Defra consultation on interpretation and application of environmental principles - NFU response

Defra's consultation on a draft policy statement setting out how five environmental principles should be interpreted and applied closed on 2 June 2021. On this page you can read the NFU's response.

In March 2021, Defra launched a consultation on a draft policy statement setting out how five environmental principles should be interpreted and applied.

The NFU consulted with members and has now responded to the consultation. You can read and download the NFU’s full written response here.

The environmental principles and policy statement

The Environment Bill, making its way through Parliament, sets out that it will embed in national law five environmental principles:

  • The precautionary principle
  • The 'polluter pays' principle
  • The prevention principle
  • The rectification at source principle
  • The integration principle.

The Bill also requires the Secretary of State to prepare a policy statement setting how these should be interpreted and proportionately applied.

The Secretary of State must also be satisfied that the policy statement will contribute to the protection of the environment and sustainable development, and the policy statement will be used to integrate the five principles into policy-making across all government departments. The draft policy statement was the subject of the recent consultation.

NFU response

You can read the NFU’s full response here. In essence, we acknowledge that the policy statement will be an important document, potentially shaping the direction of government policy for years to come.

With that in mind, the NFU’s response set out that we believe that the policy statement, and in particular the definitions of the environmental principles, will be critical for ensuring that the environment is adequately protected, that sustainable development is supported, and that innovation is encouraged.

Among other points in our response we:

  • Endorse the importance of sustainable development as a golden thread that must run throughout the policy statement and should be the overarching goal under which the principles should be applied.
  • Welcome and support the requirement set out in the Environment Bill for the principles to be proportionately applied. 
  • Are pleased to see a number of references in the policy statement to the need to consider the financial costs and benefits of a policy.
  • Support the use of the definition of the precautionary principle used in the Rio Declaration, which is consistent with the UK’s commitment to respecting international commitments while allowing the UK to develop its own approach.
  • Underline the importance of innovation and technology to underpin agriculture’s ambition to meet net zero targets and for the wider economy to drive down emissions and thrive.

"Crucial opportunity"

Bioblitz at Minette's farm June 2018_56317

NFU President Minette Batters, pictured centre, said:

“British farmers are committed to caring for the countryside and protecting the environment, alongside producing safe, traceable and nutritious food for the nation. Productive, profitable and progressive farm businesses are essential to the continued successful delivery of both of these elements.

“This consultation has provided a crucial opportunity for government to hear from the agricultural sector on how to best shape environmental principles for their use in a post-EU and new domestic context. Sustainable development is the overarching goal under which the principles should be applied. The environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainable development are interdependent, but have equal standing.”