This weekend saw the first nationwide Small Business Saturday, held on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Local MEP, Anthea McIntyre, was out and about in Ross-on-Wye with the town's newest councillor, Craig Morgan, to support local shops.

Speaking about shopping locally, Anthea said: "Ross has so much to offer the discerning shopper; we have a wonderful collection of small shops offering a wide range of goods and a high quality of service. I hope everyone will think about using local shops and businesses in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.

"It is really important to support small businesses - they are the backbone of our British economy and provide a high proportion of new jobs. I hope all kinds of small businesses will get involved in future. Whether you are a family business a local shop, an online business, a wholesaler or a small manufacturer, Small Business Saturday is about you!

Miss McIntyre also commented on this week’s autumn statement: “I was pleased to see that the Chancellor recognised the pressures on small businesses with a number of specific announcements including a 2% cap on business rate rises in 2014 and the extension of small business rate relief for another year to April 2015.  Thousands of pubs, restaurants and small shops will receive a £1,000 discount on their rates for the next two years.

"To further encourage the creation of job-opportunities for young people, he also announced that Employer National Insurance contributions will be scrapped for under-21s, affecting 1.5million jobs. National Insurance is a tax on jobs and any measure that makes it easier to create jobs is especially welcome.

“The final measure that will particularly benefit us in rural Herefordshire is the scrapping of the 2p increase in fuel duty scheduled for 2014.

“All of these measures plus initiatives like Small Business Saturday show the important role that small businesses play in our lives is being recognized.”

              

Electric, Hybrid and quiet combustion engine cars are making today’s vehicles quieter and this near-silence poses a serious risk to blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

That was the key message that Terry Smith, the Engagement Manager with Guide Dogs for the Blind, delivered when local MEP Anthea McIntyre visited the charity’s Birmingham Mobility Centre in Harborne.

“I fully support the ‘Safe & Sound Campaign’ which calls for the installation of audible sound generators on cars to improve road safety for all pedestrians.

“I had the opportunity to briefly experience ‘walking blind’ on the open road with a training dog, Rusty.  Once blindfold, you very quickly realise how dependant you are on sounds to help you understand what is happening around you.

“The necessary regulations have now been approved by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee and are expected to reach the full Parliament for approval in the Spring.  I shall try to speak in support o the measure then and will certainly be voting for it.” Miss McIntyre said.

“My admiration for guide dogs like Rusty is immense and I am very grateful to Terry and the whole team at Harborne for giving me this opportunity.”

 

(Photograph shows Anthea McIntyre MEP ‘walking blind’ with Rusty and accompanied by Terry Smith and Shelley from Guide Dogs for the Blind)

West Midlands MEP Anthea McIntyre, was invited to speak at a high-level seminar in Brussels on "Speciality Crops and Minor Uses". Following the publication of her report on “EU horticulture - strategies for growth”, Miss McIntyre was asked to contribute to the seminar by the European Parliament's Agriculture Chairman, Mr Paolo De Castro and spoke in support of minor use approvals – the system under which the use of certain insecticides and pesticides is permitted.

Miss McIntyre drew on evidence presented to her during the preparation of her report  and in particular referred to evidence regarding berries and asparagus.

“We are all concerned about food security and the likely impact of climate change on EU arable and horticultural production. In this context the fruit and vegetable sector is extremely important.

 

“The berry market, right across Europe, depends on highly specialised minor crops. These have significant pest and disease pressures not least because of their long harvest periods, the perishability of the fruit, and the very high expectations of consumers for quality. The range and complexity of soft fruit pests and diseases have significant economic impact and mean we need very effective and sophisticated control measures. Without these controls, the production of some soft fruit will become uneconomic in Europe.

“Overall, berry crops do not cover very many hectares. Therefore we very much need a minor use fund because manufacturers do not support use on these crops, because of the relatively low returns on their investment gathering the necessary data.

“Another example is asparagus which is grown extensively where I live in Herefordshire. The lack of crop protection solutions is having a significant impact on all asparagus growers in the UK. 10 years ago asparagus was eaten by just 3% of the UK population but today that figure has risen to 17%. British asparagus is grown on just 2,000 hectares and the marketplace is so undersupplied that some 40% of all asparagus consumed during the UK season is imported – mainly from Peru. Asparagus growers in Peru have permitted use of a much larger range of agri-chemicals than growers in the UK. The economics of asparagus production in the UK are already difficult due to the very restricted range of chemistry available. Further reductions to the list of permitted active ingredients will jeopardise current British asparagus production and curtail the expansion, which is urgently needed to replace imports from Peru.

