Letter: Safe food

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The Independent Online
Sir: Creating a Countryside Ministry while breaking up the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) on the way (leading article, 23 December) may seem an attractive response to the Ministry of agriculture's failure to evolve from a ministry for farming, but could actually make a bad situation worse.

The most serious threat to the countryside comes not from house- and road-builders but from changing farm systems, particularly farming driven by the lunacies of the Common Agricultural Policy. That Euro-maze dominates the rural environment and we need a ministry focused on reform, at least until the CAP is made a force for good in the countryside - something that could take years to achieve.

Your point that it is "far better to have the inevitable conflict fought cleanly between departments rather than ... within a single, monolithic department" applies with greater force to the CAP than to other countryside issues. Conflicts over roads and urbanisation are real, of course, but need careful and integrated planning - best achieved within, rather than across, ministry boundaries. Present arrangements are not perfect, but do put the planning of housing and roads close to those responsible for wildlife and countryside policy, as well as pollution control.

They also suit the present reality of farm policy desperately in need of change. Having a powerful environment ministry in DETR improves the prospect of that happening. The CAP is broke: fixing it, rather than DETR, should be the priority.

Dr JOHN TAYLOR

Head of Policy Research

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Sandy, Bedfordshire

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