The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan, has insisted that there can be no cuts in payments to farmers because of the EU row over Britain's contribution to Europe.

Ms Coughlan said the promises made to farmers in the recent CAP reforms are sacrosanct, and any dilution would be vociferously opposed by Ireland.

The serious threat to farm incomes over the current EU financial disagreements was highlighted this afternoon when Mary Coughlan outlined the annual review of her department.

The Minister was adamant that a ten-year commitment made to farmers about their incomes only two years ago could not now be unravelled.

Commenting on reports that subsidies could be cut by 4% in 2007, Ms Coughlan said there were difficult times ahead in these negotiations and farmers were now working in a vacuum. But she said she hoped good sense would prevail.

The Minister said that to many people outside farming, CAP is a dirty word. But she said that many urban people do not realise the extent of the changes farmers have made, and that their new single annual payment over the next eight years is not index linked.

Ms Coughlan also said her department is now broadening its focus to concentrate on lifestyle issues such as obesity and healthy eating. 

She favours a name change of her office to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition.