Jeffrey Titford MEP writes how EU directives are harmful to the farming industry.
The hot topic right now is the EU’s proposals for an update to directive 91/414/EEC, which is well on its way through the European Parliament and involves the introduction of a new hazard based system for approving pesticides to replace the tried and tested existing regime, which is based on risk. I have written about it at length several times in these columns in the past year, so I won’t repeat all the arguments.
This misguided legislation typifies the EU’s approach to law making – fix it, even if it isn’t broken. What it means for farmers is the loss of many of the chemical tools they have used for years to tackle some of the most pernicious weeds and blights. It is good to see that the farming industry is belatedly waking up to the extreme threat this legislation poses to the arable sector1.
Efforts to resist these proposals are being aimed at the European Parliament’s Environment Committee. Farmers are being encouraged to lobby the Committee by writing letters to the individual members and a petition is underway, which a number of correspondents have urged me to sign. Unfortunately, much of this effort misses the central point and is wrongly targeted. Decisions on what system to use for the assessment of pesticides we use in this country should be decided by our own Government at Westminster, not by unelected officials in the European Commission. The Environment Committee is only enacting the wishes of the Commission and its proposals will be rubber-stamped by the tame European Parliament.
People seem to be forgetting that what we joined in 1973 was sold to us as a ‘Common Market’ where we would do lots of business, which would be good for the economy. Who would have believed that 35 years later, officials at the European Commission, with no democratic legitimacy whatsoever, would be laying down the law on what chemicals we may spray on fields in Britain, while our own elected Government can do nothing but stand meekly by waiting to be told what it must enforce.
If you really do want to write letters, far better to send them to Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn, urgently requesting that Britain should veto these proposals and withdraw from the Common Agricultural Policy and, ultimately, from the EU itself. The one would inevitably lead to the other. You might copy your letters to Agriculture Commissoner Mariann Fischer Boel for good measure. Only by taking these dramatic but necessary steps will we ever again get sensible agricultural policy in Britain.
Credit Crunch Bites Farmers
Much has been made of food price inflation at the retail end, in recent months, but it is not being passed on down the chain. Price inflation is almost non-existent at farm level and farmers are now up against a triple whammy; including a dramatic fall in the price of feed wheat, down to about £90 a tonne, half of what it was last year, major increases in the cost of fuel and fertiliser and, just to put the tin hat on it, bank credit has dried up because of the current world financial crisis. Many farmers are facing disaster.
It has been instructive, if somewhat infuriating, to see how ineffectual the EU has been in the face of the credit crisis. While the Americans have swiftly recognised that regulations known as ‘Basel 2’ introduced in 2004, in the wake of the Enron disaster, have been a major factor in the current crisis and moved to change them immediately, all the EU has done is hold a series of ineffectual meetings after which a number of heads of state and government went home and did their own thing anyway. The Basel 2 rules were introduced in two EU directives and the process of drafting a new one to deal with the problem could take a year or more.
For those wishing to understand the Basel 2 rules, they involved the introduction of a complicated risk assessment model, which is used to assess the solvency of a bank after the end of a day’s trading. It produces an asset statement to determine whether or not the institution is solvent. All this is fine and dandy when the markets are rising but in times of recession, such as now, a bank’s assets appear minimal and no allowance is made for future recovery or the underlying value of the assets. This situation renders them unable to lend or borrow money, starving the banks of the only way they can stay solvent.
Without these inflexible rules, most of the banks that have collapsed might well have survived. While the bankers are taking most of the blame for the world crisis, the European Commission and some of our politicians should take their share. The really worrying thing is that the financial sector produces a third of Britain’s income but it is now largely controlled by the rigid and paralysed EU, which makes us horribly vulnerable to the present financial crisis and certainly doesn’t make things any easier for farmers.