Oxford - Rising food prices provide an opportunity to cut direct farm subsidies and the European Commission's plans to reform agricultural policy should be more ambitious, Britain's farm minister said on Wednesday.
"Rising global demand for food and rising food prices make it possible to reduce subsidies and plan for their abolition," UK agriculture and environment minister Caroline Spelman said at the annual Oxford Farming Conference.
The European Union's executive adopted plans in November 2010 that would force farmers to do more to protect the environment in order to justify public subsidies.
It also proposed moving some funding from direct subsidies to a basic level of income support.
"While I welcome their proposals for further moves towards market orientation and international competitiveness, I believe we can be more ambitious," she said.
The European Commission's plan, which will form the basis of legislative proposals due by mid-2011, did not contain any details of the future common agricultural policy (CAP) budget, currently worth about €5bn a year.
A European Union source has, however, told Reuters it was drafted on the assumption that the CAP budget would remain stable.
Britain has been among the countries pushing for cuts in the farm budget at a time of debt problems in the eurozone and huge pressure on public finances in Europe.
France and Spain, however, have called for it to remain at least at its current level after 2013.
"Of course our vision for the future and goals we set ourselves must be tempered by the current fiscal climate. There's a need for a reality check. It's astonishing that the commission's initial views on the CAP barely acknowledge the hard times currently facing Europe," she said.
Spelman said as global demand for food rises, the risk increases of "wrong-headed protectionism", noting grain export bans imposed by Russia and Ukraine in late summer 2010.
Her remarks coincided with news on Wednesday that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Food Price Index in December rose to a record high, pushing past the levels in 2008 when rising food prices sparked riots in a number of countries.
She backed a proposal by France for Group of 20 agriculture ministers to meet to improve the functioning of world markets.
"I would like to work with France to seek an end to export bans - one of the most restrictive practices found in the world market," she said.