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OFC: How Well are Farmers Caring for Environment?

12 January 2015

ANALYSIS - Changing policies on pesticides, animal feeds and welfare are threatening to reduce wheat crops in the UK and the pig herd each by one-third, delegates to last week's Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) heard.

david caffall AIC
David Caffall

This was a stark message from the CEO of the Agricultural Industries Confederation, David Caffall at the Oxford Farming Conference.

In a heated debate, Mr Caffall said that research by the AIC had shown that while new technology was of critical importance to the agricultural sector, all too often it is hampered by regulation.

“Collectively, the effects we analysed do not represent intensification or sustainability by any definition of these words that I understand,” Mr Caffall said.

He said that the AIC supports rules and policies that ensure environmental enhancement and the production of wholesome healthy food.

“However, our concern is that many regulations are drawn up on a single issue basis, taking no account of the unintended consequences,” he said.

“In some instances, regulation appears to be driven purely by political whim, rather than any factual or scientific basis.”

He said that the food and agriculture industries have a broad range of views that have to be taken into account in the development of policies, especially at European level.

“One has to ask the question whether a one size fits all approach can work across 28 member states,” he said.

“Can one regulation be equally appropriate for the rain soaked pasture of the west of Ireland and the sun-baked terraces of the Mediterranean lands?” he asked.

“Europe will be required to play a major role in feeding a growing world.

“We have advantages including quality soils and advantageous climates.

“However, we continue to wait for regulation to allow the new technologies to be introduced into the EU.

“The delays are now so long that global agribusinesses are turning their R&D focus away from Europe.

“Before long new technology is more likely to be on a plane to China, than being used for European benefit.”

george monbiot
George Monbiot

However, speaking on the same platform, environmental campaigner, George Monbiot, placed the blame for poor farming practices, environmental degradation and the decline in rural communities on the subsidies received by farmers.

He said that it was grossly unfair that the wealthiest section of society in the farming community, often absentee landlords were receiving vast subsidies for taking care of the land and often the same farmers were using bad practices and not taking care of the environment.

Mr Monbiot criticised cattle and sheep farmers for practices that he said damaged the environment and the hills leading to degradation of the more fertile lowlands and he called for livestock hill farming to be replaced with forestry to ensure that water resources were maintained on the hills and the land not eroded.

He said that upland farmers by keeping the hills bare could damage the livelihoods of downland farmers through damage to the water systems, causing floods and damaging food production.

He said that moves for more deregulation were just placing huge benefits in the hands of the already wealthy farmers.

And he criticised policies such as the expansion of maize production purely for anaerobic digestion, destroying the soil and taking land away from more producing farming.

“If we are going to pay farm subsidies, there needs to be regulation to protect the environment we love,” he said.

He said that payment of subsidies had to have public justification.

He added that the CAP should be “specifically targeted at the public good rather than the public harm” and he called for a rational use of public funds.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Top image via Shutterstock

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