EFRA committee publishes response to Health & Harmony

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published its report, The future for food, farming and the environment, responding to the Government’s Consultation, ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit.’

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 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.”

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.
Agricultural productivity is in decline and the UK is falling behind its competitors, the White Paper fails to address the barriers to productivity and so will not support the Government’s ambitions for farming in England. It should produce a farm productivity plan by May 2019 that investigates new tax breaks, advice centres, capital grant support and the successor to the agri-tech fund, amongst other areas of exploration.
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.
Defra’s involvement in agri-food negotiations is positive, and the Committee is calling on the Government to ensure that trade agreements always prevent agri-food products that do not meet our environmental, animal welfare and food standards from entering the country. This will be supported by the Committee’s recommendation to improve country of origin food labelling.
Once the UK leaves the EU, the Government plans to incentivise methods of farming that create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions. It intends to do this by leaving the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and implementing a new system based on paying public money for public goods.
The Government published its agriculture consultation ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’ on 27 February 2018. This paper consults on a new domestic settlement for agriculture in England which will help deliver the Government’s ambitions to “provide better support for farmers and land managers who maintain, restore, or create precious habitats for wildlife”. The results of this consultation will inform the upcoming Agriculture Bill, due later in 2018.

Responding to today’s report from the Efra Select Committee ‘The Future of Food, Farming and the Environment’, NFU President Minette Batters said: “The findings from the Efra Select Committee will be welcome news for farmers and growers, who have long been calling on the Government to provide clarity on future funding and how British farming’s high standards will be protected post-Brexit.

“British farming operates to some of the highest standards in the world. The report’s recommendation that the Government does not enter into trade agreements that allow food imports that do not meet our environmental, welfare and food safety standards is particularly welcome. It is vital that British farming’s produce and contribution to the nation is not undermined.

“The NFU is pleased to see the Committee request that government produce a farm productivity plan by May 2019 and believe this could be a vital tool in ensuring that farm businesses are able to perform at their best and continue producing high-quality, safe, traceable food for the nation.

“A ring-fenced agricultural fund, along with new support mechanisms would also provide a positive step towards this. Sectoral assessments of the withdrawal of direct payments, as recommended by the report, would help the targeting of this additional support.

“As the Committee points out, the forthcoming Agriculture Bill will provide a crucial vehicle for implementing these and many other aspects of future agricultural policy. We agree that it is vital that the Committee carries out pre-legislative scrutiny before the formal introduction of the Bill.

“Farming is a long-term business and farm businesses need urgent clarity on what their future trading situation, labour supply and funding will look like. The NFU continues to press Government on confirming how long a transition period will apply for agriculture to ensure farmers are able to plan properly.”

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