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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 19:39 GMT
Subsidies 'help large farms most'
Wheat, PA
Farm subsidies have changed from the start of this year
Figures on who receives European farm subsidies show most payments go to wealthy landowners, not small farms, according to a leading think tank.

The Foreign Policy Centre says they show people were misled into thinking the subsidies protected small farms.

But the European Commission argues small farmers are helped and says the system has changed to help them more.

Subsidy details for England have been released under new freedom of information laws.

Biggest payment

The Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), with the Guardian newspaper, requested the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) figures.

It is waiting for further details of payments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The biggest payment of 127m went to sugar refiner Tate and Lyle

The FPC's Jack Thurston, who used to be special adviser to Nick Brown when he was agriculture minister, has analysed the payments.

He said the figures included both traditional subsidies linked to foodstuffs and newer business development grants.

But it was still possible to draw broad conclusions from the figures.

"For too long people have been misled to believe that farm subsidies are about protecting small and family farms.

"This data shows conclusively that most of the EU's CAP payments goes to large agribusiness and wealthy landowners."

Large handouts

Mr Thurston said the figures would increase pressure for limits on individual payments.

The figures show that the payments were made to more than 100,000 organisations in England in 2004.

Only 17,000 farms received payments worth less than 1,000.

But 2,269 received more than 100,000 and 304 farms received more than 250,000.

The agency also handed out 53 payments worth more than 500,000 to farms and farm-related businesses.

Reforms

The Rural Payments Agency points out that help through the CAP is not all financial and says the payment figures alone do not give a full picture of support.

A spokesman said the agency said it only ensured the payments went to those who were eligible.

European Commission agriculture spokesman Michael Mann said: "There is no doubt that the CAP does protect small family farms because small family farms continue to exist and thrive in the EU."

The subsidy system had changed from the beginning of this year - after the period shown in the figures, he said.

Instead of being based on the amount of land and animals farmed, farmers were now able to produce what the market needed and were rewarded for preserving the countryside.

Mr Mann said the commission had putting limits on how much subsidy each farmer could receive - but the idea was voted down by European ministers, including those from the UK.

But small farmers did benefit from a new scheme which means 5% of big subsidies is taken back and redistributed according to need, he added.

A spokesman for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the figures showed the sugar regime needed reform.

The government had made those changes a priority of the UK's presidency of the European Union this year, he said.

"This is why the reforms we have already secured to the CAP are so important."


SEE ALSO:
EU urged to reform its spending
09 Mar 05 |  Politics
The return of the countryside
01 Sep 04 |  Science/Nature


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