The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), WWF and Oxfam have joined forces to demand that any reforms to subsidies benefit poor farmers and the environment.

The alliance is lobbying the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett ahead of the EU meeting and calling on her to reject current reform proposals because they favour the biggest, richest producers at the expense of poor farmers at home and abroad, as well as the wider environment.

The proposed reforms, they say, create an uneven playing field where heavily subsidised Euro farmers will still have the upper hand, leading to overproduction, export dumping and environmental damage.

More must be done, they say, to help the sugar industries in developing countries, where the sugar cane generally grown is a far richer source of the sweetener than Europe’s beet.

The current proposal on the table suggests a 39% reduction in the price of sugar beet, balanced by a new payment to sugar growers in compensation.

To reduce the over-production of beet in the EU, it proposes a voluntary restructuring scheme that will offer aid to those running sugar factories and growers leaving the industry.

The NGOs believe the balancing act will do little to help farmers in poor countries while leading to less fields of beet in Europe, which provide vital fodder and nesting grounds for wild birds such as pink-footed geese, skylarks and lapwing.

Sugar production is blamed for more environmental damage than any other crop in the world, making producing a surplus ecologically indefensible (see related story).

By Sam Bond

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