Landlines: devil is the detail for CAP

Borders MP Michael Moore and George Lyon meeting with Dacian Ciolos, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development last week to raise Scottish farming interests in the ongoing Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform negotiations.
Borders MP Michael Moore and George Lyon meeting with Dacian Ciolos, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development last week to raise Scottish farming interests in the ongoing Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform negotiations.

With usual last-gasp timing, like the late and unlamented ‘Ground Force’ putting the last potentilla in place as the garden owner arrives to burst into tears for the cameras, or Tony Robinson’s ‘Time Team’ unearthing the final artefact before the JCBs move in, European Union farm ministers reached “agreement” on changes to the common agricultural policy (CAP) last week.

That’s “agreement” in quotes because, as every commentator noted, “much of the detail is unresolved”. Well, would you believe it? Of course we would. CAP negotiations always take years, a compromise deal is invariably reached at the last minute as every negotiator fears to take a toilet break, and the disappointments as the details become apparent over the next few months or years produce belated howls from affected groups.

That detail, it hardly needs saying, is enormous – and the vaguest idea is what most of us have, no matter how hard we try to understand the small print of legislation for farming and environmental support payments. No matter how new payments and incentives are applied or re-distributed, this time there is less money in the European Union’s CAP pot to do it with. Money is tight.

At first sight, NFU Scotland seemed reasonably happy with the deal. The union expects it to reward active farmers and get rid of those who have retired, but until now have still managed to collect subsidies; support animal production by linking a percentage of direct payments to livestock, which is vital to Scotland; encourage new entrants with a young farmers scheme; and encourage environmentally friendly farming. There is also the hope in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, of flexibility in applying some of the legislation. The whole farrago – sorry, settlement – will apply from January 1, 2015.

Something that happened on a world scale was reported last week that will give some farmers pause for thought: world fish farming production was 66 million tonnes last year and beef production was 63 million tonnes. Fish production was up yet again, beef down. Average consumption of beef throughout the world is about 20lbs; of fish, farmed and wild, 42 lbs. In Britain we eat, on average, 50 lbs of fish each annually, not forgetting that we also eat much more chicken than beef. Averages are often misleading, but the trend is clearly that producers and retailers of beef, as the more expensive product, have to work hard to keep existing markets and find new ones.

In which context, the hapless Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has again managed to get headlines for the wrong reason. This time for selling meat from the 28,000 or so cattle slaughtered each year because they have been identified as bovine TB reactors. The meat, lower quality and used in processing, brings in about £10 million, good business for a cash-strapped government and not illegal.

Bovine TB rarely affects humans. But perception is everything as the recent horsemeat burger furore indicated. Hands up anyone for a TB burger?