18 June 1999

Modulation bad

for small farmer

By Jonathan Riley

SENIOR NFU members are trying to encourage small-scale farmers to reject modulation proposed within the Agenda 2000 CAP reforms.

Speaking at the NFU council meeting in London on Wednesday, NFU policy director Martin Haworth said that initially, modulation that limited payments a farm, appeared to favour smaller farms.

"But the belief amongst small-scale farmers that modulation would transfer payments from large farms to smaller ones is mistaken," he said.

Instead, the money saved would have to be used to fund rural development schemes.

"Schemes such as early retirement, environmental schemes, Less Favoured Areas and aforestation initiatives are the only ones which would comply for the saved cash. Only a small percentage of farmers would qualify for this money and these would not necessarily be small-scale businesses."

He also added his concern that, while funds for direct payments were sourced entirely from Brussels, money for rural development schemes had to be matched equally by the UK Treasury.

"MAFF will, therefore, have to persuade the Treasury to put up funds for these schemes and we could end up losing the money saved altogether, leading to net loss for British farming.

"This would put us at a competitive disadvantage with the other member states which have rejected modulation. Only the French government, which proposed the measures, is looking into it. But opposition to modulation amongst the powerful French farming lobby is growing rapidly," he said.

NFU president Ben Gill asked council representatives for farmer attitudes found so far during the NFUs consultation on modulation.

Wales, North West, West Midlands and the South West regions had not finalised their submissions but all other regions were strongly opposed.

Mr Haworth added: "Even though [farm minister] Nick Brown is opposed to modulation we must not deliver a mixed message. We must be united against modulation."

But later a senior MAFF spokesman said that although Mr Brown was not an advocate of modulation he was keen to listen to the widest range of farmer viewpoints possible.

During the council meeting, Brian Jennings, a council delegate from the south-west, cautioned: "We cannot announce that we have rejected modulation yet because the consultation period has not run its course. We must not discourage producers from putting their views across by giving them the impression it is too late."


&#8226 ANNUAL monitoring of the 10 Cumbrian sheep farms still under post-Chernobyl restrictions began this week. Immediately after the 1986 nuclear accident, 1,670 farms in the region were placed under restriction. All 12,000 sheep on the 10 units will be monitored over the summer for radioactivity levels, with results due in Jan 2000.

&#8226 JUNIOR farm minister Elliot Morley has refused to re-instate the bounty for grey squirrel tails. Responding to a request from former junior farm minister Nicholas Soames, Mr Morley said: "We are taking several steps to help landowners protect woodland from the damage caused by grey squirrels. However, we do not consider that a bounty is an appropriate or satisfactory mechanism."

&#8226 THE first two chicks to hatch on the NFUs education stand at the Three Counties Show tomorrow (Sat) will be named Edward and Sophie, in honour of the Royal couple who marry that day.

Subsidised school milk is reprieved

EUROPES subsidy on school milk will remain, at least for the time being, after an agreement reached by farm ministers in Luxembourg.

Although some member states wanted an end to the school milk scheme, claiming it drained too much from EU coffers, most agreed that it should continue until such time as they had evidence on the role it played in promoting the health of young people.

UK farm minister, Nick Brown, had campaigned for the schemes retention, believing the subsidy payments would continue to help encourage children to drink milk.

Franz Fischler, EU farm commissioner, said Brussels was interested in ensuring future generations liked milk and dairy products. "That is very much in the interests of dairy companies and consumers," he said, referring to milks nutritional benefits.

But he acknowledged it was likely that the resources used to subsidise school milk might soon have to be reduced.

The reprieve for the school milk scheme was welcomed by NFU president, Ben Gill.

He recently wrote to Mr Fischler stressing the benefits the scheme brought to both children and dairy farmers.

"The NFU will now continue its school milk drive to encourage the commission to back this healthy addition to the school timetable," Mr Gill added.

GM vandalism hurts OSR list

PLANT breeders fear that damage caused to trials of conventional varieties of oilseed rape by anti-GM protesters could mean no new varieties are added to the UK recommended lists for 2001 and 2002.

Five sites, which the protesters mistakenly believed were being used for GM trials, have been damaged this year, said Roger Turner, chief executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders.

Speaking on the eve of Cereals 99 at Royston, Herts, Dr Turner said: "We think MAFF could turn round and say that leaves too few sites for meaningful data."

Policing all official trial sites effectively would cost £millions, he added.

At the Cereals 99 site, Novartis, NIAB and CPB Twyford all had plots of conventional varieties destroyed.

Novartis erected signs highlighting to visitors the undemocratic, criminal act of vandalism perpetrated by the protesters.

But that failed to deter a group of five, clad in full protective clothing, who walked onto Monsantos stand at the event on Wednesday and uprooted a plot of GM sugar beet.

