Report on the future of farming and food launched

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The House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee has launched its report, entitled: The future for food, farming and the environment.

The inquiry carried out by committee members focused on the impact of leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and whether the government’s proposals will deliver on its ambitions to both increase farm competitiveness and enhance the environment.

The report responds to the government’s Consultation, ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit.’ The committee is calling on the Government to ring-fence funding for farming post-Brexit, provide much greater details on its new support mechanisms for farmers, and ensure environmental and welfare standards are maintained on products entering Britain.

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA committee, said: “A new funding model for agriculture is essential for the future prosperity of UK farming. As we leave the EU we must ensure that we maintain our standards, and that those importing into the UK meet our high standards of production.

“The Government should commit to funding the future agricultural policy using ring-fenced funds, consider new support mechanisms such as tax breaks and capital grant support, ensure that trade agreements demand that imported products meet our standards, and avoid a regulatory race to the bottom.

“Defra’s consultation is ambitious and we welcome much of its intent. There is a notable lack of detail in the Government’s paper, however, and we seek more clarity on funding, delivery, and timing. The Government risks not achieving its ambition and risks damaging the sector. The Government should respond to the farming sector’s concerns and provide clarity as soon as possible.”

Where leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is concerned, the report highlights the need for the Government to produce a thorough sectoral assessment of these impacts to identify support for small and medium-sized farms and should commit to ring fencing the funds released to fund the rural economy and environment. Withdrawing Direct Payments will have a varied impact between sectors, and particularly damaging effects will be felt by grazing livestock, cereal and mixed farms.

On the issue of farm competitiveness, the report recognises that agricultural productivity is in decline and the UK is falling behind its competitors. Given this set of circumstances, the Governement is now being asked to produce a farm productivity plan by May 2019 that investigates new tax breaks, advice centres, capital grant support and the successor to the agri-tech fund, amongst other areas of exploration.

There is broad support amongst EFRA committee members for including animal health and welfare within Defra’s public money for public goods policy. There should also be public support for healthy food in payment models. Government is also asked to introduce buying standards and ensure use of healthy, affordable and British food in its procurement policies.

The report recognises that DEFRA’s involvement in agri-food negotiations is positive, and the Committee is calling on the Government to ensure that trade agreements always prevent agri-food products that do not meet the UK’s environmental, animal welfare and food standards from entering the country.

Commenting, UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: “The House of Commons EFRA committee paper is largely focused on the Health and Harmony paper in England and essentially the committee is looking for more clarity from the government. However, there are some elements of the report that are relevant at a UK level. We noted that the committee is supportive of devolution but does refer to a need for a regulatory framework and does not necessarily get into the details of specific direct support within the regions. Their position on trade is particularly encouraging.

“They want DEFRA to make a clear statement that imports not meeting UK standards should be prevented. Also of related interest was their recommendation to improve origin labelling and to improve public procurement of locally sourced food. Both of which the UFU supports.”