Fruit and Veg

UK fruit and veg suppliers have been shut out of an EU compensation fund

British fruit and veg growers have blasted Defra for opting not to take advantage of an EU aid package offered in the wake of the Russian trade embargo on Western foods.

The European Commission announced a second aid package for producers affected by the Russian trade embargo worth €165m on 29 September, some two weeks after it closed an earlier €125m scheme because it was over-subscribed.

The new scheme is targeted at countries exporting directly to Russia, but NFU chief horticulture and potatoes adviser Chris Hartfield said UK growers could nevertheless have been eligible for support worth “several hundred thousand pounds” because every member state receives financial support equivalent to 3,000 tonnes of produce to enable it to withdraw fruit and veg from the market.

However, the UK government declined to take part in the scheme because it was opposed to the idea of withdrawing and destroying edible produce from the market.

Hartfield cited a letter received by the NFU last week from Defra, which claimed removing produce from the market would not be an “acceptable use of public money”, and said growers were “dismayed” at the decision.

“Some UK growers, like others in the EU, have had no choice but to destroy produce because there is no longer a buyer and a market for it”

Chris Hartfield, NFU

“The reason given for not implementing the scheme in the UK is totally flawed,” he said.

“The amount of aid on offer was not sufficient to encourage growers to destroy produce that they would have otherwise sold.”

Hartfield added: “The simple fact is that the markets for certain sectors have collapsed due to the surplus product in the EU. Some UK growers, like others in the EU, have had no choice but to destroy produce because there is no longer a buyer and a market for it – the aid package would have simply helped minimise their losses.”

NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Guy Poskitt said Defra’s decision meant UK producers had been denied the opportunity to take up aid that was being snapped up by its European neighbours.

“This feels like a slap in the face. How can we compete against imports when we are consistently facing an uneven playing field?”

However, a Defra spokeswoman insisted “using taxpayers’ cash to destroy perfectly good UK fruit and vegetables is not an acceptable use of public money”.

She added removing a further 3,000 tonnes of UK produce from Europe was unlikely to have any significant impact on prices.

“Apples can be stored and market conditions may improve later in the winter,” she said.