Under the Retained EU Law Bill, the government has an ambition to review all the EU legislation that was effectively ‘cut and pasted’ into UK law when we finally left the European Union.
The task it has set out to achieve is enormous: to decide whether to keep, revoke or amend each piece of legislation, and for most of those decisions to be made this calendar year.
Defra’s legislative challenge
It may not be a surprise to those of us working in the agriculture and horticulture sector, but Defra has the largest list of legislation to review – more than 1,500 pieces. I know we all feel that regulatory burden on a daily basis.
Whether this ambition can actually be realised is yet to be seen, but while it remains a priority for government, the NFU is seeking to identify the opportunities it presents, particularly in removing or amending legislation that creates barriers for business without any tangible commercial or environmental gain.
I suspect big changes will be difficult to achieve, such as the long overdue need to amend crop protection legislation to be risk rather than hazard based.
And there are other pieces of legislation that we are very interested in that are subject to review anyway, such as the use of peat in horticultural production, or funding through the producer organisation scheme.
NFU's ambition for horticulture
The NFU set out an ambition for horticulture a few weeks ago (in the absence of the previously promised Defra horticulture strategy) and a number of the policies highlighted are still subject to retained EU law.
We are, therefore, liaising with Defra to identify opportunities for improvement and for the ‘quick wins’ that the Retained EU Law Bill presents.
Many of the challenges laid out in our strategy will not be solved by the Bill, particularly the incredible challenges we face in dealing with one of the, if not the, most aggressive supply chains in the world. But even here, the government has a key role.
Market investigation call
We have been calling for Defra to use its powers under the Agriculture Act to conduct a detailed market investigation into the horticulture supply chain to uncover the buying practices, contractual imbalances, and risk profiles across the supply chain.
This would not only draw out the unfairness we are all familiar with, but show retailers, in particular, that they are not beyond scrutiny.
A similar process has taken place in dairy and pigs, and with a fall in UK production and empty retail shelves, there can be no excuse to ignore the plight of horticulture any longer.