Even with the Ag Bill in the deep freeze, Government can incentivise sustainable farming by ensuring public institutions serve more organic, British food, says Helen Browning, Soil Association chief executive.
This month the Soil Association challenged Government on its promises for a ‘Green Brexit’ and becoming an ‘environmental superpower’ outside the EU.
Our report - Setting the bar for a Green Brexit in Food and Farming - launched in Parliament with the APPG on Agroecology, looks at the supposed barriers to sustainable farming under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – but highlights how that hasn’t stopped other European countries from developing innovative policy.
While the UK has pioneered agri-environment schemes, overall a lack of ambition and action has been the main obstacle to UK progress, rather than constraints of the CAP.
A packed room of farmers, academics and NGOs at the report’s launch heard the UK cannot continue in the same vein if we are to address the urgent and connected issues of climate change, wildlife decline and diet-related poor health.
The report authors shared inspiring case studies from around Europe and pointed out that even at home, our devolved governments interpret the regulations and framework differently.
In France, farmers are supported to plant more trees and adopt agroforestry, and Denmark is well on track to providing 60 per cent organic food in public institutions, like schools and hospitals.
Spain has focused on improving trading practices in the food supply chain, while in Italy support gives a greater role for communities in farming.
Here, our siloed policies don’t consider the wider benefits to society from enlightened food and farming policies, and we lack targets to drive more sustainable production.
A move to organic farming would reduce the cost of cleaning up our water supplies, for instance, while locking up more carbon in soils, and taking pressure off insect populations.
Feeding children fresh, well-balanced meals would set them up better for academic success and a healthier future.
But food and farming policy is stuck, with the Agriculture Bill in Westminster weak and frozen, and the risk of no-deal still looming over farmers.
As I asked Robert Goodwill, the recently appointed Defra Farming Minister, at the report launch – why can’t we act now to incentivise sustainable farming by serving more organic and British food in our public institutions?
It’s vital we convince the Treasury to ring-fence the £3 billion farming already receives, and push for connected food, health, climate and farming policies.
We must also ensure UK farmers are not undercut by any trade deal allowing imports of products produced to lower standards than ours in other countries.
Farming and food are in the hot seat as never before.
Fairly and sometimes unfairly too, the sector is in the eye of the storm on the crises of climate change, biodiversity collapse and malnutrition.
Farmers can become the heroes in tackling these society-wide issues, but we need enlightened policy makers to set an economic and regulatory framework which ensures doing the right thing makes good business sense.
Our report shows some of the ways we could do this, right now.
Find out more at www.soilassociation.org/green-brexit/
Helen can be found tweeting @HelenBOrganic