CAP:Scrap milk quotas

28 September 2001

CAP:Scrap milk quotas

and set-aside, urges UK

By Philip Clarke

AN end to milk quotas and set-aside, and a partial re-nationalisation of European farm policy are among the governments top priorities as it attempts to reshape the CAP.

Addressing this weeks Congress of European Agriculture in Belfast, DEFRAminister, Margaret Beckett, said the existing CAP had been an abject failure.

"You could almost say that no one is happy." Farmers incomes were running at half the national average, consumer confidence had been hit by repeated food scares and environmentalists were even more dissatisfied. The time for radical change had come, based on the dismantling of traditional farm supports.

"As was envisaged in Agenda 2000, we should work to eliminate milk quotas," she said. "Unless and until we break out of that stranglehold, the industry is never going to achieve its true potential."

Mrs Beckett also called for an end to compulsory set-aside, combined with a (downward) adjustment in cereal prices. "I recognise that set-aside may have some environmental benefits, but these may be achieved more effectively through other mechanisms."

In particular, she pointed to the "second pillar" of the CAP. More funds should be channelled into rural development, including through modulation of direct payments, to deliver the kind of farm policies society wanted.

But Mrs Becketts comments met with a cool response from the conference delegates, including farmers from other member states.

"I was shocked," said Jean Paul Bastion, vice-president of EU farmers group, COPA. "I am a beef producer and when you look at the problems that our sector is facing, for which the UK shares responsibility, it would be better if she dealt with that and left milk quotas alone."

The pace of change suggested by Mrs Beckett and "her aggressive style" dismayed Henrik Hoegh, vice president of the Danish Farmers Unions. "She does not seem to realise that sustainability is as much to do with farm profit as it is to do with nature."

Focusing on rural development would be fraught with dangers for UK farmers, warned Angus Cuthbert, acting director general for the Ulster Farmers Union. "Even with the existing schemes, the money just goes into other peoples pockets, not farmers," he said. The UK would also be stuck with its low allocation of just 3% of EU rural development funds.

Mrs Beckett insisted her vision would not result in less money going to the sector. "But if foot-and-mouth has taught us one thing, it is that farmers do not make up the whole of the rural community."

She also called for more re-nationalisation of EU policies.non-distorting policies.

EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, said he opposed re-nationalisation. &#42

as far as market support measures were concerned. "But we hope to strengthen the second pillar and that is a field where we need flexibility."

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