Ensuring the UK’s food supply is secure must be a key aim in all of our future trade talks, as well as post-Brexit farm policy, says Conservative peer Anne McIntosh.
History was made in April as Parliament returned from Easter recess to meet in a virtual way.
From a standing start with no remote access and only physical participation, both Houses moved to working remotely, enabling Parliament to resume its role of scrutinising Government policy.
While there were teething problems, they do not detract from this magnificent achievement thanks to the genius of officials and technical and digital wizards.
There are still issues to be resolved, such as the ability of select committees in the Lords to take oral evidence on the record and vote on amendments to legislation.
Solving the latter problem takes on a degree of urgency now as the Agriculture Bill will be making its way to the Lords for consideration very soon.
At the same time, the UK negotiations on future relations with the EU are ongoing, with the Government’s self-imposed deadline to decide whether enough progress has been made looming at the end of June.
UK-US trade discussions are also in progress.
Both have implications for farming.
The elephant in the room is the question of maintaining our high standards of animal health and welfare, as cheaper food imports are produced to lower standards.
UK food prices are relatively affordable, with those on lower incomes spending proportionately more of their income on food than those on higher income.
As we have left the EU and will not be bound by EU public procurement rules, the Government should encourage schools, hospitals, local authorities and the armed forces to source their food from domestic farms.
This would be a massive boost for UK meat, fruit and vegetable producers.
Food has a strategic value too.
Domestic production has taken on greater significance owing to the current Covid-19 pandemic and emergency measures.
Access to a safe and secure supply of food with traceability is vital in these circumstances.
Our self-sufficiency, the ability of the UK to feed itself without relying on imports, has reduced to approximately sixty per cent.
In 2019, the UK imported more meat, fruit and vegetables than we exported. Only in the drinks sector do we export more than we import.
Food security, including the ability to feed ourselves at affordable prices, withstand external shocks such as climate change, adverse weather, animal disease and pandemics, should lie at the heart of our food and farming policy.
It should also take centre stage in our future trade negotiations.
We cannot be too careful in knowing where our food comes from and that imported foods meet our own high standards of production.
We should be mindful of the fact that roughly every ten years we have either a human or animal health issue, from BSE in the 1990s, to foot and mouth in early 2000s, horsegate in 2013 and now Covid-19.
Good international cooperation is vital in this regard, especially with our nearest neighbours.
Anne can be found tweeting at @AnneCMcIntosh