Red tape is strangling UK farmers, say peers

Dec 5 2002

By Amanda Brown, The Journal


Farmers are being swamped with red tape and need Government help to safeguard the environment, an all party committee of peers said today.

Chairman of the Lords European Union Environment Committee, the Earl of Selborne, said: "Farmers are inundated with regulations and advice from many different sources.

"The burden of paperwork threatens to overwhelm smaller businesses.

"Government and its agencies need to work more closely together to help farmers meet environmental goals. The key to this is a `whole-farm approach'."

Lord Selborne said the committee welcomed the fact the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had set up a Farm Focus Division but it needed more money and should have a presence in all regions.

"We were particularly disappointed to hear it would take 10 years to achieve proper integration of data systems. This is unacceptable," added Lord Selborne.

A peers' report says good farm practice must be promoted to reduce undesirable environmental impacts as well as to deliver environmental benefits but new approaches are needed.

The committee recommends:

* A risk-based approach which relies more on self regulation and less on formal regulation by enforcement agencies.

* A true partnership between regulators and the regulated to ensure that workable and effective environmental rules with known cost implications are developed, well in advance of starting dates.

* The new approach should be built around whole farm planning and environmental management systems.

* The Government should support the transition to new regulatory regimes with co-ordinated advice, training, IT systems and infrastructure provision.

* Unnecessary barriers to information exchange (such as the Environment Agency's inability to access data) must be removed.

The report, called Environmental Regulation and Agriculture, says that, of more than 50 items of forthcoming environmental legislation at various stages in the pipeline, two fifths will impact on farm activity in one way or another.

There are also major impacts, not all of them fully quantified, from EU Directives in particular the Waste Framework, Nitrates, Water Framework and Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directives.