15 August 1997

MAFF a hive of activity after Labour victory

Labour has now spent

more than 100 days in government.Tony McDougal reviews the Partys impact on farming and MAFF policy

STAGNATION and the feeling of a siege mentality during the last months of the Conservatives 18-year reign have been replaced by a hive of activity within MAFF, according to leading industry figures.

While Labour has stressed time and again that it wants to see a more consumer friendly ministry, it has provided hard-pressed livestock farmers with a victory in Europe gaining common rules for specified risk material across the EU.

Barney Holbeche, NFU head of parliamentary affairs, said it would be unreasonable to expect the government to have made further progress on the lifting of the beef export ban. But he said farm minister Jack Cunningham was proving an astute politician and diplomat in Europe.

Mr Holbeche praised Labour for consulting industry on a wide-range of issues, but warned the consultation period would come to an end eventually and that government would be forced to make decisions, which would not be universally popular.

Looking ahead, Mr Holbeche said industry would await with interest the Food Standards Agency White paper and the future of MAFFs new name. Speculation has been growing that groups such as English Nature and the Rural Development Comm-ission will be placed within MAFFs revised remit.

George Dunn, Tenant Farmers Association chief executive, saidhe had been impressed with the workmanlike approach on agricultural issues. Despite the demise of the regional farm panels, the increase in local ministerial meetings had proved a successfulalternative.

Mr Dunn said MAFFs stance had been refreshing, though there was concern that the two-year spending squeeze would cause problems, and that the ministrys cuts in OTMS spending and changes to the cohort year would continue to annoy farmers.

And the decision to halt the cull of badgers, suspected of passingon TB to livestock in newly affected areas of the West Midlandsand Staffs, prior to the findingsof the Krebs report, expectedthis autumn, had also beenunpopular.

Labours food and farming record

&#8226 Released proposals for Food Standards Agency.

&#8226 Introduced moratorium on badger culling in new TB outbreak areas.

&#8226 Announced reviews of: MAFF and DoE spending, genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops, organic aid scheme, live exports, water abstraction licences, hedgerow legislation and the Milk Development Council.

&#8226 Axed MAFF regional panels.

&#8226 Introduced EU livestock transport rules.

&#8226 Launched pilot arable wildlife scheme.

&#8226 Placed all Welsh agri-environment schemes under Tir Cymen.

&#8226 Announced British Cattle Movement Service to be in public sector at Workingto.

&#8226 Consulting on new name for MAFF.

&#8226 Successfully pushed for EU-wide MBM and SBO legislation.

&#8226 Introduced cuts in the number of abattoirs and payments under OTMS scheme.

MAFF ministerial team led by Jack Cunningham includes (from &#8226 to r) Elliot Morley, Jeff Rooker and Lord Donoughue.