From 1 January 2005, ten EU member states will introduce the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agreed in June 2003 that changes the way the EU supports its farm sector.

Member states had the option of applying the new single payment scheme (SPS) between 2005 and 2007. Ten states decided to start on 1 January 2005: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

In future, most subsidies will be paid independently from the volume of production. These new "single farm payments" will be linked to environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards.

The CAP was previously criticised for encouraging overproduction, but some campaigners say the changes do not go far enough, arguing that decoupling will not necessarily stop overproduction and export dumping.

However, EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fisher Boel said the reform will allow Europe's farmers "to become true entrepreneurs".

"Our rural areas will be offered a sustainable future, a chance to diversify and to contribute to making Europe more competitive. The reform will allow us to play to our strengths, producing world-renowned foods of the highest quality. And it sends out a strong signal to the world, boosting the chances of a successful outcome to world trade talks," she said.

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