Farmers have been hit with the release of two influential reports on the future of agriculture this week – one calling for a tax on meat and dairy and the other demanding tariffs on food be unilaterally abolished.
NFU president Meurig Raymond told Farmers Guardian the proposals in both papers could be ‘seriously detrimental’ to the economy and the environment.
The first report, from the Eating Better Alliance, was produced with organisations including Friends of the Earth and Compassion in World Farming, and said any future agricultural policy must push people towards a more plant-based diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It was claimed this ‘less and better’ approach to livestock consumption would also result in higher-quality, higher-welfare, produce.
The report called for the Government to explore all avenues to change people’s eating habits, including taxing meat and dairy. Other suggestions involved providing advice to the public on ‘sustainable’ diets and integrating such advice into public procurement rules.
Mr Raymond said the demands were ‘absolutely ridiculous’.
“We know we need dairy products and meat to be part of a well-balanced diet”, he added.
“Butter is now seen as a health product and there are beneficial nutrients in red meat. Taxing them would deny people the ability to buy nutritious food and price people on lower salaries out of the marketplace.”
The second report, which suggested tariffs on food should be abolished to make it cheaper, was produced by Policy Exchange – a think-tank set up by Defra Secretary Michael Gove and former Conservative Trade Minister Francis Maude.
Its authors claimed the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had reduced agricultural productivity by lessening competition and bumped up prices for consumers.
They called for the UK to phase out production subsidies and income support by 2025, with any remaining cash to be directed towards protection for public goods and increased R&D.
Policy Exchange’s director of research Warwick Lightfoot, who co-wrote the report, said: “The EU’s historic reluctance to open up trade in food products has repeatedly stymied trade deals and led to higher prices and a distorted farming industry.
“The UK can now lead the world in cutting tariffs and being a champion of free trade in agriculture.”
Mr Raymond claimed the analysis from Policy Exchange was too simplistic.
“It is so easy to make this point that all tariffs should be removed, but there are issues around standards”, he said.
“We are expected to produce to high standards and undermining them cannot be right for British farming or the environment.
“We also know consumers want more British food and we could easily put that in jeopardy with these calls.”