UK Farmers Bemoan Green Red Tape

TELFORD, Shropshire, United Kingdom, January 17, 2001 (ENS) - UK farmers say an unprecedented increase in environmental regulation threatens to bring the agricultural industry to its knees. Environmental group Friends of the Earth says farmers should quit whining.

In a report released by the National Farmers Union (NFU) Tuesday, several recent government green initiatives are targeted for criticism.


The NFU complains that farming is becoming tougher because of environmental bureaucracy. (Photo by Ian Britton, courtesy
The Climate Change Levy and Waste Regulations and Water Bill are squeezing the life out of the industry, says the report, "UK Horticulture: A Time for Understanding."

The Climate Change Levy is a new tax on business use of energy which starts in April. It is a levy on energy use in the non-domestic sector in industry, commerce, agriculture and the public sector.

It is being introduced to help the UK meet its goals of a 12.5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the foremost of greenhouse gases, so called because they accumulate in the Earth's upper atmosphere where they contribute to global warming and climate change.

A report commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) two years ago praised the levy, saying it would bring environmental and economic benefits to the UK.

"The Climate Change Levy will not only help to reduce carbon emissions but will encourage innovation, enhance competitiveness and deliver new employment opportunities," said Dr. Ute Collier, head of WWF's Climate Change Program in 1999.

NFU Vice President Michael Paske believes farming is already one of the UK's most environmentally friendly industries, without what the union calls green red tape.

"British growers want to work in partnership with government - rather than in conflict - to help meet the country's environmental objectives without bringing an industry to its knees," said Paske at HortEx 2001, a horticultural trade event being held in Telford, near Birmingham.

"Horticulture has always been a vibrant success story, providing high quality fresh produce and supplying vital rural jobs," said Paske.

"But the industry is threatened with literally being 'exported' abroad by the mass of legislation forced upon it, even though it already leads the field in being environmentally friendly. The industry is committed to environmental protection."

The NFU says the industry is under enough pressure from recent bad weather, low prices and damaging exchange rates, without new legislation.


The government introduced a climate change levy to encourage fuel efficiency and help meet greenhouse gas reduction targets. (Photo courtesy WWF-UK)
Production in the carrot sector during 2000 is forecast to be 15 percent down, for example, and imports of fruit and vegetables have increased by 50 percent and 68 percent respectively over the last decade.

The report attempts to show the impact of new legislation on individual growers, including one grower who faces a 50,000 (US$73,589) Climate Change Levy bill.

It recommends:

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme is part of the England Rural Development Plan, a government initiative to redirect agricultural support away from payments for production towards assistance for enhancing the environment and rural development.

It is so popular with farmers, the government is struggling to keep up with applications.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) urged the NFU to lobby the government to help its members reduce their impact on the environment.

"Instead of whinging about measures designed to protect both the environment and consumers, the NFU should be putting more of its efforts into helping growers save money by cutting down on chemical inputs, saving energy and converting to more sustainable methods of farming," said Sandra Bell, FOE's food campaigner.

"For example, there is a huge demand for organic produce yet British farmers are missing out on the profits it can bring because most of it comes from abroad."

Organic farming works with natural processes instead of controlling them, by using methods designed to achieve sustainable production with limited use of external aids. The potential for pollution and other environmental damage is lessened as organic farming avoids the use of artificial fertilizers and synthetic pesticides.

Instead it emphasizes the role of crop rotation in helping to maintain soil fertility and to combat pest and disease problems. It relies on the use of fertility building crops and natural fertilizers, such as animal manure.

Under the government's Organic Farming Scheme, which began January 2, farmers wishing to convert to organic production can apply for financial assistance. At present, only three per cent of the UK's agricultural land is organic and supermarkets are forced to rely on imports to meet the demand.

Bell said revenues from the proposed pesticides tax should be recycled back to farmers through policies that encourage chemically intensive farms to convert to greener methods of production.

The government is considering a tax on pesticides as part of its policy to discourage their use.

"And European Union subsidies should be shifted away from support and redirected to farmers who deliver environmental benefits," added Bell.