Monday, December 13, 2010

Carry on intervening

Conservative MEP and spokesman for agriculture Richard Ashworth has called for the return of intervention purchasing in the CAP in the interests of food security. He told a conference at the Royal Agricultural College: 'It's absolutely vital to have some sort of instrument through which you can intervene in the market - a tool or lever the Commission can use in times of crisis'. The only 'tried and tested' way to do this was through intervention.

Historically, intervention purchasing was a highly distorting policy instrument which was why there was a shift of guarantee expenditure to Single Farm Payments. It gave farmers a risk free market for their produce at a price which generally exceeded the marginal cost of production. Hence, farmers were incentivised to over produce, depressing the market price. It also encouraged more intensive forms of farming which inflicted environmental damage.

I suppose the argument could be that food security demands that we produce more in Europe. Leaving aside the implications for other parts of the world that would like to export to Europe, intervention buying is a crude and imperfect mechanism to achieve this objective.

There is a case for intervention in times of crisis to prevent the market for a particular commodity collapsing completely with damaging effects on production in the longer term. But there is also a risk of temporary help in crisis being converted to a permanent subsidy. All such interventions must be for a clearly defined time period and limited in scope.

Interestingly, Mr Ashworth did admit that a recent analysis showed that only 18 per cent of CAP spending delivered value in the areas of jobs, growth and competitiveness. This would make the current CAP share of the EU budget difficult to defend and he thought it might well drop to around 37.5 per cent.

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