UK food industry responds to Defra consultation

By Aidan Fortune contact

- Last updated on GMT

British businesses have responded to Defra's consultation on the future of food
British businesses have responded to Defra's consultation on the future of food
The British food industry has set out its stall as the UK looks to the future of food in a Government consultation.

Various trade organisations have submitted responses to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation on a domestic agricultural policy for the UK once it leaves the EU.

It is hoped the consultation will help the Government create a “more dynamic, more self-reliant agriculture industry as the UK continues to compete internationally, supplying products of the highest standards to the domestic market and increasing exports”.

In its response to the consultation, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has focused on three areas – productivity, volatility and environment, in an attempt to make British farmers and growers the “number one supplier of choice to the UK market”​.

It called for reform to: be fair and equitable to all active farm businesses, irrespective of size or system; create a level playing field across the UK and with respect to main competitors; provide sufficient time and certainty for active farm businesses to plan, as well as opportunities for them to adapt and invest; and ensure public investment in agriculture remained effective in promoting productivity, providing fair reward for environmental delivery and managing volatility.

NFU president Minette Batters said: “A future farm policy could uplift British farming’s ability to produce food for the nation, giving us greater security in the supply of safe, traceable and quality British food that the public trust. The policy could further enhance our reputation for high-welfare British food, which delivers for the environment, across the world.

“Caring for our iconic countryside and supporting investment and growth in rural areas is part of the unique and irreplaceable role that British farming plays in society. It’s the bedrock of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, which provides 3.8 million jobs and contributes £112 billion to the nation’s economy.”

The British Meat Processors Association said it was important that the UK livestock sector didn’t shrink too much and that the nation’s food supply remained secure.

Meanwhile, the National Sheep Association (NSA) reiterated the need for sheep farming businesses to be productive and profitable in order to deliver desirable economic, environmental and societal benefits.

Chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The fundamental barrier to progress is a lack of core business profitability due to high business costs and comparatively low product prices. This is exacerbated by a culture in the UK of chasing cheaper food prices, and our future trading relationship with the EU will have an impact too. Similarly, a barrier to encouraging young people and new entrants into agriculture is the lack of reward – both financial and moral.

“NSA would like for the future of farm support to see capital investment options and incentives for efficiency improvements. We have long been promoting the need for and sense of a sheep health scheme that would support farmers in continuing to make on-farm improvements, while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprint. Such a scheme would reward them for a wide range of public goods and interests, including an array of environmental and social good-related outcomes.”

In its submission, the Provision Trade Federation (PTF) stressed the importance of the food industry to Britain’s economy. “The physical and economic health of the nation depends on secure supplies of safe, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food. From farm to fork, the supply chain employs some four million people and contributes around £112 billion of value to the economy.”

It warned against the uncertainty that exists in the situation and its impact on the food chain. “Uncertainty as to future terms of trade will make it harder to make business cases for the kinds of investments needed to remain competitive and improve performance.”

On the subject of international trade, the PTF added: “Pursuing an independent trade policy has the potential to open up new markets and grow British exports. But as all trade relationships are essentially reciprocal, it will be difficult to do this without also further opening our own market to others. This poses the immediate question as to how we protect our high food safety, animal health and welfare, plant health and environmental standards against competition from those with lower (or different) standards at lower cost.

“Remaining closely aligned with the EU in a free and frictionless future relationship should enable us to do this in respect of trade with the EU. But it is less clear how we can do this while at the same time concluding new deals on different terms with other trading partners.”

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