Irish farmers and politicians, who are united in their opposition to Blair’s plans to reform - or abolish - the Common Agriculture Policy, claim this is the key question in the current debate on the future of the CAP. They are making their views known to Downing Street in face-to-face meetings and by letter.
Echoing the line taken by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his government, Fine Gael’s Denis Naughten, the main opposition party’s spokesman on agriculture, warned that the abolition of the CAP “will put food production at the mercy of factory farms, hypermarkets and dodgy imports that cannot be adequately scrutinised”.
He added: “It is about time that those who want the CAP abolished faced up to the fact that without it, you cannot have food produced at world market prices that is of a high standard, traceable and without hormones or residues.”
The question was whether British consumers “want high-quality safe food or just cheap food, as the demand for cheaper prices is putting the squeeze on safety standards”.
Ireland and France are the main beneficiaries of the CAP. Last year the Republic’s 135,000 farmers shared payments from Brussels of k1.65bn, accounting for over 70% of aggregate farm income.
However, unlike the case with Britain, agri-food exports are hugely important to the Irish economy, earning a record of more than k7bn last year, with dairy and beef exports expected to increase again this year.
Ahern has expressed anger at the Blair attack on the CAP, especially as the British had agreed a new farm funding deal just three years ago that was to continue until 2013.