‘Free farmers from burdens’

FARMING is facing a bright future, but Government Ministers must act to free the shackles holding back the industry, a conference was told yesterday.

Former National Farmers’ Union (NFU) director general Richard Macdonald, chair of the Farming Regulation Task Force, said with the global population due to reach nine billion by 2050, it was vital that UK farmers were free to produce more food while having less of an impact on the environment.

Speaking to more than 250 farmers from across the region, including Suffolk and Essex, at the NFU Eastern Arable Conference in Peterborough, he said he was determined to see rapid progress in easing the regulatory burden facing the industry.

He has agreed to chair an implementation group to oversee progress on the 200 recommendations the regulation task force made in May.

The red tape drive includes the aim of trying to reduce unnecessary inspections, and move to a more risk-based approach.

“There is plenty of bureaucracy, a huge amount of red tape and plenty that can be done,” he said.

“Whether we are looking at GM crops or excessive paperwork, these are constraints on farmers doing what is a hugely important job, not just for the UK but for the world.

Most Read

“I met one farmer who had three different inspections from three different agencies within 10 days. That is unlucky but also mad.”

Mr Macdonald said he was encouraged by the initial response to his report from Farming Minister Jim Paice.

The Government will be responding in detail early next year and his implementation group will then meet to take the work forward.

In his speech to conference-goers, MP Mark Spencer said it was time to tackle the public ‘confusion and mistrust’ over biotechnology in general and genetically modified crops in particular.

“The campaign against GM has been dirty, ill-informed and based on fear and suspicion. We need to counter it with credible, rational debate from respected people,” he said.

Mr Spencer, MP for Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, is a farmer and member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture. He said that if GM technology could develop an apple that reduced the risk of breast cancer, or oilseed rape that lowered cholesterol then it would be embraced by the public.

“Scientists need to start work on a project that will have direct benefits and that consumers will understand,” he said.

He urged farmers and farming organisations to lobby across all government departments to highlight the benefits novel crops could bring.

“Let’s make sure that we get agriculture back on the agenda. Agriculture has been the bedrock of the past and it will be the foundation of the future.” For more coverage of the conference, see Saturday’s County Life section.