DUP MEP Diane Dodds has criticised what she has described as the ‘continuing lack of understanding’ displayed by DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson when delivering his speech to the 2012 Oxford Farming Conference.
The theme of the 2012 Oxford Farming Conference was Farming in Society – Confident Farmers delivering for Society.
Mrs Dodds said that in light of the budget negotiations on the CAP, this is a focus that is extremely timely, directing the attentions of policymakers to the vast array of benefits which farmers provide for society and highlighting the role that the CAP plays in facilitating these efforts.
“The Conference focused on a wide range of topics, including TB, whilst emphasising the value of technology and the role it can play toward increasing production, and in turn, farm profitability,” said the MEP.
“The Genetically Modified debate was also engaged, with the view put forward that it can make a positive contribution to delivering increased food production and realising environmental benefits within the context of restricted natural resources. In respect of limited resources, the role of precision farming and the need to embrace such technology was also discussed.
“In relation to the CAP debate, my colleague on the Agriculture Committee Mairead McGunniess MEP explained the role of the European Parliament within the process, whilst outlining the complexities faced by the Committee, including the potential splits between new and old Member States. She shares my view on public goods, a view forgotten by many MEPs and National Governments; that the importance of food production represents the greatest public good. Food production and the availability of food are fundamental to human existence. While many deem public goods as environmental protection measures, enhancing biodiversity or improving water quality, we must not forget the greatest public good and the reasons why the CAP was first introduced – to in part provide food security,” said Mrs Dodds.
“In the context of the upcoming budget negotiations, as well as those aimed at agreeing a final decision on the CAP, the most disappointing part of the Conference was the position put forward by DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson. This is not a shock. I believe that this speech shows yet again that DEFRA as a department drives the minister’s opinion, rather than the industry. It was a speech that highlighted and reiterated the need to end Pillar 1 direct payments to farmers; a position which is not in tune with the majority of farmers and indeed the devolved regions within the UK. In fact, this is a theme which whether a Labour or Conservative Minister delivers DEFRA takes off the shelf, gives a dust for the Oxford Farming Conference.
“Moving forward, I believe that a speech which deals with the distribution of profit within the supply chain, finding new markets for UK produce and reducing red tape with meaningful ways of achieving these objectives would be more constructive, and would find greater favour within the industry.
“Furthermore, if the market was willing to return a fair price for the goods produced, the industry’s reliance on direct support would be reduced,” said Mrs Dodds.
“Ultimately, given rising inputs costs, bad weather, stagnant farm gate prices and the lack of profitability on farms, delivering a speech which called for the abolition of the only safety net which has allowed many farmers to stay afloat was unwise and unhelpful. Mr Paterson missed the theme of the conference and in so doing, has done little to boost confidence amongst the farming community.”