13 November 2003 Edition

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Ferris concern over falling farm numbers

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD, has expressed concern over figures that show a continuing decline in the number of family farms.The North Kerry TD was commenting upon statistics contained in the 'Compendium of Irish Agricultural Statistics 2003', published last week by the Department of Agriculture and Food. Among the key findings are that family farms fell by 3,100 between 2001 and 2002, and that the total employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing declined by 7,500 last year.

Farmers owed a massive €1.2 billion in debt in 2002, which amounted to half of total operating surplus. Farmers were also more dependent than before on EU subsidies, while almost half of farmers or their spouses have an off-farm job to supplement their income.

"Much of what the statistics reveal is a matter of concern," said Ferris. "Family farm numbers have continued to fall and 90% of that decline was among farmers who have less than 50 hectares. The continuing concentration of the dairy sector has led to 7,000 farmers leaving dairying between 1997 and 2000.

"With the Minister admitting that this trend is set to continue, we may expect to see a further decline in family farms. That is why it is so important that the current CAP reform package is made part of a broader strategy to ensure that all those who wish to remain in farming may do so. The decoupled single payment does provide the basis for that, if complemented by other measures to ensure that small to medium sized producers can take best advantage of the move towards higher quality production that will boost their income, and contribute to a strengthening of the processing sector."

Sinn Féin slams EU Commission over GM move

Sinn Féin spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development — Martin Ferris TD and Fermanagh South Tyrone candidate Councillor Gerry McHugh — have strongly criticised the EU Commission for having succumbed to US pressure to allow the sale of genetically modified food.

Ferris and McHugh were speaking following a decision by a Commission group to postpone a vote on the sale of genetically modified sweetcorn until December. The product in question is a variety known as 'Bt 11' manufactured by the Swiss corporation Syngenta.

"This attempt by the Commission to approve the sale of GM foods must be regarded with suspicion," said Ferris. "It would appear clear that they are trying to get approval for this product before more stringent regulations come into force.

"The Commission is caving in to pressure from the United States, which has a massive interest in opening up European markets for GM, but is opposed by the vast majority of European farmers and consumers. The fact that the decision was postponed, however, would indicate that there is still opposition among the 15.

"We will be asking Minister Joe Walsh to explain what way the Irish representative voted, and will be calling on him to ensure that when this issue comes back for decision on 12 December, that Ireland opposes the move".

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