Forgotten farmers?

by adamboyden on 11 July, 2020

Are the Conservatives selling out the British farming and food industry?

One consequence of leaving the EU and entering into the transition period in January is that Britain now needs a new domestic farming support system to replace the payments to UK farmers made under the EU Common Agriculture Policy.

This is included for in the Agriculture Bill, being debated in Parliament, emphasising that farmers will need to be paid ‘public money for public goods’ including suitable support for farmers to do the things the country needs them to do. This includes not only food production to a high standard, but also to conserve the landscape and biodiversity. There is an urgent need to prevent localised flooding, and adapt to climate change, including to plant trees and expand native woodlands.   

The Government may now be tempted to cut its support for British farmers, with so many demands now on its spending, despite previous promises to the contrary. Farming is under pressure in many ways, as ever, from changing consumer diets, and price pressures from large supermarkets. In addition the CV-19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains. Brexit still threatens farming, as before the pandemic, the vast majority of seasonal farm workers in the UK were from other EU countries; clearly the reduction in access for these seasonal workers will need to be replaced. There remains a risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which would mean UK farmers facing new high tariffs on many exports to the EU.  

The potential for post-Brexit trade deals to ‘flood’ the UK with cheaper imports produced to lower standards, that would be illegal for British farmers to produce themselves, has been brought into focus again in the parliamentary debates on the Agriculture Bill. The Conservatives’ election manifesto stated that ‘in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards’. Promises were made by Ministers that food standards would not be lowered in any US trade deal. Products like chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef would remain illegal to import. It worries me that that promise may not have survived the initial negotiations, with negotiators insisting US food exports are ‘on the table’.

In May, some 22 Tories rebelled against the Government, voting with the Liberal Democrats and others in favour of an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which would have kept the ban on food that did not meet UK standards, in any future trade deals. The amendment assembled a ‘grand coalition’ of farming, countryside, wildlife and animal welfare groups, who are united in wanting our food standards protected. Although the amendment was defeated 328 to 277, the farming rebellion is far from over, continuing in the House of Lords, and more than a million people have signed an NFU petition urging the government not to undermine British farming standards. Here in Somerset three quarters of the land, surrounding our towns and villages is farmed. Our farmers need a decent income to be able to invest in innovations and new technology, to farm more sustainably with less reliance on fossil fuels and unnatural chemical inputs. There must be more support to capture more value for produce through developing branded retail products outside the big supermarkets and food companies. The success of Somerset-based food businesses such as Yeo Valley and Wyke Farms (renewable energy-powered cheese makers) and local cider businesses are local positive examples. Our farmers are custodians of the countryside, and provide jobs, supporting our communities. They should not be further undermined by our own Government.

My personal view is ‘You are what you eat’, and I am glad to see this becoming an active consideration. I do not want to see chlorinated chicken on the menu. That is why I have signed the NFU petition, and why I have and always will support local farmers. I urge you to do so too. You can sign the petition here –

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