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18 July 2002 Edition

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Sinn Féin's concerns

Sinn Féin spokesperson on European Union Affairs, Sligo Councillor Sean MacManus, has expressed grave reservations about last week's announcement from Brussels on proposed CAP reform.

"Irish farmers, particularly those in this region, have good reason to be concerned by many of the proposals being mooted by Commissioner Fischler," said MacManus. "The IFA and ICMSA have both rejected the proposed reforms because they believe that farmers would be worse off and that these new measures could put many out of business altogether.

"We must view these proposals in context. Over the past few decades tens of thousands of Irish farming families have been forced off the land. In the present depressed market, where prices have collapsed across so many sectors, the proposed cuts in payments couldn't be more potentially destructive. The reality is, - even without the proposed reforms - the future of Irish farming has never been bleaker.

"While I am still reviewing the recommendations in detail, I have a number of concerns about these proposals. The production payment decoupling proposals doesn't address the problem that farmers in many sectors have been poorly paid for quality produce. The proposed further restriction on beef sector exports is another major concern.

"The reality of the proposed 3% diversion of prior farm subsidy monies to rural regeneration is that this provision is discretionary. There is no guarantee that this would happen. Not alone am I concerned about the CAP reform proposals, I have no confidence in the negotiating abilities of Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh, who is set to begin negotiations on Monday. Over the lifetime of the last Dáil, he failed utterly to strongly represent agricultural interests. Further his government failed to stand up to Europe over Nice so this does not bode well for their commitment to stand up to Europe on CAP reform."


Food and CAP tragedy can be avoided


This is a tragedy of immense proportions and multiple facets. People are dying on our planet, one every four seconds, because of a lack of food. In the same world, many farmers are being told they are growing unneeded foodstuffs.

Irish farmers are among this group. They have their own dilemma. Many are trapped in a hopeless situation that makes them dependent on grant aid while condemning many of them at the same time to live and work in a structure where they are being slowly put out of business. A recent survey in the Six Counties showed that 70% of farmers there feel a sense of hopelessness about their future.

Meanwhile, a thriving food processing and brand marketing industry is pumping out millions of increasingly expensively packaged and polished food products, some of which negatively impact on the health of consumers.

We are presiding over an international food industry that, through intensive and profit driven farming methods, has poisoned not just the cattle population of Europe through BSE, but a yet unknown proportion of the human population too. This is just one example before we get onto the E-coli and cancer causing foods.

800 million people are suffering hunger in the world today, according to the United Nations. At the same time, an average British or American child watches about three hours of TV a day. This means they see 11,000 food related advertisements every year, pushing foods that are often high in fat, sugar or salt.

Any aspect of this scenario must be considered a problem. Taken collectively, it is clear we have a crisis on our hands

This week, agriculture ministers from the 15 EU member states met supposedly to discuss reform of the EU's €40 billion spending on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). CAP spending is the single largest component of the EU budget and has been one of the contributory factors in a bizarre scenario where food prices in the Europe are hugely high and attractive to exporters from less developed regions who cannot get into the European markets because of deliberate overproduction here.

Worse still, EU food producers often dump their agricultural surpluses in these other regions at bargain prices, thus undermining the local economies.

However, it is not this aspect of the CAP that EU agriculture minister Franz Fischler seeks to address. Fischler claims he wants to simplify the farming bureaucracy and stop the process of paying farmers to overproduce.

Instead, farmers will get a fixed annual sum based on the historical payments received and on the size of their farm, with a maximum payment of €300,000 being allowed. At the same time, these payments will be cut by 20% over the next seven years for all but the poorer farms, which the EU deems to be those who currently receive less than €5,000 in CAP payments.

It has been suggested that the Fischler proposals are driven by a need to ensure that the CAP is drastically altered before EU enlargement because the EU Commission is set against extending its current subsidy regime to the new entrants. Such heresy would mean that it wasn't going to be an EU for everyone and that the new EU entrants would not enjoy anything compared to the same level of farm aid as current EU members.

In Ireland, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) and the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) are on a battle alert and are campaigning vigorously against the proposed changes that they believe will cost 26-County agriculture €300 million annually.

Today, representatives of the Ulster Farming Union (UFU) are in Downing Street raising their concerns with Tony Blair. Yes, where is the all-Ireland agenda here? Surely the farming organisations and agriculture ministers in Leinster House and the Assembly should be planning a joint approach towards the CAP changes?

The IFA and ICMSA have been critical of not just the Fischler proposals but also of Fianna Fáil agriculture minister Joe Walsh for not being strident enough in opposition. They have not addressed the problem that the current CAP regime is creating in Irish farming north and south, where thousands of farmers are being driven out of business, unable to make a living from farming while the food processing and retailing business goes from strength to strength.

The OECD estimates that the CAP adds between 15% and 20% to the price of food annually. This imposes a cost of €600 a year on the average family.

It is clear that the CAP needs to be reformed. However, Fischler's proposals do not address the core issues of the role of the EU in perpetuating world hunger or the power and profitability of the international food industry.

He needn't worry though. These issues will not be raised by Walsh or the Irish farming organisations. They can barely recognise the problem of farm poverty in Ireland.

Already the IFA have linked the Fischler proposals into the Nice Treaty, saying that their support for the Treaty is conditional on CAP changes being blocked. So that's what it means to be a good European - shortsighted, self interested and naïve!


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