8 March 2002

Modulation mad

IT would be "economic suicide" for Britain to pursue modulation on its own, former farm minister Gillian Shephard claimed at a meeting in Suffolk organised by the Farm Crisis Network.

Under the Curry Reports recommendations, the proportion of IACS money diverted into agri-environment schemes, currently 3%, could be increased to 20% by 2007/08.

But Mrs Shephard, among nine speakers answering questions from more than 120 farmers, said Britains agricultural community would not be able to compete if modulation was pursued on a unilateral basis.

Her views were echoed by Edward Greenwell, Suffolk farmer and president of the County Land and Business Association, who said he believed modulation should be across the board in the EU.

Another Suffolk Farmer, David Barker, of Westhorpe, a former Countryside Commissioner, said: "Modulation is another tax on farm incomes." &#42

However, he believed the Government could help farmers survive by providing more money for agri-environment schemes which would deliver the countryside wanted by the public.

"The French are using modulation to encourage the growing of pulses because it added cropping variety to the countryside. Why cant we do that?" he asked.

"The countryside here looks really well but it what it belies is the real crisis for the farming community," Mr Barker added.

He and other speakers called for more inspectors to be posted at Britains airports and docks to help prevent illegal imports of meat – food which could endanger human and animal health.

There were also calls for greater Government encouragement for "green" fuels made from food crops and for a stop to "unrestricted" EU sugar beet imports from Third World countries.

Mrs Shephard said she believed sugar beet now presented a fairly limited life for Britains farmers because its "life-saving" role would be negotiated away by the EU.

Present farm minister, Lord Whitty, had been invited to attend the meeting, at Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, but sent his apologies at the last minute.