Government urged to provide more clarity on sustainable food production post-Brexit

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The UK government's revisions to farming subsidies post-Brexit is a step in the right direction, a think tank says, but more detail is needed on how future policy will aid farmers produce food more sustainably.

The Green Alliance has applauded the Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to change EU agriculture subsidies with a scheme that pays for public goods.

Nevertheless, the think tank has asked for greater clarification on how regulation and incentives will influence the way farmers adhere to sustainability practices in order to produce food.

“Increasing crop variety and improving soil quality in the middle of field delivers public goods in the same way as the hedges and trees around the edges,”​ said Angela Francis, chief economist at Green Alliance.

“To be a success the new agriculture scheme needs to be clear it will reward all these public goods, put high environmental standards at the heart of British farming and not undercut them with cheap imports.”

Nestlé and retail task force

The report ‘Setting the standard. Shifting to sustainable food production in the UK’ is the first report from the alliance’s new Food and Nature Task Force that includes Nestlé, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco as members.

The task force believes an emphasis is needed to support British farmers in order to innovate and adopt new practices.

Food can therefore be produced that contributes to the natural environment, meeting UK carbon targets.

The report also says the development of a successful domestic policy for sustainable food production is dependent on trade strategy.

It states farms with high welfare standards and precision agriculture, growing high quality, sustainable, low carbon food would decline if it followed trade policy that opened up market access to food produced under lower environmental standards.

“Farms are businesses, and no business can thrive if it is undercut in its home market,”​ it said.

“High environmental standards for production at home, along with similar standards for food imports, are essential preconditions for an agricultural policy that protects and improves the environment.”

Four recommendations

The Green Alliance sets out a series of recommendations for future consideration, including one that asks for preference to sustainable food production.

“The scheme should encourage the shift to sustainable food production by rewarding the public benefits of climate change mitigation, landscape protection and pollution reduction that farmers can deliver by changing what and how they produce,”​ it said.

'David Fursdon, chairman Beeswax Dyson Farming added his support for the Green Alliance’s report stating that taking environmental responsibility was the “basis for building profitable agriculture, which needs to be supported in new policy to hit the right buttons for forward thinking farming businesses”.

Other recommendations included an upgrade in communication, particularly during the transition period between the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its UK-based successor.

The report believed that changes to regulations and agricultural support would need good reporting systems and enforcement to prevent any ‘gaming ‘of the system, undermining those who comply.

Innovation and standards

It also wanted a focus on innovative approaches for the farm as well as in the laboratory with policy supporting the adoption of new and environmentally beneficial practices, alongside R&D.

The final recommendation also looks to policy shaping with trade rules needing to align with domestic agriculture policy.

Support must be in place for farmers who invest in lower carbon, resource efficient, nature-friendly farming.

The report also wanted future trade agreements to support high environmental standards for products made and sold in the UK.

“This report reinforces the fact that farming needs a healthy environment to survive and thrive and significant changes are needed to ensure farming contributes to restoring the natural capital it depends on – the true spirit of sustainable agriculture,” ​said Patrick Begg, outdoors and natural resources director at National Trust.

“We are keen to work with other farming and environmental organisations to help make this a reality, including working with Green Alliance and our tenant farmers in developing and testing new approaches that can help build a vibrant and environmentally sustainable future for farming whilst delivering the Government’s 25 year environmental ambitions.”

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