I agree with Mike Keeble's plea for an understanding of the need for the sustainability of British farming (The Grocer, Comment, 7 October, p32). However, he also says: "The combination of UK/EU agri-policy forcing farmers to become subsidy-free is creating a rapid rundown in production".
In the past two years there has been a major campaign across Britain to double aid, reduce debt and make trade fair for developing countries' farmers. That campaign, leading to the G8 Gleneagles Agreement and to be taken up again in 2007 under Germany's G8 presidency, is to phase out agricultural subsidies to enable poor countries who cannot afford to subsidise their production to compete with UK farmers.
The EU, under Peter Mandelson, has not agreed, nor has the US, and thus the WTO's Doha Development Round, which aims to lower trade barriers around the world, has stalled. UK farmers will continue to get their current subsidy regime until 2012 and probably beyond.
Why does Keeble allege a "rapid reduction in production" given the continuation of subsidies? Farmers can produce or not as they wish. The EU is not forcing them to cut production.
I also hope the bid to reduce food miles is not simply a protectionist policy to stop poorer countries from selling their produce. The same goes for organic production, where demand has soared, and again UK organic farmers object to imports of good organic produce.
I have often complained to the organisers of Make Poverty History that they have not been explicit enough about who they are attacking over agricultural subsidies and why. Do they want the supermarkets to buy more from developing country farmers or not? Would they like UK farmers to use their expertise in developing countries to have high crop yields from sustainable agricultural practices, thus both feeding the third world and the UK? I see supermarkets leading by example on this. Why are UK farmers so reticent to enter into partnerships to do so?