D Day for future of European farm policy

LATER today, the European Parliament will make its mind up on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy but in the run up to this event, the architect of the report being considered by the politicians expressed his hope for "substantial even overwhelming support" from MEPs.

George Lyon MEP, who took his report through the EU agricultural committee last month in the run up to today's vote, described the CAP proposals as being a good deal not just for farmers but for all 500 million people living in the EU.

He said the biggest challenge was the predicted increase in the world population and with it the doubling in demand for food, increases in food production that would have to be achieved despite restrictions on resources such as water.

Sitting beside, Lyon at the press conference, Paulo De Castro, the chairman of the agricultural committee, agreed. "We have to produce more from fewer resources and with less pollution."

Lyon claimed the measures within the proposals were not protectionist and could accord with a further liberalising of international trade but both he and De Castro expressed the view that Europe should not go down that route alone.

Both mentioned the need for the US to change its farm support system prior to any further discussions by the World Trade Organisation, with De Castro pointing out the $120 billion support package going to US farmers. In looking at the EU budget, Lyon admitted that there would be downward pressure from member states facing their own economic crises but believed that the benefits from a robust CAP far outweighed any reason to reduce the cash in this particular part of the EU budget.

In fact, he argued strongly for an increase in the research and development work being carried out in rural projects, as these would be vital in the push for more production.

De Castro, giving a strong endorsement for biotechnology, pointed out other countries use GM technology to increase their food production while at the same time reducing costs.

"We have to be less fearful of biotechnology. While it is right to be cautious, we have to realise that we are asking to increase production with less resources."

Both politicians commented on the collapse of the milk market last year but both rejected any suggestion it was linked to milk quotas.

This discussion triggered Lyon to comment that both the farming industry and the political world should be aware of any moves by those trying to manipulate the commodity markets to their own advantage.

The vote by the Parliament on the CAP is but one part of the decision making process as both the Council of Agricultural Ministers and the EU Agricultural Commissioner have yet to give their views.

Their views will come later this year and into the first half of 2011.

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