They were later escorted from the site by police.

NFU set to assess single verification

A FEASIBILITY study into single verification for both the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme and its horticultural equivalent, the Assured Produce Scheme, has been announced by the NFU.

Fifty members from both schemes in Cambs, Norfolk, Herefords, Glos and Salop, will take part in pilot trials starting next month.

The study, due to be completed by Sep, will look at any overlap of technical and legal issues, and assess members attitudes to a single farm audit.

Speaking at the Cereals 99 event in Herts, ACCS chairman Jonathan Tipples said: "Farm assurance has often been accused of unnecessary re-visits and this is an important step for ACCS and APS."

He added that the two groups had been working towards bringing the schemes together for some time in a bid to reduce members workload and costs.

TVsurvey reveals farm GM attitudes

A NEW survey, conducted by the BBC political unit, shows that although most British farmers (65%) would be unwilling to have a GM crop trial on their land, 52.5% would want to grow the crops if they were released commercially.

The survey for the BBC Newsnight programme involved 200 farmers, all of whom are members of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

When asked if they would be happy to host a GM crop trial on their land, 32.5% of respondents said yes, 65% said no and 2.5% were undecided.

But, if GM crops were granted the go-ahead in the UK, 52.5% said they would want to grown them.

Half the farmers were concerned that material from GM crops would contaminate their crops. 41.5% were unconcerned, and 9% remained undecided.

In response to the question: "If the UK decided to go GM free, would that be a good thing for UK farming?", the split between yes and no was identical (both 40%), with 20% undecided.

RUMAcoming in

A NEW umbrella group, RUMA (the responsible use of medicines in agriculture alliance), will be launched next week. The group, a coalition of organisations including the NFU, and veterinary and pharmaceutical bodies, has been established to address concerns about the use of antibiotics in farming and to promote best practice.

Get briefs standing by, OPsufferers are told by judge

By Liz Mason

FARMERS who think they have been poisoned by organophosphate sheep dips have been urged to contact solicitors immediately.

Following a hearing in Londons High Court on Monday, organised to set directions for the biggest OP sheep dip damages case to come before the courts, the presiding judge, Master Miller, urged any other farmers who wanted to join the action to contact the legal firms co-ordinating the case as soon as possible.

Court proceedings have already been issued in 32 cases and more are likely to follow in what will be a group action.

Master Miller told the court the action had to be advertised as widely as possible to farmers. "There should be reference to the fact the group litigation is confined to claims in respect of OP poisoning resulting from exposure to OP products supplied for the treatment of sheep," he said.

The next hearing will be on Sep 15. "I should make it clear that those wishing to join the group litigation should make that wish known immediately. This will leave as much time as possible before Sep 15 when, among other matters, the court will consider imposing a cut-off date," said Master Miller.

He expected that by Sep 15 the plaintiffs cases would be clearly defined in terms of the particular allegations made, and the defending companies or employers involved.

Lawyers from Hodge, Jones and Allen and another firm, Wolferstans, are co-ordinating the action after being awarded a contract by the Legal Aid Board to investigate OP sheep dip poisoning.

Cases fall into two groups: those bringing forward claims against manufacturers of OP sheep dips and those suing employers.

Farmers have been advised that claims against MAFF or the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (which licensed the products) are likely to fail. Using legal precedent, government would claim it acted on information given to it by agrochemical companies.

Gus Ullstein, counsel for the plaintiffs, told the court that there would be no cases against the government unless the European Court overturned legal precedent.

In a bid to prove that farmers ill health has been caused by OP poisoning solicitors have set up a pilot study involving 20 people who have been examined and tested by a group of experts.

The study also aims to set medical protocols for defining OP poisoning. These results are expected to be available for the next hearing.

Any farmers who want to contact the solicitors should ring Peter Bright, Wolferstans, on 01752 663295

Beef and dairy farmers converged on the House of Commons on Monday to lobby MPs on the problems afflicting the cattle industry. The delegation, led by NFU president Ben Gill, called for the immediate publication of the Competition Commissions report on milk selling. Other topics raised included the continuing beef export ban and the need to extend the calf processing scheme until exports resume.

The Belgian dioxin scandal has resulted in protests from farmers on both sides of the Channel. Belgian farmers blocked the main Paris to Brussels road at the Franco-Belgian border at Saint Aybert, northern France last week (left). They were demanding that the list of farms involved in the dioxin scare should be released. Meanwhile, about 250 British pig producers blocked Felixtowe port in Suffolk to draw attention to their concerns about the import of cheap pigmeat from countries where standards of animal welfare and food safety might not reach those imposed in the UK. Some vented their anger by burning the EUflag.