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Benefits of CAP reform

From Ms Helen Browning

Sir: As one of the "panel of experts" brought in by William Waldegrave to consider the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, I am concerned that the panel's report should not be interpreted as an attempt by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Treasury to slash funding to agriculture ("EU urged to drop farming subsidies", 27 July).

The report instead should be the first step to re-targeting expenditure to ensure that the public receives the benefits it needs and requires from farming today - healthy food from an attractive, vibrant countryside. An improvement in animal welfare standards should also be supported financially under a reformed CAP. Unfortunately, the group has been disbanded before it was able to begin the real work of designing the CAP of the future. The report gives indications of the objectives for future agricultural support, but "the devil is in the detail".

In particular, we must recognise that "free trade" per se is not the panacea it is so often held up to be. Without mechanisms to allow nation states the ability to protect themselves against competition from countries with lower regulatory bases (for instance, on environmental, social and animal welfare issues), we will be constrained from upgrading our standards due to the threat of becoming "uncompetitive". The lowest common denominator will inevitably prevail. The veal issue is a good example, as will be the pig industry when sow stalls and tethers are, quite rightly, banned in 1999.

This report must not be bandied about the EU as a UK-centric view of the solution. Indeed, I do not believe that it should go to Brussels until we can demonstrate our commitment to taking on board the valid concerns of our Continental neighbours, so that the reformed CAP will provide real benefits to both today's European citizens and tomorrow's.

Yours faithfully,

Helen Browning

Eastbrook Farm