Farmers call for action over red tape review

Farmers who meet higher environmental and animal welfare standards could be allowed to operate more freely, the government has confirmed.

Unveiling his interim response to the MacDonald report on agricultural red tape, farm minister Jim Paice said he intended to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers where doing so did not undermine environmental, health and animal welfare standards.

“Where we can, we’re looking to free up those playing by the rules so they can get on with doing what they do best – running their farms. The MacDonald report was big, bold and ambitious, and if industry is ready to play its part, we can make it a reality.”

New approaches being explored include making inspections more risk-based and targeted at farms at greater risk of breaching regulations. Inspections would also be co-ordinated to reduce the number of duplicate visits.

Simplifying complex environmental requirements would give clearer guidance to farmers about what practical measures they should take, said Mr Paice. Information would be shared between agencies to make paperwork easier to complete.

“If we want a successful and competitive farming industry then the rules and regulations need to be drawn up with farmers in mind. Most farmers want to do the right thing and push standards even higher – what we need to do is help them do that in as simple and effective way as possible.”

Richard MacDonald, who led the red tape taskforce, said was encouraged by the comments. But he cautioned against over expectation. “Many of our recommendations were bold and challenging and for some there are no quick fixes.”

But farm leaders warned that farmers and growers wanted to see action sooner rather than later. NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “We really do need to start seeing actions that match the rhetoric. Delivery is the key.”

The interim report was a step in the right direction, said Mr Raymond. “What we need now is some flesh on the bones. We need a clear timetable for how the aspirations in this report will be turned into reality with specific actions.”

Conservation groups still have concerns about potential risks, however. Farmers who belonged to private farm assurance schemes with weak environmental components should not be exempt from official inspections, said the RSPB.

RSPB head of agriculture policy Gareth Morgan said many environmental regulations were vital and cost-effective. “This report makes it clear that where the environment is concerned, the vast majority of this legislation is critical and non-negotiable.”

The RSPB understood the frustration of dealing with unnecessary bureaucracy, said Mr Morgan. But this must be distinguished from essential legislation which would ensure future generations had a healthy and productive countryside rich in wildlife.

The government’s full and final response to the task force report will be published in early 2012.