The Agriculture Bill has been on hold for what seems like an eternity, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to duck other meaningful reforms for agriculture in the meantime, says Kerry McCarthy, Bristol East MP and member of the Efra Select Committee.
It’s now over 215 days since I sat in the last committee stage session of the Agriculture Bill back in November 2018, and I don’t know about you, but it feels like an eternity.
While there’s certainly been no lack of political ‘drama’ in the ensuing period, the current day-to-day business of the House has slowed down to a snail’s pace, with only the Prime Minister’s non-controversial legacy projects making any progress.
As you’d expect, this slow-down has been exacerbated by the Conservative leadership contest, which continues to generate more questions than it answers.
It’s hard to believe a no-deal Brexit is really the hill on which they’ve decided to make their stand, knowing the well-documented consequences for food, farming and the wider manufacturing sector expressed by the National Farmers’ Union, Food and Drink Federation, Country Land and Business Association, Farmers’ Union of Wales and Tenant Farmers’ Association, to name but a few.
Elsewhere, at a recent event in Westminster, the Trade Secretary continued to countenance allowing imports of chlorinated chicken in a future trade deal with the United States, despite the repeated commitments by Defra Secretary Michael Gove over the past two years that it won’t happen.
Even with a Cabinet reshuffle on the cards next month, it’s deeply worrying that almost three years on from the referendum, Defra and the Department for International Trade still don’t appear to have shared priorities or be talking to each other.
So, among all of this, where’s the Agriculture Bill, and with it the new clause I tabled that would prevent the lowering of food standards in any future trade deal?
My colleague David Drew, the Shadow Farming Minister, asked the Leader of the House just that last Thursday, and as we’ve heard on repeat since November, he simply replied it will be coming back in ‘due course’.
In short, don’t expect to see it this side of harvest.
Throughout this whole period, I’ve been hosting meetings of the APPG on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming, and it’s disappointing to see such a lack of business in the Chamber when there’s so much we could be getting on with domestically, regardless of Brexit.
For example, we could be looking at halting the decline of the county farms estate, which I wrote about in my last FG column.
The APPG’s most recent session, to launch the Soil Association’s latest report ‘Setting the bar for a Green Brexit in Food and Farming’, was another prime example of this, showing what we could achieve either in or out of the Common Agricultural Policy by looking at what’s currently being done in France, Denmark, Spain and Italy.
In France, there is dedicated support for agroforestry, and legislation has encouraged an agroecological transition in food, farming and the education sector.
In Demark, the Government has used public procurement to promote healthier diets, with 60 per cent of all food in public settings set to be organic by 2020.
In Spain, regulation and voluntary initiatives are empowering small producers by creating a fairer and more transparent supply chain.
In Italy, legislation and funding is encouraging social farming which benefits not just public health, but the viability of rural communities.
While the CAP certainly still has its faults and requires reform, it’s clear to me it can no longer be used as a wholesale excuse by Ministers for inaction on domestic agricultural policy should we remain in the European Union.
If we are to leave in October, then we must learn from what is already being achieved by our neighbours and, at the very least, match it.
Kerry can be found tweeting at @KerryMP