Another stark warning on CAP reform

The production of beef from the suckler herd is completely unsustainable in the current market and production cost environment, unless there is significant backsliding in CAP reform, vets were told.

That was the stark warning given by Owen Brennan, chairman of Livestock & Meat Commission for Northern Ireland, at the British Veterinary Association conference in London.

He pointed to contradictions in government statistics, which show total income from farming is going up when it was untrue. "Government tells us that production in the first year after decoupling is going up but fails to highlight that this conclusion is reached by counting the single farm payment in substitution for the previous subsidies," he said.

"What needs to be understood is that the single farm payment no longer requires either the growing of crops or rearing of animals and it is misleading to include this form of income. We prefer to think of this income as the payment for public goods - predominantly care for the countryside environment."

Brennan said farmers' incomes as a result had fallen dramatically and demonstrated this by giving figures. The costs to produce a kilogramme of beef for the best farms were £1.89 per kg with no labour cost included, while the average price received at farm gate was £1.80."

He went on to say the extent of the gap between real production costs and market returns, now that the subsidy was removed, was so significant that farmers had to turn to the market for an improvement in the farm-gate price of finished animals. However, such improvement of market returns would be constrained by competition from lower cost production sources.

In such circumstances he questioned how the government could justify market access for products that were clearly demonstrated to be produced to a lesser standard.

He was critical of the lack of interest by the Food Standards Agency and Veterinary Medicines Directorate in imported food and said it was particularly remiss in relation to the Food & Veterinary Office Report on Brazil.

"FSA say that imported food is controlled by EU legislation and VMD attributes its position on importing testing to lack of government funding for Non-Statutory Surveillance, but it has submitted a business case to Defra," he said.

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