Despite believing that staying in the European Union makes the most sense, I still tend to think that leaving the Common Agricultural Policy provides us with a lot of opportunities.
The Government recently published its command paper with the express intention of taking advantage of those opportunities.
Entitled ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’, the paper looks in great detail at how we can enhance the environment, reward farmers for the provision of public goods and maintain high standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU.
These are all good things, and as with many other aspects of the papers, I am pleased to support their inclusion in the Government’s outline plans.
However, what really struck me when reading this paper, was what was not in it. ’Food’ gets a mention in the title of the paper, but that’s about it! Agriculture’s most important product is pretty much tippexed out of the entire document.
This is a serious omission - the question is, was this omission accidental or deliberate? Either way, we should be concerned.
As a country, we are becoming increasingly less self-sufficient, with the latest figures showing that we import almost half of all our food.
So, it seems at best odd and at worst reckless that at a time when we are so reliant on importing food from abroad, that there seems to be no clear plan from the Government about how we carry on feeding ourselves.
The only thing that is clear at the moment is that the Government are set on removing the Basic Payment Scheme which, unless sufficiently replaced, is likely to lead to a reduction in UK food production and increased food prices. Bad news for consumers and for farmers.
Hill farmers in Cumbria tell me their concerns about the Government’s emphasis on rewarding farmers for providing ‘public goods’ instead of providing food. Already, we are seeing destocking as a consequence.
If this pattern continues we could see a further increase in our reliance on other countries for providing the food which goes on our tables every day. These are uncertain times, and therefore the worst possible time to undermine our food security.
If the Government is to make leaving the CAP work for farmers, then it must put a UK food production strategy at the heart of their plans. We need a lot more than a brief mention on the front cover of the command paper.