JANUARY was a significant month for the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee with the two day voting session being the culmination of months of work aimed at agreeing the committee’s position on the CAP reform and it was good that members of the YFCU were in Brussels during the week of the vote, writes Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson.
The positions taken by the committee go some way to address some of the most foolish proposals published by the commission in October 2011 and we are now analysing where further improvement can be made ahead of the vote by the full parliament.
The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is also undergoing reform and earlier this week Parliament voted on a package of proposals ahead of final negotiations with the council and commission. These are both significant votes – because of co-decision MEPs are for the first time actively and formally involved in forging the final outcome of these two flagship pieces of EU policy and the outcomes of both processes will shape their relevant sectors for years to come.
We are now well into the Republic of Ireland’s six-month presidency of the EU. In recent weeks various ministers have been outlining their priorities for the months ahead. Simon Coveney appeared before the agriculture committee for a question and answer session with MEPs. This was a good opportunity to gauge the minister’s views on all aspects of the CAP reform process. Right from the outset of the current reform food security was repeatedly cited as a top priority, however the commission’s proposals fail to address this. The reality of feeding a rapidly growing world population must be reflected in the final package and I was glad that Minister Coveney agreed with me on the importance of this. I also used the opportunity to raise concerns relating to the complexity and administrative cost of many aspects of the proposals – commission estimates suggest they will cost 15% more to administer. As I said during the session I will do everything to help secure a deal but I will not agree to a deal that cannot be implemented. The final CAP package must work on an administrative level for government departments and crucially it must work at ground level for farmers.
At this stage MEPs are working towards agreeing their final position while Minister Coveney has the complex task of finding a negotiating mandate that has the support of the EU’s agriculture ministers. The other remaining piece of the puzzle is of course the EU’s long term budget – the MFF. At the time of going to press indications are that a deal is in the offing with talks set to resume again at noon today (Friday) but it is still unclear as to the outcome of the crunch talks between the EU’s heads of state. Prior to the meeting French president François Hollande reiterated his desire to see the CAP budget protected while Prime Minister David Cameron once again called for the EU to scale back its budget plans. The range of views on the MFF means reaching a unanimous decision – as each member atate has a veto – is difficult. In terms of the CAP governments were not expected to cut anything over and above the n17.7bn reduction proposed in November – although I feel that given the strategic importance of food security cutting agriculture is a mistake – with additional cuts likely to be directed at administration, Connecting Europe Facility and Research and Innovation.
The detection of horse DNA in burgers and other products and the discovery of horse meat labelled as beef in a cold store in Northern Ireland are worrying developments. It is crucial that these cases are fully investigated and those responsible identified to ensure that this is not allowed to occur again. I feel that retailers must also accept that constant pressure on the supply chain for lower prices is unsustainable. These incidents remind us that consumer confidence is important to the success of the agri-food sector and on the back of this we should not shy away from ‘banging the drum’ to promote the quality and traceability of Northern Ireland beef and local produce in general – food produced to the highest standards by our own farmers and growers.
The recently released provisional figures showing a halving of farm incomes should also be a wakeup call to us all. While it may come as no surprise that 2012 was one farmers will not wish to see repeated given the weather and its impact on land and stock management and fodder quality, plus rising input costs the sheer scale of the fall in incomes totalling around £147 million is shocking. While there are some factors outside of our control there is considerable scope for the supply chain to deliver a fair standard of living and prices for our primary producers in all sectors. The appointment of Christine Tacon as the first groceries code adjudicator is a step towards realising this. Everyone must recognise that primary producers are the foundation of the entire food supply chain and that an imbalance within it in terms of distributing costs and profits, risks and rewards is unsustainable and damaging in the longer term.