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Sad comments from DEFRA's David Miliband at Oxford
and not much better from David Cameron
Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie,
Filed 04 Jan 07
If the Oxford Farming conference is anything to
go by, the New Year is not off to a propitious start.
On Wednesday 3rd January 2007, David Miliband
addressed the meeting held in an Oxford University examination hall.
In the summer of 2006, he took over as Minister for the Department
of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) at Westminster.
He replaced the thoroughly discredited Margaret Beckett - she having
moved to become, remarkably, the Foreign Secretary, supposedly to
help sort out the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, in substantial
part created by her hero, Tony Blair and his chum, George Bush.
Mr Miliband could hardly have been clearer.
"We need further fundamental Common Agricultural
Policy (CAP) reform in the 2008 health check (reform) and thereafter
to ensure that English farmers benefit from being the first down
a track that all will have to follow."
"We are committed to a system where by
2020 public funds are only used for public goods that the market
cannot deliver, in particular environmental benefits."
"There needs to be full decoupling of farm
payments, the effective end of pillar one (farm support), extension
of modulation and the end of other restraints on trade."
"There just isn't a food security argument
for taxpayers to subsidise food production."
"We obviously want a significant percentage
of food produced here and that level should be monitored."
While agriculture is a devolved issue, these comments
do not bode well for Scottish livestock farming - nor that in Wales.
While David Miliband can, in theory, only speak for England, the
stance that Westminster takes at the EU negotiating table can undermine
what the Scots may want to do. That has been all too clear from
Tony Blair's and Margaret Beckett's earlier efforts, which contributed
substantially to the UK losing out in a very big way in terms of
its share of EU rural development funding. The result is that the
UK government is now looking to make up the shortfall by taking
money away from UK farmers. The sales pitch is that "environment"
must take over from "production" with food supply left
to "market forces". Like so many of the present Government's
policies, this sounds superficially attractive, but is full of fallacies.
The fact is that Scotland in particular has an
enviable reputation for the quality of both its livestock and its
environment, which is largely due to the efforts of its farmers
The fallacies embedded within Miliband's statements
can be listed in the order that he made them.
It must be highly doubtful whether the farmers
of other EU member states will follow the crazy pioneering path
that he proposes be carved out by the English. Can you imagine the
French farmers agreeing to that? They currently continue with full
production subsidies, with no decoupling - much to their advantage
and to that of the environment and the food of their country.
Is it beyond the comprehension of this supposedly
bright but urban Minister's that the contribution of English farmers
- as well as those in the rest of the UK - to the care of the environment
and to the quality of the food produced is very much for the public
benefit, and cannot be delivered solely by market forces? It never
has, and in all probability, never will. The CAP was introduced
in the first place on account of the plight of the French farmers.
Farming subsidies have been essential in Europe and North America.
The situation in New Zealand, where total decoupling from production
was introduced virtually overnight, is a very different situation
from either Europe or North America. It is also worth remembering
that New Zealand has virtually no wildlife and a very different
Especially from the Scottish perspective, where
85% of the land comes under the agricultural category of "less
favoured", the idea that farming can be left to the full mercy
of market forces is absurd. The consequences on the environment,
so essential for the quality of life in Scotland and for the tourist
industry, would be dire.
Most rational people would indeed think that there
is a security issue over where our food comes from. And that it
is perfectly reasonable that taxpayers should contribute to maintaining,
and hopefully increasing, that security. Mr Miliband's comment is
a bit rich, coming as it does from a member of Tony Blair's government
who have added so substantially by their actions to the ongoing
- and possibly increasing - threat of international terrorism, especially
directed against the USA and the UK. He is too young to have any
memories of the 1940s.
So he wants a significant amount of our
food produced here and, although he clearly has no idea how much,
he will keep an eye on it. A lot of good that will do. A little
better forward planning would be in order.
Did David Cameron do any better?
The man wants votes. He wont get his party into
power and become prime minister unless he gets votes. Instead of
preaching common sense, he prefers to do Tony Blair spin, whereby
lots of hype at the time may do the job - never mind the consequences.
But is the populace so gullible any more?
David Cameron is flogging
the "environment" image but, in so doing, is mis-selling
it in a big way. He could find that, by spelling out the facts to
a not unintelligent public, he might do better.