The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has launched a new report, The future for food, farming, and the environment.
The inquiry 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 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 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.”
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
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.
Responding to the report, SWEEP Director and member of the Natural Capital Committee and Defra Science Advisory Council, Professor Ian Bateman, said:
“The government are right to target environmental improvement as the key public good farmers can provide.
“The present subsidy system is grossly unfair giving three quarters of taxpayers money to the one quarter of biggest (and typically richest) farmers in the country simply because they own the most land. The same budget could be reallocated to provide an income safety net to alleviate poverty amongst the poorest farmers in the country and still produce massive environmental improvements. This would be a win-win for the environment, for tax-payers and society, and for the majority of farmers.”
Environmental Public Goods
There is broad support for including animal health and welfare within Defra’s public money for public goods policy, but the paper has failed to consider wider food policy with public impact such as reducing diet-related diseases. It should support healthy food in payment models to farming, and bring forward changes to Government buying standards and ensure use of healthy, affordable and British food in Government procurement.
Further, it will be challenging for Defra to find the right body to coordinate its national public goods framework, and to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ in standards as the industry sheds EU regulation. The Government should assess which public bodies can coordinate the environmental land management system.
Continuing in his response to the report, Professor Bateman believes that the approaches set out to improve animal welfare, and access to healthy, high-quality food could prove ineffective:
“The report argues that public health could be improved through an expansion of some sectors of UK agriculture. This is well-meaning but misguided. Access to food is a public good and preventing food poverty is extremely important. However, trying to ensure that the poorest consumers in society have access to high quality food by subsidising food producers is at best highly inefficient and likely to be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. Food producers quite understandably sell to the highest bidder – that’s not going to be the poor. We should subsidise access to food not its production.
“The argument that we should use public money to fund decent levels of animal welfare is fraught with moral hazard if this translates into in effect paying individuals to not treat animals badly. This is better dealt with through clear regulations prohibiting poor welfare backed with trade restrictions against the import of food produced to lower standards.”
The report also offers insight into the issues of farm competitiveness and agricultural productivity, and trade and labelling.
The full report, The future for food, farming and the environment, is available for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee webpages.