British farmers are being used as guinea pigs on which CAP reform is being tested, NFU president Tim Bennett has told the Oxford Farming Conference.

In a hard-hitting assault on government policy, Mr Bennett said that the 2003 reforms had opened the way for re-nationalisation of the CAP by allowing different degrees of decoupling and different ways of implementing the agreement.

Of greater concern, however, was the recent EU budget deal, struck by Tony Blair in Brussels just before Christmas, which threatened to lead to serious competitive distortions through the introduction of voluntary national modulation with no match-funding.

“The adoption of voluntary national modulation will risk putting us at a disadvantage with respect to other EU countries,” said Mr Bennett. “And if our government refuses to match fund, it will be a betrayal of previous assurances of their financial commitment to rural development.”

The NFU has estimated that around 36% of British farmers’ single farm payments could be lost dues to a combination of 20% voluntary modulation, 5% compulsory EU modulation, 3% for the national reserve and 8% cuts to help pay for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria.

“We are increasingly running the risk of one of the most forward looking, most environmentally aware, most quality-led and market focussed agricultural sectors in Europe being put at a disadvantage by its own politicians,” said Mr Bennett.

*For more from the conference see Farmers Weekly issue of Jan 6.