Food security annual review demand

| 13th May 2020
Young calf in a field

Young calf used in animal agriculture

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Agriculture Bill should protect UK farmers and consumers from deregulated imports in the event of a US UK trade deal. 

You can't have food security without nature being in good shape - you can't grow food without pollinators or healthy soils.

Farmers have renewed calls for an annual assessment of UK food security and to protect high food and environmental standards as part of new laws for agriculture.

Farming leaders also raised concerns at the Agriculture Bill, which sets out new policy as the UK quits the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy, being pushed through Parliament in the midst of the lockdown.

The Bill, which outlines a move away from subsidies mostly for the amount of land farmed towards payments for "public goods" such as flood prevention, nature protection and public access, returns to Parliament on Wednesday.

Undercut

MPs will have the chance to amend the Bill before it become the first piece of legislation to be voted on by the House of Commons' new virtual voting procedures.

The National Farmers' Union wants to see a series of changes made to the legislation including strengthening requirements to assess the nation's food security from every five years to an annual basis.

The industry body also wants the Bill to make sure British food, welfare and environmental standards are upheld in international trade negotiations and to establish a trade and standards commission to scrutinise trade deals.

Conservation groups, which support the move towards payments for public goods, back amending the Bill to ensure farmers are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards.

The Greener UK coalition of conservation and environment groups also want the Bill to require a long-term funding framework to be set at a scale required to pay landowners to help tackle the climate and nature crises.

Monitoring

But the NFU warns the switch to the new systems of payments should be delayed until at least 2022 at the earliest, when there is a clearer idea of the trading relationship with Europe and other trade deals, and says funding should be focused on agriculture and not other environmental objectives.

NFU president Minette Batters raised concerns about the Bill going through Parliament at a time when it was more difficult to scrutinise legislation.

And she said: "I think it's surprising on every level that this Bill is going through now, at this moment in time as we stand here today, the most important piece of legislation since 1947 does not reflect any learnings from this pandemic."

She said the pandemic had caused significant issues in some sectors, such as dairy farming, where demand dried up because of closures of restaurants and cafes and there is a need to implement a system to manage a reduction of supply or divert milk into storage or other uses.

She said it pointed to the importance of "monitoring what is going on on an annual basis, of measuring, sector by sector, our levels of self sufficiency, whether they are falling or indeed rising.

Recovery

"And only by doing that, can you then intervene with what needs to be done to make changes."

She said the Government could easily make changes to ensure food security was monitored on an annual basis and to set up the trade and standards commission.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, has called for the Bill to help tackle the nature crisis to ensure future food security.

He said: "You can't have food security without nature being in good shape - you can't grow food without pollinators or healthy soils.

"It's vital that we recognise the important role farmers could play in nature and our climate's recovery - this Bill could mark a watershed, a shift towards a green renaissance which would be good for the economy too.

Compromise

"MPs must not be swayed by the 'return to business as usual' lobby."

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: "Our landmark Agriculture Bill provides the opportunity to ensure food production and environmental protection go hand-in-hand to safeguard our countryside and farming communities for the future.

"The Bill legislates for a food security report which will cover a range of current issues, considering all the relevant data on food security.

"We have been clear that any future trade deals must work for our consumers, farmers and companies. In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards."

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

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