Minister of State for the Environment, Michael Meacher, will be leading the British delegation in Palma this weekend when European Union Environment Ministers meet to tackle the problems relating to soil. The informal meeting starts tomorrow and talks will focus mainly on how to protect soil against chemical and physical deterioration. One of the priorities of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union, is to establish a new set of guidelines to prevent soil pollution and arrest the processes of soil degradation and erosion. The soil is a natural asset performing vital environmental, social and economic functions and must therefore be protected if sustainable development is to be guaranteed, claims the Spanish government. A United Nations report released yesterday outlined the true extent of the ecological and humanitarian crisis facing Europe, in particular forest and soil degradation, water quality and quantity, coastal erosion and greenhouse gas emissions with the addition of genetically modified organisms. Spain's Environment Minister, Jaume Matas, who will be hosting the informal meeting in Palma, will stress to delegates the importance of soil, as both agriculture and forestry depend on soil as a source of water and nutrients and as a physical medium. The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP for Oldham West, is responsible for sustainable development, climate change, environmental protection, water issues and energy efficiency and is also the UK's representative on the European Union Environment Council. Meacher and his EU colleagues will spend the two days examining a new document which points out the dangers which threaten the soil and suggests courses of action for the future.