Brussels hits back at CAP criticism

Brussels officials have hit back at claims that CAP reform will reduce food production and harm the environment.

It follows criticism by MPs who said CAP “greening” proposals would be bad for farmers, bad for consumers and bad for the countryside.

British farmers already in agri-environment schemes would be unfairly penalised by plans to impose extra environmental measures on farmers across Europe, the MPs said.

The warning came in a report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on Friday (1 June).

European agriculture commission spokesman Roger Waite said Brussels agreed there had been a “number of success stories” from voluntary agri-environmental schemes in the UK.

But farmers across Europe must do more for the environment, he said.

“In this sense, some farms in the UK are leading the rest of the EU in terms of addressing these very important environmental challenges – and it is certainly something that the UK should be proud of.

“However, the key point about greening is that all farmers across the whole of the EU do more for the environment – not just some farmers in some parts of the UK.”

Greening rules

The only way of having this effect en masse was by applying so-called “greening” rules to the system of direct payments that all EU famers received, said Mr Waite.

“This will raise the baseline for the environmental public goods provided by EU farmers.”

Opinion polls consistently showed the public wanted the EU to do more for the environment – and the greening proposals were a key response, said Mr Waite.

Agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos had already made clear there would be room to take account of existing schemes.

“We do not want to penalise the champions. We want to bring others up to higher standards.”

On the “one-size fits all” criticism, the commission had made clear it was willing to look at the way in which existing certified agri-environment schemes could be seen as fully or partially equivalent to the greening requirement – as was already the case with certified organic production.

But Mr Waite added: “We must be careful to avoid double funding.

“We also reject a menu approach where every member state chooses its greening measures because this would not have the combined mass impact that we are seeking, and would probably result in some member states doing less than others.”

Ecological focus areas

Proposals for an ecological focus area on every farm were not the same as “set-aside” and would have a minimal effect on farm output, Mr Waite said.

“It includes hedges, ditches, field margins and other landscape features. The measures should have no impact or in some cases a limited impact on production.”

On crop diversification, the intended effect was to achieve wider crop rotation.

“It is simpler to manage/check crop diversification with Pillar 1 management tools, than rotation which requires controls on a multi-annual basis.”

This meant rotation was more suited to rural development measures under Pillar 2, suggested Mr Waite.

Concerns about the potential loss of permanent grassland before the new rules come into force had already been addressed by Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) rules.

‘Basket of measures’

Cross-compliance rules limiting the loss of permanent pasture permitted at member state level to 10% would be continued in 2014 and 2015 to discourage conversion.

But some flexibility on reseeding and conversion – up to 5% of the reference area in permanent pasture – was needed for farm management purposes.

“The greening instrument is just one element within the basket of measures proposed, aimed at achieving a greener CAP,” said Mr Waite.

Other measures included cross compliance, mandatory greening, agri-environment with broad support from the Farm Advisory System and research.

“I must also recall that the existing systems for regional or local agri-environment schemes, such as the stewardship schemes, will continue to be available.

“In fact, these tailor-made, voluntary schemes should be seen as complementing the greening measures applicable for all.

“All these measures combined will contribute to the objective of a more sustainable agriculture which is essential for the long-term economic viability of the sector.”

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