The Agriculture Bill provided an opportunity to make empty shelves and empty stomachs a thing of the past, but it is an opportunity missed, says Luke Pollard, Labour’s Shadow Defra Secretary.
Farming is essential to our way of life.
And supporting British farmers is now not just about food production, it is a matter of public health.
We must urgently rebuild our food sector after the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has exposed just how fragile our food supply chains actually are.
We’ve seen supermarket shelves left bare, at the same time as millions of pints of milk have just been thrown away and fishers have found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy.
The government’s new Agriculture Bill presented a golden opportunity to right these wrongs, and create a food supply system which is fair for shoppers and fair for the farmers.
Sadly, it was an opportunity that was missed.
Food is a political issue. The virus has highlighted this.
Recent reports have shown that 1.5 million people have gone a whole day without eating since the start of the lockdown.
Now more than ever, we need the voices of farmers heard in Parliament.
On the Agriculture Bill, many rural MPs who normally shout about their farming links lost their voices and voted through a Bill without the protections that would prevent British farmers being undercut in future trade deals.
Labour will always work constructively with Tory MPs who are prepared to stand up for farmers.
We want to stop Britain’s high food standards being undercut in future trade deals.
Labour worked with the Tory backbenchers who broke the whip to stand up for farmers. Together, we are working to stop Britain’s high food standards being undercut in future trade deals.
If we don’t act, we face the threat of being undercut by lower-standard food produced in other countries.
All food sold in Britain should pass the same standards, whether grown in Norfolk or Devon, or Arizona or Thailand.
As a west country lad, I know rural communities matter.
The anticipated economic recession will cause significant pain in rural communities and farming will not be immune from its effects.
Real changes to farm subsidy rules and disruptive trade deals mean the voice of our rural communities needs to be louder.
I fear the Conservatives have taken rural communities for granted for far too long.
We need a new political consensus to stand by British farmers and stand alongside our rural communities.
We need a comprehensive look at how we grow, pick and fish, and how we distribute and price.
This must include working to the highest environmental standards, decarbonising and protecting habitats, protecting animal welfare - and improving pay for people who tend our fields and produce our food.
Nothing worth doing is easy and that’s true here.
When we emerge from this crisis, we must ensure that empty shelves and empty stomachs are a thing of the past.
Luke can be found tweeting at @LukePollard