Industry response to Government’s Agriculture Bill

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The industry has had a mixed response to the Government's Agriculture Bill
The industry has had a mixed response to the Government's Agriculture Bill

Related tags Fresh produce

Industry reactions to the newly published Agriculture Bill were mixed, but questions have been raised about the Government's commitment to food security and the impact of future trade deals in a post-Brexit landscape.

Unveiled on 16 January, the bill outlines how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in future with public money for “public goods”​ – such as better air and water quality, and higher animal welfare standards. It also clarifies the proposed system to replace subsidies previously offered to the agriculture industry, via schemes such as the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

Among reactions to the Bill, trade was high on the agenda, with the industry pressing the Government to commit to safeguarding the quality of UK produce.

Food and Drink Federation (FDF) chief executive Ian Wright said trade negotiations with the EU and the rest of the world were reliant on UK food and drink maintaining its high level of quality and availability.

These trade deals, he added, were vital to the continued success of the industry, both in terms of sales and as a source of raw ingredients coming into the country.

Food security and trade

“We welcome the commitment from Government to keep our food security under review,”​ said Wright. “It must assess both domestic production as well as vital ingredients and goods from overseas.

“We are committed, too, to reducing our own environmental impacts and to working with others to increase resource efficiency and help protect natural capital across the supply chain.”

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters commended the Government’s commitment to report on the UK’s food security to Parliament. But she urged for the work to be put in to make sure it was more than a simple box-ticking exercise.

“It is vital that British farming continues to contribute a significant proportion of our nation’s food needs and that we set the ambition of growing more, selling more and exporting more British food,” ​she added.

“We look forward to more detail about how exactly the food security provisions will operate and how they account for the strategic importance of a robust and resilient domestic farming sector.”

Listening to industry concerns

Batters said she was pleased the Government had seemingly listened to the group’s concerns and properly valued the role of UK food producers.

“However, farmers across the country will still want to see legislation underpinning the Government’s assurances that they will not allow the imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal here through future trade deals,” ​she continued.

Gareth Morgan, Soil Association head of farming and land use policy, said the continued commitment to public money for public goods in the Bill was a good start, but he criticised the lack of incentive for producers to adopt nature-friendly systems in their production.

“The ambition set out in the bill is also totally dependent on sensible trade deals,” ​Morgan added. “If we allow imports of food from countries with low environmental standards, UK farming will be unfairly penalised and the Agriculture Bill will remain wishful thinking, with our impacts on climate and nature merely offshored.

Parliamentary scrutiny

“It is vital we have proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and it is worrying that the Government is resisting legislating on this.” 

Hilary Ross, head of retail at law firm DWF, was far more critical of the Government’s proposals for the Agriculture Bill.

The government has had three years to take steps to tackle the problems facing the UK’s farming and food industries,”​ Ross explained. “While the introduction of a system of payments is a positive start, not only could it have been introduced sooner, it will only act as a sticking plaster to protect the industry from the worst effects of exiting the EU.

“UK farmers need to prepare for tough competition from global markets and UK consumers should expect to see increasing numbers of food items from countries with standards lower than those required by EU law.”

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