DEFRA HAS published a five-year strategy which promises farmers that the department will slash red tape and become a “smarter regulator”.

The strategy, published by DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett on Wed (Dec 8), pledges to cut red tape to reduce the administrative burden on producers.

It says that initial studies suggest the introduction of the single payment scheme will reduce the time spent by farmers on form-filling by 60% by 2007.

But it adds that DEFRA wants to make further improvements in farm regulation, so it is planning a strategy for farm regulation which will be published in November 2005.

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett claimed her aim over the next few years was to deliver on a fundamentally new relationship with farming.

“We will be replacing the complexities of the CAP with a new streamlined approach summed up as one form, one date, one payment and one face from government”,” she said.

“DEFRA has a big agenda of regulation that improves our environment, protects public health and seeks to deliver high standards of animal welfare. But we know that we must ensure that those benefits from regulation… do not place an intolerable burden on individual farmers.”

Other key aims set out by Mrs Beckett in the strategy include changing the “behaviours” of government, business, farming and consumers. The document says that DEFRA wants to help farmers to become sustainable land managers and produce more sustainable products.

“We need business and farmers to produce and make products with less impact on the environment,” it says.

REGULATION

Tim Bennett, NFU president, said the strategy raised the issue of better and appropriate regulations for the industry and farmers needed to make sure that this happened.

He added that the government also needed to recognise, when it talked about agriculture being “sustainable”, that for producers this related to business performance. “Advances in environmental measures can only be made through a successful and profitable industry,” he said.

But Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, accused DEFRA of producing yet another glossy report. “All rural people want to see is action taken at ground level,” he said.

Andrew George, Lib Dem shadow DEFRA secretary, claimed the strategy was old news and would not fool farmers into thinking the government cared about their future.

“Farmers will be sick of hearing yet another strategy from DEFRA. While they are going out of business, ministers seem to spend their time re-announcing and repackaging the same old policies.”