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Country News - 2002

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Farmers and Government clash over nitrate levels
Tuesday 12 March

YET another head-on clash between farmers and the Government loomed today over the use - or over-use - of nitrate fertilisers and a European Union directive tended to curb it.

It is a row that has been simmering for years but one that was overshadowed by the BSE and FMD crises. The Government, and many conservationists, believe that over-use of nitrates is causing serious pollution, particularly of rivers.

Farmers, however, deny this and say that they cannot produce efficiently without such fertilisers. And in a rare collaborative move, the two biggest farming organisations, the NFU and the CLA, joined forces to attack Government plans to drastically increase the area of "nitrate vulnerable" land in England, saying they will be a hammer blow to farmers and growers.

In a joint letter to DEFRA Secretary of State Margaret Beckett, CLA President Sir Edward Greenwell and NFU President Ben Gill said they could not accept the Government's proposals in their current form.

The plans were put forward in a consultation to enable the Government to extend the EU Nitrates Directive. Farmers were asked to choose between all of England or a targeted area, estimated at 80%, being designated as a nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ).

It would mean some farmers would need up to 50% more land to spread the same amount of manure, with all the added costs this would bring.

In the joint letter the two industry leaders say:

"Businesses accept regulation where it is justified. But in this case the farming industry is being presented with proposals for which there is no scientific justification.

"To make matters worse, the method of implementation goes beyond even what is required in the Directive. And the Directive is unlikely to be applied with equal severity or rigour across the European Union, let alone to our counterparts outside Europe.

"The Government's proposals will be a hammer blow to the industry."

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