- Agriculture is more than just another industry. As well as supplying the food we eat, farmers have to be responsible for the protection and the enhancement of the countryside; but farming is in crisis throughout Europe, and especially in Britain. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) dominates British agriculture. It has more than achieved its original goal of eliminating food shortages. It has caused wasteful over-production, high food prices here and low-price dumping abroad. Millions of people in poorer countries are forced to export animal feed, rather than feed themselves. At the same time, the CAP has specifically supported grain production at the expense of livestock. Oil- and pesticide-fed monoculture has replaced thriving and diverse rural economies and put small, mixed farms out of business. As the environmental consequences – widespread habitat loss, soil erosion and nitrate pollution – have spread, so agriculture has sunk ever lower in the public’s esteem. Recession and the BSE crisis, brought on by government incompetence, have added to the problems – driving many farmers into bankruptcy and despair. A system of support designed to assist farmers, arguably at the expense of environmental and consumer interests, has now failed even the farmers themselves.
- Public confidence in food safety is at an all-time low. The market is dominated by a few large manufacturers. Suppliers’ and consumers’ interests are represented by the same ministry. This has delivered repeated public health scandals – notably BSE and salmonella. Added to this, the US bio-tech giants force unwanted products such as hormone-treated beef and GM food onto European markets, often with British government support, and farm animals are treated with appalling cruelty. Wessex Regionalists demand for us all the right to eat wholesome food, produced without needless exploitation of farm animals or the soil. We recognise that this will not be easy in a global market place, where all prices ultimately rest on the price at which the poorest can be fed.
- Farm and food policy needs a wider brief. We must produce trustworthy food whilst promoting regional self-reliance, care for the landscape, bio-diversity and good animal and soil husbandry. Fundamental reform of the CAP is a prerequisite. Recognising the barriers to this, we argue for unilateral action where justified. The CAP will be phased out and control passed to the regional level. (Devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales already have significant control over agricultural policy in their respective countries, within CAP constraints.)
- A reformed agricultural policy will naturally favour mixed, sustainable and job-rich forms of agriculture. Subsidies should guarantee farmers’ incomes, not prices. They should only be paid up to a ceiling level and only if strong environmental and animal welfare criteria are met. Enhanced support must be given to farmers in less favoured areas and to those wishing to diversify, de-intensify or switch to organic methods. A structures policy to prevent the random break-up and amalgamation of farms is necessary, defending and encouraging small and medium sized holdings as viable family farm units. Measures are also necessary to encourage the entry of young people into farming, with a special support package for entrants that includes low interest loans and start-up grants.
- As with agriculture, fishing is in crisis. Populations of commercial fish species are being driven to collapse by over-fishing. Fishing communities and the eco-systems they exploit are under threat. Policies such as the Common Fisheries Policy, the decommissioning schemes and other moves such as the limitations on fishing days at sea have not worked, and Wessex is suffering. The EU’s ‘total allowable catch’ must be reduced by around 40% if fish stocks are to recover. Yet technological ‘advances’ in fish detection have increased the British fleet’s capacity by 3% a year over the last thirty years.
- There is only one realistic way forward: fundamental reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. A new policy must be hammered out by delegates sent by fishermen from each European region, such as Wessex. A Europe of the Regions demands a Regional Fishing Policy. Such a policy must give each region control of its own fishery, subject to international agreements to protect transnational marine eco-systems and migratory fish stocks. Fishing activity should be controlled according to its impact on the marine environment, not just the target species. Protection for breeding grounds must be adequate and based on sound and politically neutral scientific advice. Net mesh sizes should be enlarged to protect young fish, and spawning grounds closed to fishing during the breeding season. Increased support should be provided to help fishing communities adjust.
- Trade in food should be removed from the scope of WTO rules, freeing individual states to set their own health and environmental standards and achieve self-sufficiency by reducing unnecessary imports. Imports should be controlled by taxing their transport, not by tariffs at borders, which artificially distort production and market areas. The market will be localised through support for farmers’ markets, subscription farming and regional marketing initiatives.
- The scientific case against genetically-modified organisms is not proven. Nor is the scientific case in their favour clearly established to be free of commercial bias, notwithstanding the argument that there is no other way to feed the world’s burgeoning billions. Pending a resolution of this controversy, Wessex Regionalists believe that consumers must be free to make their own decisions. Food must be clearly and accurately labelled. ‘GM-free’ must mean what it says, even the smallest percentage invalidating the right to make that claim. Bio-tech companies must become strictly liable for any harm their products cause.
A regionalist government in Wessex will:
- campaign for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy and related legislation to give greater emphasis to protection of consumers and the environment.
Meanwhile, the Wessex Regionalists will:
- support measures to increase more localised production and distribution of food.