for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Blair also said the EU must do more to open up its markets to poor countries, a move which has been resisted by farming unions.

“It really is hypocrisy for us, the wealthy countries, to talk of our concern to alleviate the poverty of the developing world, whilst we block access to our markets,” he said.