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David outlines how he intends to help local farmers face up to the major challenges ahead
I fully appreciate the difficulties faced by the farming community and the seemingly endless battles that have to be fought. However, you know better than me how tough it is trying to run a farm at this time. This is especially true after the troubles faced in August because of the unusually wet weather.
Farming contributes over £7 billion to the national economy employing over 550,000 farmers and farm workers. Countryside stewardship is important to rural tourism which is worth £12 billion. The Foot and Mouth disaster only served to highlight the importance of the role of tourism.
Following the devastation caused by the Foot and Mouth disease, this Government has failed to put in place stricter import controls at our ports and airports. In other countries such as Australia they spend over £350 million per annum, whereas this Government has only promised £25 million over the next 3 years. Despite the Government’s own estimate that an average of 7,500 tonnes of illegal meat enter the UK every year, they have only 6 sniffer dogs to police every port and airport in the country!
It is shocking that we are not protecting our borders from these dangerous diseases. The Government’s attitude seems to be inviting yet more disaster on to the countryside. A recent leaked internal Government report has confirmed that thousands of tons of illegal bush meat was smuggled into the UK last year, but the Government are doing nothing to prevent this. The Conservatives are the only Party to take this threat seriously and are pushing for special meat detection machines to be installed at all ports and airports.
Recently a number of foreign diseases such as Sudden Oak Death, Ring Rot in potatoes and Brucellosis in cattle have all entered the country. Combined with the continued threat from highly contagious diseases such as avian flu, there can be no excuse for the Government not taking the necessary measures.
The latest challenge facing farmers is the introduction of the new Single Farm Payments reform. Under these changes, we will see vastly different payments being made to farmers across Britain. The approach this Government has taken will cause the biggest upheaval in what farmers are paid, and there is a very real concern that a four-tiered system may seriously disadvantage certain farms. Having four different systems will mean four different sets of rules, with four different armies of civil servants implementing them. This is far removed from the radical reduction in red tape and bureaucracy that was promised by the Government.
There are no easy answers to many of these problems. An incoming Conservative Government would not be able to wave a magic wand and automatically return farming back to more profitable times. However, we would try.
We will tackle the problem of increasing red tape and bureaucracy. Under this Government, farmers have to meet new environmental, animal health and welfare and public health standards in order to continue to receive payments. Many of these requirements will be too complex to follow. As the NFU have pointed out many of the proposed conditions of cross-compliance are already employed in everyday practice by farmers countrywide.
The UK beet sugar industry is facing a turbulent time. The UK beet sugar industry is one of the most efficient in Europe. It does not produce surplus quota sugar, it does not contribute to the European surpluses exported onto the world market with export subsidies, and productivity is consistently near the top of EU rankings. It is important that the changes currently being proposed for the sugar industry do not damage what is a vital product in our local area.
The EU have now announced its proposals for sugar reform will follow the same principles as CAP Reform in other sectors and have proposed a two-stage process involving production quota and price cuts.
It seems that these proposals will have a major effect on sugar producers in East Anglia. Plans for price cuts of 40% and a 16% fall in production over the next three years is very worrying indeed.
I believe there is a strong claim for some compensation to be paid for price cuts and I will take particular interest in how compensatory arrangements could be implemented. The reforms, if they are now to take place, must also be implemented in a fair way in all member states.
Anyone who believes in justice for rural areas will have been incandescent with rage if they had heard what I did in the House of Commons. The bureaucratic Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) claims in its so called “5 Year Plan” that they have an ambitious and targeted set of policy priorities for rural communities. It is purely rhetoric.
I believe farming and food production are strategically important and I worry about how much food we import and the risk of disruption to supply in today’s uncertain world. Too much imported food is produced in ways which don't respect the welfare of animals or the environment. The result is unfair competition for British farmers.
In our first month in office, the Conservatives would publish a Bill to introduce honesty in food labelling, so every consumer knows where and how the food they're eating was produced. We will toughen up the Code of Practice to stop supermarkets exploiting farmers, start cutting the red tape which strangles so many small businesses in the countryside, and simplify the rules for Single Farm Payments.
The Government has let down the countryside on far too many occasions. Their attitude on so many issues shows the complete lack of understanding they have of the problems faced by those fighting to maintain a living in our rural areas. A Conservative Government would listen to the real concerns farmers have and seek in practical ways to improve the lot of all those working so hard in our countryside.
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