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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 16:59 GMT
Prime Minister hosts 'food summit'
A tractor in action.
Farmers representatives will meet Mr Blair.
Agriculture industry leaders have met Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss how to change the way farming is supported in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis.

Mr Blair and Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett discussed Sir Donald Curry's report into the future of farming and food with the representatives on Tuesday.

We certainly accept what the Curry Report says, that there is a need for changing the way in which farming is supported

Margaret Beckett
Rural Affairs Secretary

Mrs Beckett said her department welcomed the Curry Report and stressed that the Downing Street meeting was aimed at identifying what the government and farming industry could do to implement its recommendations.

She had agreement from Chancellor Gordon Brown that her department had to pursue the issues and get the reform, but she refused to discuss details of any bid for cash backing.

The seminar in Downing Street was attended by farmers leaders, consumer groups and food industry representatives.

'Culture change' call

Sir Donald's report, one of three inquiries commissioned by the government into the epidemic, was published in January.

Its key recommendation was that farmers should get less subsidy simply for growing food, and more for using methods that protect the countryside.

Mrs Beckett said the report identified "the need for a culture change".

"The question is ... are you going to try and help make British farming much more attuned to the market? And it seems that maybe yes a lot of people do take that view, and that's very encouraging," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett.
Beckett: The future of farming and tourism depend on reform.

"We certainly accept what the Curry Report says, that there is a need for changing the way in which farming is supported, that there are things to do with, for example managing the environment that the market isn't going to pay for and support but the public wants and needs."

The future of farming and tourism depended on doing some of those things, she said.

The report also recommended substantial reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy, including cuts in subsidies based on production, in favour of schemes encouraging environmental and rural development.

Farmers are facing the worst crisis in their industry in living memory and all the government is able to offer is talk

Peter Ainsworth
Shadow rural affairs secretary

Mrs Beckett said Mr Blair was hosting the seminar "because he's taking a great interest in how we take this forward".

It was natural that people would want a timetable and money but the summit would first address some "practical examples" of how to move the industry forward, she added.

But shadow agriculture spokesman Peter Ainsworth said: "Farmers are facing the worst crisis in their industry in living memory and all the government is able to offer is talk."

Hostile response?

Opposition to the report may come from environmental groups, who say the plans can only work if the Treasury agrees to fund the cost of the changes, estimated at 500m over three years.

Anthony Gibson, south west regional director for the National Farmers' Union, said farmers were looking for a "clear commitment from the government, starting from the very top with the prime minister", on top of a timetable for implementation of the Curry report recommendations.

"We don't want it messed around with, the report. If it's going to be implemented, it must be implemented as a whole," he told Today.

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Streamlining the system will be no mean feat"
Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett
"There is a need for changing the way farming is supported"
See also:

29 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Farming faces major shake-up
29 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Farm report gets two cheers
29 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Wary welcome for farming report
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