EU farm plans 'lost opportunity'
Plans to modernise Europe's farm policy have been dismissed by the Government as a lost opportunity to cut costs and wean farmers off hefty subsidies which keep the sector afloat.
European Commission proposals are designed to deliver a more environmentally-friendly Common Agricultural Policy and make the sector more competitive on world markets.
But hefty subsidies to European farmers continue, albeit with an upper limit of 300,000 euros (£260,000) a year - something which affects only a fraction of landowners. And they, argue UK officials, will simply divide up their farming businesses - at least on paper - so as to continue qualifying for more.
Meanwhile, plans to "green" the CAP mean little change in member states where environmental policies to improve the rural environment are already routine, according to UK officials.
Under the commission plan, 30% of current direct payments to farmers will be conditional on taking steps including leaving seven-10% of land "set-aside" without crops on it, ensuring arable farms grow at least three crops and ensuring permanent pasture is maintained.
A commission statement said the aim was to "enhance the sustainable management of natural resources across the whole of the EU". Farming had to become more competitive at local regional, national, European, and world level, while addressing environmental problems concerning water, soil, biodiversity and climate change".
The launch of the plan for the post-2013 CAP triggers months of negotiations in which the UK will support moves away from direct payments - subsidies - and more focus on environmental improvements and a more competitive EU agriculture sector.
But ministers also want a significant reduction in the CAP's share of all EU spending - currently about 40%. The policy is estimated to cost every person in the UK £107 a year in taxes to pay for farm subsidies and increased food costs.
The proposals would reduce the CAP's EU budget share to about 37.5%, but it would still be the most expensive policy area.
Friends of the Earth said the proposals amounted to continued support for factory farming and subsidised food exports, with a detrimental impact on the environment and on food security;