7 May 1999

Wye study gives

thumbs-up for

ACCS viability

By Jonathan Riley

AN independent study by researchers at London Universitys Wye College concludes that the costs of joining the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme (ACCS) are not excessive and are outweighed by potential benefits.

Reporting their findings, researchers Andrew Fearne and Marian Garcia also questioned the commonly aired criticism that the cost burden on small or mixed farms was disproportionately high.

"Of the farms used as case studies, the two small farms faced total costs of £330 and £235 respectively. This initial cost is neither unreasonably high nor does it fall disproportionately on small or mixed farms."

The study found strong demand for the scheme among buyers and concluded that the farmers costs were a small price to pay for securing market access.

It also commended the NFU for taking the "bold and pro-active step when it introduced the ACCS at a time when it faced a no win situation".

"To have done nothing would have carried a serious risk that producers would have faced a proliferation of schemes imposed by retailers and buyers in the future."

Despite an ongoing investigation into the ACCS by the EU Commissions competition watchdog DGIV, the report claimed that nobody could "argue rationally" that producers were being forced to join the scheme.

"Those growers who ignore the demands of their customers and choose not to register are free to gamble on the diminishing market for raw materials for which no assurances are required," it concluded.

The researchers found that many people still mistakenly believed that the scheme covered crop quality. "In our opinion a widening of the scheme to include quality would have provided a useful carrot to offset the safety stick with which farmers have been severely beaten in recent years," they said.

Dismissive

Many of the reports findings, however, were dismissed by Robert Robertson of the Federation of Small Businesses agriculture committee as "repetition of NFU dogma".

Mr Robertson, whose organisation has consistently opposed ACCS, insisted: "Assurance is not demanded by the consumer. It is wanted by the grain buyers who will always ask for something if it costs them nothing and allows them to continue buying in cheaper, unassured imported grain.

"To establish different trading conditions for each EU member state is a return to past days of national differences. Such days can no longer be tolerated by a forward looking EU, particularly as our grain exports are rising currently which surely means that buyers are not demanding British produce is assured," he said.

Andrew Mudge of Tavistock, Devon, at work on the recent sheep shearers training project at Tracy farm near Totnes, Devon. The project is financed by the EU social fund and the aim is to train 300 shearers over the next year.

IN BRIEF

&#8226 NORTH Somerset Council is preparing the regions first food and drink directory to encourage people to buy local produce. It will provide lists of producers and emphasise the advantages to consumers of buying their food and drink locally. The council hopes to distribute the directory through farmers markets, tourist information centres and local hotels and restaurants.

&#8226 DYFED Powys Police have asked farmers to look out for a stolen red Honda TRX400 quad bike worth an estimated £4000. Anyone offered the chance to buy the machine – chassis no 104030 and engine no 8116853 – should ring 01267 232000.

&#8226 ASDA is to hold 16 farmers markets at stores across the UK over the next five months. The firm says more than 200 farmers will be able to offer their produce to shoppers, and keep all the profits. The first market was held in Asdas Southampton store yesterday (Thur), involving more than 15 local producers.

&#8226 PEMBROKESHIRE NFU county branch has appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to overturn the latest increase in the duty on diesel. Members claim that the rise will cripple rural areas in general, and greatly increase the cost of farm requisites. The NFU Cymru-Wales is backing the plea.

Board fined over OTMS

FINES of over £21m are being imposed by the EU Commission on the Intervention Board for its failure to properly administer the over-30-month scheme in the early days of the BSE crisis.

Brussels, which makes a 70% contribution to the scheme, says audit controls were inadequate and criticises the delays in carcass destruction. "The findings are particularly serious in view of the obligation for member states to put into place the strictest controls over measures that concern human and animal health," says the commission.

But the Intervention Board disputes the findings. "We accept because of the speed at which the OTMS was set up there were some minor shortcomings, but from the outset our controls were stringent," said a spokeswoman. The IB has also challenged the level of the penalties.

Welcome from pig leaders for new MLC move

PIG farming leaders have welcomed the Meat and Livestock Commissions decision to scrap the pigmeat strategy council and set up a new cross-industry body that will give producers more power.

The MLC is now seeking views on its plans for the new body, to be called the British Pig Executive (BPEX).

The aim of BPEX will be to ensure that UK levy payers money is more efficiently deployed in the fight for market share.

The MLC suggests that the executive should comprise:

&#8226 Six nominations from producer organisations;

&#8226 One MLC commissioner;

&#8226 The chairman of the Pork and Bacon Promotion Council;

&#8226 One nomination each from the British Meat Manufacturers Association and Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers.

MLC also proposes that the Pork and Bacon Promotion Council should report to BPEX.

