Just as the UK Government becomes responsible for food security for the first time in more than 40 years, the issue has drifted off Ministers’ agenda. The Labour Party will do all it can to ensure its importance is recognised, says Sue Hayman, Shadow Defra Secretary.
Sustainability has to be at the forefront of everything we do. If we want British farming to thrive, then sustainability must be the driving force.
Depleted soils, lack of pollinators, and polluted waters do nothing for farm productivity or our environment.
But the Agriculture Bill must deliver on food security as well as on environmental outcomes. It is self-defeating to separate these objectives and contrary to Labour’s principles.
With a haphazard, no-deal Brexit now a very real prospect, we cannot afford to separate these priorities. A no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for farming, food, and the environment.
That is why Labour supports the principle of public money for public goods. But it is also why we do not believe that given the intrinsic link between farming and the natural world, all the heavy lifting on the environment should be shunted on to the Environment Bill.
Our environment is in crisis, with soil degradation, species decline at an alarming scale, increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions, and illegal levels of air pollution.
Through the Agriculture and Environment Bills, we will seek to nail the Government down on key targets for recovering the natural environment, improving soil health and biodiversity.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s Green Brexit will soon wither on the vine without any commitment in the Agriculture Bill to maintain current levels of spending beyond 2022. This is something farmers and green campaigners are in complete alignment on.
For farmers to be sustainable environmentally, they must be sustainable economically.
That is why a multi-annual budget framework is one of the important changes to the Bill my team will be looking at over the coming weeks.
The development of a new agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our environment and food production. This is the first time in more than 40 years that a Secretary of State has been directly responsible for our food security.
And yet food security has drifted off the Government’s agenda. The Agriculture Bill is worryingly silent when it comes to addressing food poverty, the balance between promoting the production of healthy and sustainable British food and reliance on imports, safeguarding the jobs and health and safety of agricultural workers, and preventing trade deals being agreed with lower standards which would undercut British producers.
It is a matter of strategic national interest and social justice to ensure our country can feed itself and protect against volatility, which is why it is so important for sustainable food production to be a central part of the Bill.
A dramatic reduction in UK food production would lead to greater reliance on imports, where we have no control over production, animal welfare, environmental, and working standards.
The Government’s vision for the UK as a leading free-trade nation with low tariff barriers does not sit easily with its declared commitment to thriving British food and farming sectors.
Labour will oppose any free trade deal that threatens existing standards, and we will fight any such deals tooth and nail.
Sue can be found tweeting at @SueHayman1