Scotland ‘can set its own CAP policies’

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MEMBERS of the Scottish Parliament rural affairs committee were yesterday told by UK farm minister Owen Paterson that, while the broad outlines of the next common agricultural policy (CAP) were set at member state level, regional governments would be able to set policies to suit their specific farming needs.

“You will have a Scottish CAP from now on and you can design it to your needs,” he said. “You will have absolute power to tailor it to suit your unique circumstances. It is for you to sort out.”

Earlier, Paterson, the first UK farm minister to address the committee, had rejected suggestions that, when subsidies were considered on a per area basis, Scotland would be one of the poorest regions of Europe.

“If you look at the support per farmer and not by area, Scotland has the second highest payment in Europe,” he said. “Within these two figures is a conundrum for the Scottish minister and he will have to decide. It is now time to stop the blame game and decide where the huge public funds will go.”

He is just back from New Zealand and Australia and their farm policies of no subsidies but government support through research and promotion were quoted to the MSPs time and again as examples of where Paterson would like to take farming in the future.

And committee chair Rob Gibson and Paterson “agreed to differ” over the minister’s enthusiasm for genetic modification (GM). Paterson had claimed he wanted to move “cautiously and judiciously” forward with GM otherwise Europe would be a “museum in food production terms” but Gibson did not accept that vision.

The MSPs also quizzed the minister on the loss of red meat levy on Scottish livestock slaughtered in English and Welsh abattoirs with an estimated loss of £1.4 million of potentially promotional money for Scottish red meat slipping southwards annually.

But Paterson claimed the issue was not as black and white as it seemed. It might be correct for premium meat and meat headed for the export market to be labelled Scottish and promoted as such but middle quality meat could just as easily be promoted as British and where was the advantage in that, he asked.

The minister also discussed the levy issue later in the day when he met NFUS officials.

ANDREW ARBUCKLE