Don Curry MLC chairman said: "It is vital for the whole of the pig industry that we are united in our determination to capture a bigger share of the domestic and international market. We believe that this new structure will help us to achieve that."

Autonomy

Grenville Welsh of the British Pig Association said that his organisation began calling for a body like BPEX 12 years ago. "If it operates like a true board of directors and has the autonomy to control pig industry activities then this is a great step and I applaud the MLCs courage in developing it."

Stewart Houston, chairman of the British Pig Industry Support Group (BPISG), called the MLC plan "a good result for pig farmers who are going through the worst crisis they have ever faced".

He added: "If the whole industry now unites behind BPEX it could herald a new era of growth for our industry."

The groups East Anglian spokesman, Ian Campbell, said that the BPISG had been campaigning hard for a species specific body. But, if the new organisation was successful, the BPISG may not need to take its campaign any further.

"Weve gone as far as we can at this stage and how much further we have to go depends on how successful the new organisation is," said Mr Campbell.

Keep hill aid simple

THE Scottish NFU wants as little disruption as possible when the government switches hill payments from a headage system to area aid.

A swift announcement of transition arrangements for next year is also seen as vital to protect the subsidy payment schedule.

"We want a simple system, easy to administer, and without big winners and losers. The emphasis must remain on beef cattle and sheep farms. Inclusion of upland dairy units, arable areas, and other species like goats and deer could be considered but only if the HLCA budget is increased," president Jim Walker said on Tuesday after finalising the unions response to the first consultation on the future of HLCAs from the Scottish Office.

It demanded submissions by tomorrow (Sat) unlike England and Wales where June 25 is the closing date for responses. But Mr Walker felt the early deadline was no bad thing.

"It is essential that we get transition arrangements in place as soon as possible. Forms for suckler cow premium and beef cow HLCAs will be going out within the next eight weeks. Payments would be expected next February and March and we must have no delay because that would cause serious hardship," said Mr Walker.

He met Peter Allen, NFU hill farming chairman, this week to help maintain a common UK farmer approach to HLCA changes.

On broadening the base of farm activity to qualify for HLCAs, Mr Walker said there was most sympathy for upland dairy farms. "But we are agreed that sheep and beef farm incomes must be protected. To dilute the £40m paid on HLCAs in Scotland would compromise units where beef and sheep are the only possible enterprises. We have agreed to lobby for extra funding so that upland dairy farms can be included," he said.

There seemed to be less sympathy for other claims like paying on arable areas and on land devoted to deer or cashmere goat enterprises. "Extending HLCAs to those things is fine if there are new resources. But there is broad recognition that these subsidies are there to support productive farming in areas with natural physical handicaps. The new scheme must not disadvantage these farmers," said Mr Walker.

Hormone beef ban stays in place for sure, says Brussels

By Philip Clarke

BRUSSELS confirmed this week it has no intention of lifting its 10-year-old ban on imports of hormone treated beef, following fresh evidence that it poses a risk to human health.

Preliminary findings by the scientific committee on veterinary measures relating to public health suggest that one of the six hormones used in US beef production, 17 beta oestradiol, can cause cancer.

For the five other products, the scientists said carcinogenic effects could be envisaged, but the data did not yet exist to allow proper assessment.

In a separate report, the commission also attacks the US and Canada for lax controls on hormone use which, it claims, increases the scope for abuse and so raises the risks for humans. In particular, it points to problems of misplacements of implants which could end up in tissues intended for human consumption.

A single implant site could contaminate a batch of 4000 jars of baby food with hormone residues up to 33 times the safe daily dose, claims the commission.

"The scientific evidence is of enormous importance to European consumers as it demonstrates we were right to strenuously defend the ban on hormones," said consumer affairs commissioner Emma Bonino. "We now have a scientific basis to defend our position."

The EU had been given until May 13 to lift its ban, following last years ruling by the World Trade Organisation that there was no scientific justification for blocking US imports.

US reaction has been dismissive. "Instead of preparing to meet its obligation to comply with the WTO ruling against its hormone ban, the commission has issued yet another misleading report," said US agriculture secretary Dan Glickman.

Unsubstantiated

He said the findings were unsubstantiated and ran counter to recent findings by the World Health Organisations own expert committee which confirmed the products safety.

The commission will decide at its meeting next week what its next step will be, though it clearly will not lift the ban.

As such, the US seems certain to press ahead with its threat to impose 100% import duties on a wide range of EU goods, including pig meat, poultry and tomatoes. A provisional hit list identifies about $900m (£550m) of trade, though this will be whittled down to closer to $500m (£307m), being the estimated loss of earnings suffered by US cattlemen.