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Politicians have promised a bright future for UK ag – now we must hold them to account

Politicians have made a lot of promises to farmers about UK agriculture having a bright future, and now we must hold them to account, says Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association.

The Government has worked hard, with success, in driving Brexit down the priority list of media interests.

 

This started in the General Election campaign, with a desperation to treat Brexit as something just to ‘get done’ in order to deal with lots of other more practical day-to-day issues such as health, education, climate change targets, and planting trees.

 

After the election, civil servants and Government advisers were told not to use the word at all post-January 31, and in the New Year, Ministers have been feeling bullish enough to step back from much media involvement at all.

 

Even as we approach January 31, when we officially leave the EU, things are eerily quiet compared to what we were subjected to last autumn.

 

Thank goodness for the Farmers Guardian Brexit Hub where we can still use the word!

 

I have sympathy with the Government’s approach.

 

Heal

 

We have to move on and heal the divide the national media contributed towards creating. Getting on with practical things which matter to everyday folk helps a lot.

 

And we have plenty of practical things to deal with, not just within the farm gate, but issues we must be optimistic about, aiming for that optimism to steer things in a direction which works for us.

 

Things like the Agriculture Bill, which has now returned to Parliament, that will frame the next era for food production in England and heavily influence the same in our devolved nations.

 

A (hopefully) closely-related Environment Bill and Food Strategy that will be looking to tackle climate change, nature loss, and provide an approach to feeding our nation in a way that promotes health and wellbeing and connects people more closely to their food.

 

Sustainable

 

All three of these important strands of work cut to the core of what sustainable farming should be about.

 

They relate closely to each other and must pull in the same direction to achieve a common objective.

 

Whether we like it or not, this takes us back to those issues set out in Health and Harmony – for farming to be more productive and profitable, and a need to maintain and further improve our environment in its widest sense.

 

In tandem with this, we have until the end of the year to agree a trade deal with the EU.

 

This is a timescale that will be tough, but the will seems to be there from both sides, and hopefully silence means people are busy!

 

Immaterial

 

Whether we can trust our politicians to deliver on their promises is immaterial at this stage.

 

The starting point is that promises have been made.

 

Among others, that farming and food production is important – within the context of improving the environment and becoming less reliant on support; that budgets will be maintained, although used for different things; that a trade deal with the EU can be done; and that environmental and animal welfare problems will not be exported by allowing lower standard foods into Britain.

 

Our task now is to continue to make a reasoned and valid case for agriculture in Britain, to take account of public and political interests, and to hold our politicians to their promises.

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