Saj: Standing up for our famers and countryside

Conservative MEPs were recently closely involved in the long and extremely complicated discussions over renegotiation of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.

Although the eventual renegotiation in many respects represented a missed opportunity for the EU to make the policy fit for the current century, Conservatives successfully managed to oppose some of the most damaging proposals which were originally championed by the EU Commission and some member states.

The eventual CAP deal represents a huge wasted opportunity. As well as some improvement, it has many backward steps. Nevertheless, Conservative negotiators managed to remove some of the worst elements.

Farmers have expressed concerns about the UK’s membership of the EU and the level of involvement we would have in a future Europe and the possible implications for farming if UK changes its relationship with Europe.

Saj touched on the forthcoming EU elections, how the European voting system works but wanted to hear first hand from farmers.

There are concerns that policy decisions made in Brussels do not appear to be science-based. For example, the banning certain agrochemicals with further chemicals possibly banned/restricted. This can result in even stronger chemicals being used as alternatives.

Also Europe’s refusal to accept technologies like GM means the agricultural biotech industry moving from Europe to USA. This means UK farmers being left behind and weakens their ability to farm efficiently and compete in a global market.

A recent example of this is that British scientists have just developed a genetically modified potato which is resistant to blight, the disease which started the Irish potato famine.

This new variety is grown from seed which would make them more expensive to plant but farmers would gain overall as they would spend a lot less on fungicide.

Previous attempts to grow GM disease resistant potatoes in Europe have ceased due to resistance to the technology.

The challenge of getting regulatory approval for the new variety in Europe means American farmers are going to benefit from the fruits of European taxpayers' funded work way before Europeans as researchers have licensed the technology to an American company to grow them in the US. This means the new product could be available in the US within a couple of years  whereas it could take 8 to 10 years in Europe.

Opponents of GM crops say that even with the environmental benefits consumers will not be interested.

"EU legislation means that the new potatoes will have to be labelled GM" commented Sajjad "But the European regulatory process is expensive and slow means that this new British development is more likely to help farmers in other countries first.

"This  is exactly the sort of legislative red tape I and my Conservative colleagues are constantly working to reduce."

Finally but most topically, the group discussed the need to balance environmental issues with the efficient maintenance of ditches, rivers and their tributaries to help avoid flooding and the long term effects of waterlogged land that our farmers are currently facing.

Commenting after the meeting Sajjad said:

"Our farmers are amongst the most efficient in Europe, but the CAP did little to reward that. In fact it reintroduced old-fashioned market intervention in a big way.

"I and my Conservative colleagues both in Westminster and Brussels, will continue working to ensure that the CAP  reflect the needs of modern farming, while promoting food security, the environment and stewardship of the countryside."