LONDON The government should work for the scrapping of the European Union's farm policy and its replacement with a rural policy, a parliamentary committee said on Wednesday.
British proposals to reform the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) put forward when London held the EU presidency in December 2005 had been a "disappointing lost opportunity", parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said in a report.
The committee, which includes MPs from all main political parties, urged the government to redraft its "Vision for the CAP" to put greater emphasis on environmental protection, climate change and wider rural issues.
"The objectives of the CAP have remained unchanged for the last 50 years and are now an anachronism," Conservative committee chairman Michael Jack said in a statement.
The committee said the only long-term justification for spending taxpayers' money on agriculture was the provision of environmental and social benefits for the public.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has promised a "health check" of the CAP in 2008 to see how well it is working.
The committee said the government should grasp the opportunity this presented and seek to "direct the debate towards scrapping the existing CAP and replacing it with a 'Rural Policy for the European Union'."
In return for CAP reform, Britain may have to accept an erosion of its EU budget rebate, the committee cautioned.
"We see no reason why decisions could not be made in 2008 ... and then implemented in 2014, on the basis of a financial agreement reached in the budget review," the report said.
For its ideas to succeed, the government would have to adopt a more sophisticated approach than the one it used when it launched its vision document in 2005, the committee said.
The government's 2005 "vision for the CAP" said Europe's farm policy cost EU consumers about 100 billion euros (68 billion pounds) a year through taxes and inflated food prices.
It said a sustainable CAP would have no price support or subsidies for export and production while farm import tariffs would be gradually cut.
The National Farmers' Union called the committee's conclusions "disappointing" and "naive".
"This is a time when food, energy and environmental security is more important than ever before. The CAP must certainly evolve in the future, but it is essential that these are not jeopardised in a scramble to scrap the CAP," NFU president Peter Kendall said in a statement.