EU plans 'will cut food production'
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 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 (CAP) 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.
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 (EFA)
The report warned 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.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We are working hard to negotiate a more environmentally-friendly CAP which 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."