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UK says will fund sustainable farming plan

UK says will fund sustainable farming plan
LONDON - The British government has promised to fund key measures to revive the fortunes of the country\'s farmers, but farm and environmental groups were lukewarm in their response, fearing the money would not go far.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, unveiling his three-year spending plans to parliament, said farm minister Margaret Beckett would implement the core recommendations in an independent report to promote sustainable farming. The report by Sir Donald Curry was drafted in response to the devastation caused by last year\'s foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, an earlier mad cow disease epidemic and subsequent plummeting farm incomes. Foot-and-mouth alone cost the public and private sector more than eight billion pounds and devastated the country\'s meat and livestock trade. The report said 500 million pounds was needed for a radical overhaul of farming, moving it away from intensive operation and heavy subsidies to environmentally sustainable schemes and organic farming. Brown said Beckett\'s budget would rise from 2.5 billion pounds ($3.91 billion) this year to 2.9 billion in 2005/06. Britain\'s National Farmers Union said that while it needed to study the full text of the proposals, the announcement had to be seen in context of the \"severe\" plight facing agriculture. \"Like all the other elements of this announcement, this proposal will need close examination. As always, the devil is in the detail,\" NFU chief Ben Gill said. Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth said that the figures mentioned needed careful checking to see whether the full Curry report package had really been funded. \"The Chancellor\'s reference to \"core\" recommendations only is worrying in this respect,\" it added. Beckett, who has trodden a cautious path on the prospects of getting some 500 million pounds of funding over three years, welcomed the settlement. \"DEFRA will use these new resources to respond positively to the recommendations of the Curry Commission, working with the industry to ensure we move towards a sustainable future for food and farming,\" she said in a statement. \"The additional funding also allows the department to provide the leadership necessary to deliver its rural affairs remit, working in partnership with other government departments and agencies to improve the prosperity of rural areas and improve access to services,\" she added. Friends of the Earth called on DEFRA to spend the new money wisely. \"Tackling the power of large companies at the top end of the food chain who force farm gate prices down must also be a top government priority, if the rural economy is ever to get back on its feet\". (Additional reporting by Mike Peacock). Story by Veronica Brown REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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