NFU urges government to be global leader of climate-friendly food

minette batters oxford farming conference 2020_71800

NFU President Minette Batters has today (8 January) urged the government to commit to introducing a food standards commission that scrutinises future trade deals and safeguards British farming’s place as a global leader in climate-friendly food.

Mrs Batters made the call to Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers as part of a panel session at the Oxford Farming Conference, where she reiterated that the NFU will never accept British farmers being put out of business because of a trade deal that allows imports of food that would be illegal for farmers to produce in the UK.

A new food standards commission must be a fundamental part of how the government approaches trade deals and backed by legislation in the Agriculture Bill, Mrs Batters said. Its primary purpose needs to be the ability to scrutinise proposals in trade deals and make recommendations on the UK’s future food trade policy to ensure that UK farming’s high production standards won’t be undermined, with a requirement for the government to act on these recommendations.

panel session at Oxford Farming Conference 2020_71801

L-R: Theresa Villiers MP; Professor Fiona Smith, University of Leeds; Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth; Anna Hill, OFC director and session chair; NFU President Minette Batters

Mrs Batters said:

“This year will be the greatest reset for our food and farming system since the 1940s and the decisions made by this government will be felt for decades to come. We must once again recognise that there is nothing more important to our economy, our health and our environment than the very food we eat.

“One year ago, I declared that British farming could achieve net zero by 2040. The defining factor to reach that goal and help tackle climate change is a willing government. We are already leading the way in producing climate-friendly food in this country and this government has a chance to enshrine the UK as global leader in sustainability."

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Mrs Batters also urged the Defra Secretary of State to use the Agriculture Bill to provide financial stability for farmers and improve the functionality of our supply chain. She also called for the government to source all its public procurement to British standards.

She said:

“This all comes back to how we value our food and farming standards. British farmers are world-leading in our standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety. Farmers and the public want it to stay that way, which is why it is crucial that the government introduces a food standards commission that can scrutinise future trade deals and ensure we do not allow imports of food that would be illegal for our farmers to produce here.

“This needs to be backed in legislation by the Agriculture Bill – which will be so significant for our industry. But I can’t discuss future farming policy without mentioning water scarcity. Right now, potentially 50% of our potato crop is still in the ground and only a third of winter crops are planted. This not only reminds us of the unique volatility farmers have to manage year-on-year, but it also masks the fact that we face huge challenges in managing water in the years ahead.

“The first domestic agricultural policy in over 70 years must address how we manage water in this country. We are currently wasting one of our most precious natural resources and we need a revolutionary approach to how we plan, protect and pay our farmers to store water.

“There is government commitment to spend an additional £100 billion on public infrastructure over the next five years but we need to revolutionise our approach as to how we build better water infrastructure and power the change needed, as well as alleviating the flood risk which we have seen devastate so many communities.

“To reach our sustainability goals, we need to see a government join British farmers on their mission to be the most sustainable farmers in the world. We stand ready to work with them to make that happen.”

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