Farming reforms not thorough, says Curry

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Indy Politics

Ministers are dragging their feet over the reform of Britain's ailing farming industry, the chairman of the first inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis said yesterday.

Sir Donald Curry, who chaired the Policy Commission on the future of farming and food, warned that too little is being done to implement the recommendations of his report, published in January.

The document recommended a shift away from production subsidies towards payments to farmers as stewards of the rural environment.

The changes would cost an estimated £500m over three years, but there was no mention of additional support in last week's budget. Yesterday Sir Donald told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: "To be fair we didn't expect major statements in the Budget." He said that he would wait for the Chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review, due to be announced in July.

But he attacked ministers for failing to implement detailed recommendations in his report, which he said would not have major implications for public spending.

"If the Government fails to take this opportunity we will have a farming and food industry in crisis and becoming ever more uncompetitive," he said.

He accused the Government of "cherry-picking" policies. He said: "A piecemeal approach, a cherry-picking approach to this report will not work. It is a whole. If we only adopt the easy bits of this report we will not move forward, we will not achieve the change that is necessary."

Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said ministers were not expecting a funding announcement in last weeks' Budget.

* Farmers' leaders yesterday welcomed the decision of a committee of Euro MPs to visit one of the areas worst hit by foot and mouth.

Members of the European Parliament's committee of inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak made their first visit to Devon

Anthony Gibson, the National Farmers Union's south-west regional director, said: "It was a very useful exchange. They were able to talk to farmers in the front line of foot-and-mouth, including those who had cattle slaughtered or suffered dislocation or financial loss.