Commons committee warns European commission’s plans will impose ‘one-size-fits-all’ regime across continent
The European plans would be less effective than crop rotation currently used in the UK, says the report. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Proposed new European regulations to make agriculture “greener” will reduce food production, increase bureaucracy and could even harm the environment, a parliamentary report has warned.
The House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee warned that the European commission plans – due for implementation in 2014 – are too inflexible and would impose a “one-size-fits-all” regime on farmers from Finland to Sicily.
Farmers could lose 30% of their direct payments under the Common Agricultural Policy if they fail to comply with three new “greening” requirements.
The report also cited speculation that this penalty could be doubled by unspecified additional punishments being considered by the commission.
The cross-party committee backed the commission’s ambition of making the Cap greener, but said that local differences in climate, landscape and farming practices must be taken into account.
The committee chair, Anne McIntosh said: “As they currently stand, the commission’s proposals to green the Cap would hurt UK farmers, consumers and our countryside.
“They will reduce food security by taking land out of production and are likely to impact badly on our environment.
“It’s a nonsense to think that farmers from Finland to Sicily should be tied to the same narrow prescriptive rules. One-size-fits all regulation cannot work across the range of environments found in Europe.
“To enhance biodiversity and protect the environment farmers across the EU must be able manage their landscapes in ways tailored to local farming methods and ecological concerns. The commission’s approach will damage the natural environment and farming.”
Under the proposals, farmers would be required to meet new EU-wide standards for crop diversity and retention of permanent pastureland as well as setting aside 7% of their land as uncultivated ecological focus areas.
The report warns that the diversity rule – requiring farmers to grow at least three different crops on their arable land – would be less beneficial to the environment than the crop rotation already routinely practised by most UK farmers.
The demand that meadows under pasture in 2014 should be retained permanently as grassland would provide a perverse incentive for farmers to plough them up before the deadline.
And the insistence on imposing EFAs on a farm-level, rather than regional or national, basis would mean the arbitrary creation of protected zones in areas which were not necessarily good for wildlife.
The committee called on the EU instead to set high-level objectives for the CAP that give member states the flexibility to apply the right environmental protection measures for local conditions.
“Our report highlights the huge benefit that UK ‘agri-environment’ schemes have brought to biodiversity, food production and the countryside,” said McIntosh.
“We can be proud of what UK farmers have achieved using these voluntary schemes that allow them to manage their land in ways that enhance biodiversity and food production, for example by encouraging pollinators.”
The report noted that a majority of EU member states, including the UK, have expressed concern about the proposals.
Giving evidence to the committee, the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman said she did not believe member states would reach agreement on what she termed the commission’s “sub-optimal” and “prescriptive” approach.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are working hard to negotiate a more environmentally-friendly Cap that works for the UK’s farmers and uses taxpayers’ money more effectively – allowing more production at less cost to the environment.
“We’re glad the commission is starting to change its position on greening, but we want a more flexible approach that would allow member states to green the Cap in a way that works best for them.”
The European Commission told the Guardian some farms in the UK were “leading the way” on greening, but said this needed to be widened, and said that the one-size-fits-all approach to green incentives could be adjusted, provided the issue of double funding – farmers gaining subsidy under different schemes for the same work – was addressed. Existing schemes to reward farmers would continue to be available after the reforms.
A Commission spokesman said while the UK had a number of key success stories on environmentally-friendly farming, “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. And the only way of having this effect en masse is if we apply these so-called “greening” rules to the system of direct payments that all EU famers receive. This will raise the baseline for the environmental public goods provided by EU farmers.”
Source: The Guardian / Press Association