Growing food still the priority

Vic Robertson Friday, 8th February 2002
The Scotsman

IN THE wake of all the recent hype about the farming industry's role in the greening of the countryside, farmers' leaders south of the Border appeared slightly bemused to learn yesterday that profitable food production should remain their primary function.

This was heavily underlined by rural affairs minister Margaret Beckett and Sir Donald Curry, chairman of the farm and food policy commission .

"We want British farming to succeed. We want those engaged in it to thrive and prosper. We want an industry whose best performers not only match but set world standards; an industry valued for the contribution it makes to the economy and to the environment," said Beckett .

"Above all, we must resolve to work together: farmers, marketers, processors and the government to identify common goals and work towards their achievement. We all want an industry which is equipped to thrive, not just to survive ," she told the English NFU's annual meeting in London.

Her message was essentially focused on partnership efforts to achieve economic success in both narrow farming terms and in the broader rural context. But she did accept "there will be times when we will disagree".

Modulation or subsidy capping was one such instance and while she admitted there was much to criticise in the detail and scope of how this operated, it was a debate which could not be avoided .

To balance this stick, she offered the potential carrot of determined action to curb illegal meat imports and even possibly legal personal imports. She also signalled a more effective system for integrating all of the department's dealings with the farming industry.

Sir Donald fought back against media "misconceptions" over his report, saying: "The commission's report did not say that farmers should stop producing food and work for the Environment Agency instead. On the contrary, the message is that food production and care of the countryside are compatible and reinforcing. They are not exclusive.

" The bulk of farmers are going to continue to look to food production for the biggest share of their income," he added.