“My near neighbours, the Chinn family, grow in excess of 500 hectares of asparagus in the UK supporting the livelihood of 12 other farmers and employing over 1,000 people. The current paucity of permitted active ingredients for weed and disease control is already resulting in the evolution of resistant weeds and fungal disease. We are now threatened with further reductions in the range of chemistry that has permitted use in the UK. In terms of herbicides the loss of metribuzin, linuron or pendimethalin would make things very difficult, especially linuron given current metribuzin resistance problems in groundsel. It is not commercially viable to grow asparagus as an outdoor crop in the UK without effective residual herbicides. Mechanical cultivation damages the crop, shortens economic life, and provides ineffective weed control compared with residual herbicides. Without more new herbicide approvals, the continuing availability of existing herbicides is vitally important. Without this we will not see continuing production of asparagus in the UK.

“A neonicotinoid insecticide is crucial for continued effective control of the common asparagus beetle, the most serious pest of asparagus in the UK. There is no effective cultural control for asparagus beetle and control currently relies entirely on chemicals.

“It is important to provide consumers with the high quality products they demand. We must also ensure crop diversity and a wide range of choice on the market.

"We must also avoid the distortion of competition with third countries.”

Miss McIntyre went on to praise the work of Harper Adams University and the innovative Centre for Integrated Pest Management.

"It is also important to encourage research and development in the European market for plant protection products to ensure high safety standards while still guaranteeing that operators can have access to the right tools to prevent, detect and control pests and emerging diseases as effect of climate change when this is needed.

“Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is absolutely the way forward. Here I must mention Harper Adams University who came to Brussels recently to launch their centre for IPM and seek partners for collaborative research within the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

"Integrated Pest Management should be a tool box of measures which includes chemical pesticides. I have great concerns over the hazard-based approach to pesticides rather than a risk- based approach. Our decisions must be based on proper scientific evidence. No farmer will use more chemicals than is absolutely necessary. Banning the use of some pesticides before ecologically sound alternatives are developed threatens our food security as well as the livelihood of 1000s of SMEs involved in the manufacturing of these products.” 

 

The need to encourage us all to eat more fruit and vegetables was discussed by food and nutrition experts from the World Health Organisation, International Obesity Task Force, producer groups, politicians and officials from the EU at a meeting hosted by West Midlands MEP, Anthea McIntyre in Brussels.

The forum was arranged to explore policies that would effectively encourage greater consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables and focussed on the health and economic benefits that such policies would have.

The benefits of consuming fruit and vegetables have long been recognised, and they are the only foods recommended in written dietary guidelines.  Increasing the intake of fruit and vegetables is a crucial component of a healthy diet and plays a major role in the prevention and reduction of the major economic, societal and personal costs induced by non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  Fruit and vegetable consumption, with other dietary improvements, benefits health and longevity, reduces the impact of socio-economic inequalities, lowers medical costs and is recognised by the World Bank and the European Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be crucial for optimum economic growth in Europe.

Dr. Godfrey Xuereb (WHO) noted: “It is alarming that in most EU Member States average fruit and vegetable consumption is below the minimum WHO recommendation of 400 g/day/person. Heads of State and Governments of the United Nations consider fruit and vegetable intake increase one of the challenges to be targeted by 2025.

In fact, average consumption of fruit and vegetables has fallen by the equivalent of one piece of fruit or one portion of vegetables in the last decade according to research by the European Fresh Produce Association (Freshfel Europe).

Professor Philip James (International Obesity Task Force) was adamant: “It is the perfect time to change the agriculture and food policies of Europe for economic benefits, and it is all the more important to do this in the current time of economic crises when diets are often deteriorating badly.

Miss McIntyre MEP concluded: “This meeting was an excellent opportunity to raise important issues that have been highlighted in my report, The future of Europe’s horticulture sector: strategies for growth” and which are so relevant for the fruit and vegetables sector. Fruit and vegetables account for 18% of the total value of agricultural production in the EU and are produced from only 3% of cultivated land. The sector is worth more than € 50 billion, with 80 million tons produced and distributed by 550,000 employees. I am delighted that my report could be a starting point for a wider debate across Europe to make sure that we can move with a holistic approach from awareness into action.