29 November 1996

Labour outlines cash plans for environment

By Tony McDougal

LABOUR has signalled its intention to pour more cash into the environment while demanding the phasing out of agricultural price support in its largest submission on CAP reform for a decade.

Shadow farm spokesman Gavin Strang said he would like to see farmers supported by decoupled social and environmental payments with CAP spending integrated within a sustainable EU rural policy.

Dr Strang called for a trebling of agri-environment funding, including new "farming with nature" designated areas, where farmers would receive additional environmental payments for actively enhancing the countryside.

And he also promised that a Food Standards Agency would be up and running within two to three years if the party won the general election.

Welcoming the EU Commissions recent promises of better-targeted aid for rural areas, Dr Strang said there was considerable scope to boost funds. "The CAPs budget currently stands at around £37bn, of which just £455m is spent on rural development under objective 5b, equivalent to 1.2%."

He reiterated Labours opposition to set-aside and intervention buying, saying there should be greater encouragement of alternative land use for renewable energy and other non-food crops, development of small and medium-size enterprises and investment in rural infrastructure.

While acknowledging the threat posed to the current commodity support system by the next World Trade Organisation (WTO) round, Dr Strang felt the largest pressure for reform would stem from the need to incorporate Eastern European nations into the EU.

Commenting on food policy, Dr Strang said an independent food standards agency looking at consumer protection and labelling would prevent health scares getting out of hand.

Resources would be switched from MAFF and other government departments to the agency, and its advice and recommendations would be made public. It will report to parliament, the Department of Health and MAFF.

Dr Strang argued that the phasing out of price support would allow farm supply to meet consumer demand, present new opportunities for local food-processing enterprises and lower shopping bills.

And he called upon the Commission to give greater emphasis to improve dietary requirements in the EU, citing the European school milk scheme, which the Conservative government has dropped, as an example.n

By Tony McDougal

Dr Gavin Strang has called for a trebling in agri-environment funding.