Richard Lochhead warns of Defra veto

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RURAL affairs cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead yesterday admitted that the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) could veto Scotland’s hopes of securing a continuation of so-called coupled payments – support linked to production – under reforms of the common agricultural policy (CAP) due to be agreed by the end of this month.

But he said Defra would be under a “moral obligation” to allow Scotland to pay headage payments if agreed as part of the CAP reform package.

UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has consistently voiced his opposition to coupled payments and UK farm minister David Heath indicated last week that support linked to production was not in line with the direction of the CAP.

However, the Scottish Government, backed by NFU Scotland, the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers and other industry organisations, has been campaigning for an extension of coupled payments to help reverse the downward trend in the national beef herd and sheep flock.

A limited coupled payment is currently paid on calves under the Scottish Beef Calf Scheme and a proposal is on the table in Brussels for 7 per cent to 12 per cent of the annual single farm payment to be paid as a coupled payment in future.

“Defra has assured me that the CAP agreement will be implemented on a regional basis in the UK and that means they are under a moral obligation to allow Scotland to apply coupled payments if agreed,” Lochhead said at the National Sheep Association Scotland’s Highlandsheep event at Dingwall.

“We must have a level playing field in Europe and beef and sheep breeding businesses in Scotland will suffer, and some might not survive, if we are precluded from making coupled payments.”

Final agreement on CAP reform is expected to be agreed at a meeting of EU farm ministers and representatives of the European Parliament in Luxemburg on 24 and 25 June.

Lochhead also renewed his attack on Defra for their continued refusal to repatriate levy payments on stock from Scotland slaughtered in abattoirs in England which are claimed by the English meat promotional organisations.

“More than £6 million of levy on Scottish sheep has been lost to Scotland over the past five years and has been used to promote English product,” he said. “The message from Defra is unacceptable. It is money Scotland is entitled to and should be used to promote Scotch beef and lamb.”

Lochhead has written to Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, urging him to argue Scotland’s case in Cabinet.

“If he is not prepared to help on this important issue for Scotland, why do we have a Scottish Secretary?” he added.

A large number of sheep farmers from all over Scotland attended yesterday’s event – the first of its kind in the Highlands and Islands – which was opened by Scottish food ambassador and Scotsman cookery writer, Lady Claire Macdonald, of the Kinloch Lodge Hotel, Isle of Skye, who urged Scottish consumers to eat more – “the most versatile meat available and suitable for both summer and winter dishes”.