Elliot Morley today [Tuesday] today predicted a brighter future for the farming industry – as long as it met the needs of consumers.

Speaking at the Meat and Livestock Commission’s Outlook 2002 conference in London, Morley said consumers were looking for value for money, quality, variety and safety when shopping for meat. Other factors becoming increasingly important for consumers included traceability, animal welfare and environmental standards. Morley stressed the industry had shown a willingness to address the issues, but said more needed to be done.

“A great many farmers still seem to be interested only in the activity of farming itself, and regard the animal they produce as the end product. Closer involvement in the food chain offers the potential of added value and increased returns,” he said. Morley said the Common Agricultural Policy, with its reliance on production-based subsidies had been a major barrier to change in agriculture.

But he said the CAP mid-term review – which takes place later this year – provided a real opportunity to switch production aid towards the second pillar, which focuses on environmental and rural development support.

“Increasing the second pillar would provide resources directly to expand and develop schemes aimed at improving the environment and the rural economy, as well as giving farmers new options for developing their businesses. For example, it could help encourage new marketing initiatives or added incentives for organic production,” he said. The Outlook Conference took place at the same time as the launch of the Policy Commission on Food and Farming report, which has been chaired by former MLC chairman Sir Don Curry.

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Morley said the Government would study very carefully the Policy Commission report’s recommendations, adding that he expected to find many positive and helpful ideas that could be taken forward, together with agricultural stakeholders, to benefit farmers.