OVER sixty groups, including the NFU, RSPCA and Soil Association, have sent a joint letter to the prime minister calling for UK food standards to be protected after Brexit.
The letter was sent to coincide with the passage of Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which has now had Royal Assent.
The groups agree that Brexit provides an opportunity to foster a sustainable, carbon-neutral model of farming in the UK building on high quality, safe and affordable food.
But they say the government must include its manifesto commitment to protecting animal welfare and food standards when trade negotiations commence.
Speaking to the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month, DEFRA Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Our strong British brand is built on high standards to which we hold ourselves.
“The high standards of British farming are the backbone of our biggest manufacturing sector of food and drink.
“We will not dilute our strong environmental protection, we will not dilute our high standards of food safety and animal welfare,” said Ms Villiers.
The UK Government’s ‘commitment’ on those issues appears nowhere in the UK Agriculture Bill proposed by Westminster and it rejected calls to incorporate regulations regarding food safety and standards within it.
A poll of delegates at the same Conference revealed no confidence that the UK Government would stick to its commitments on food safety and animal welfare.
The previous DEFRA Secretary, Michael Gove, promised a trade and standards commission should be created to oversee future trade talks. The UK Government has now ditched the idea altogether, leading to fears the UK Government is willing to sacrifice the UK’s farmers to get a trade deal – any trade deal.
Boris Johnson pledged in the past “not to in any way prejudice or jeopardise our standards of animal welfare or food hygiene”, and the Secretary of State for Defra recently promised to “defend our national interests and our values, including our high standards of animal welfare.”
The Conservative Party’s manifesto also committed that “in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
But the joint letter states that there will be ‘intense pressure’ on British negotiators to make ‘significant concessions’.
“It is vital that we have more than just verbal assurances to ensure our standards are properly safeguarded,” it says.
“In light of this, we urge you to take some specific actions we believe will enable you to ensure that the UK government can achieve its commitment to safeguarding the standar
ds of UK production, now and in the future.”
The groups add that Brexit means the UK can pioneer a new type of global trading system; one that moves away from the ‘narrow and dated focus on ever-cheaper goods’, to one that rises to the challenges of climate change and promotes sustainable models of production and consumption.
The letter concludes: “With the enactment of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill and our formal departure from the EU just days away, we believe these measures must be pursued as a priority.
“We believe that with the right policy framework and the establishment of a clear understanding of our shared vision for the future, Brexit can be a catalyst for the UK’s farming not just to be the envy of the world, but to provide a gold-standard model for high standard, high quality, sustainable food production.
“We would welcome the chance for a delegation of the signatories to this letter to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss how we can work in partnership to achieve this vision.”
TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn said “We welcome the Government’s stated objectives to ensure we do not undermine our high food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards in our future trading relationships.
“Those commitments will be mere rhetoric without clear legislation to protect standards at our borders. Within the rules of the WTO, we will not get off first base if we can’t point to firm legislation which supports our standards.”
Together with a strong statute, Mr Dunn says the Government must also be smart in how it will use its newfound powers to set tariffs on imports.
“Producing to higher standards at home in comparison to some of the methods of production used abroad, inevitably, leads to higher costs. We must not undermine UK producers by allowing tariff-free or low tariff access to the UK market for food and food ingredients produced to standards which would be illegal domestically.
“While the Government is mindful not to add to costs for consumers, it is also in consumers’ long-term interest to ensure the production systems are operating to good standards. Smart use of our tariff arrangements will be a key part of our armoury,” said Mr Dunn
Farming remains ‘backbone of rural life’ says MP Crabb ahead of Pembrokeshire County Show
PEMBROKESHIRE’S biggest agricultural event is due to take place over two days, on 17th and 18th August showcasing equine and livestock, craft and horticulture, show jumping, poultry and more. The show is organised by Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society, along with a large number of volunteers, and sponsorship from local businesses.
This year’s event, returning to its usual large scale format for the first time since 2019, serves as a real celebration of rural life in the County. Mr Crabb, alongside other local representatives, will host a stand at Pembrokeshire Agricultural Show at the County Showground, just outside Haverfordwest.
Speaking in a debate in Parliament this afternoon about County agricultural shows, Mr Crabb highlighted their role as a shop window for outstanding produce. He also paid tribute to Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society and praised the work of volunteers in facilitating the show’s success.
Following the debate, the Preseli MP added: “Farming remains a very important sector in Wales. It remains the backbone of rural life, with county shows providing the perfect environment for the whole community to get together and celebrate the unique and rich agricultural history.”
“Covid has meant that over the last few years county shows have not been permitted to take place. With Pembrokeshire County Show normally attracting around 100,000 visitors, I am delighted that this year it has been given the green light to commence again at full capacity.”
“With so many shows and stands, Pembrokeshire County Show highlights the very best of community cohesion and togetherness. It brings together not only the farming community, but many other sectors.”
“Pembrokeshire County Show remains a highlight in my calendar, and I very much look forward to attending and celebrating Pembrokeshire’s farming community”
Welsh Government announces Sustainable Farming Scheme
WALES’s farming unions have cautiously welcomed the Welsh Government’s proposals for the future of Welsh agriculture.
As part of its planned legislation for the next two years, Labour ministers unveiled their ideas for farming support and environmental objectives for Welsh farms on Tuesday this week.
The Welsh Government will not decide how the final Scheme will look until further consultation on the detailed proposals. An economic analysis will be presented in 2023.
While critical of some of the proposals, local MS Sam Kurtz also welcomed a change in tone from the Welsh Government towards Wales’s farming industry.
Agriculture is one of Pembrokeshire’s most important industries. It supports a vast web of local businesses. Therefore, the Welsh Government’s agricultural policy will directly impact our County and its economy.
KURTZ IS “PROUD TO
STAND UP FOR FARMING”
Welsh Conservative and Shadow Rural Affairs Minister Samuel Kurtz MS said: “The Welsh Government’s announcement has come a long way from what was touted back in 2018, and the farming unions have rightly welcomed this movement.
“Although a universal set of actions for all Welsh farmers is a positive, flexibility must also be present, given the varying types of upland, lowland and coastal farms in Wales.
“I would also like to have seen more done to protect food security, the Welsh language, and the vitality of rural communities.
“Asking all farmers to have 10% tree covering on their farms will come with concerns, given that this will be impossible for some.
“The industry wants to play its part in supporting nature and improving our climate, but hard and fast rules can sometimes lead to unintended consequences.
“I’m also disappointed – but not surprised – that this plan has been published without numbers on the finances, denying farmers the figures they need to run their business. The finer detail of the Scheme will show whether it will be a success or not.
“I’m pleased to have played a small part in pushing the Welsh Government to do better in its support for farmers, and I’m happy that some of my concerns have been taken on board.
“I’ve always said farming needs a friend, and I’m proud to stand up for our important industry.”
SUSTAINABLE FARMING IS THE GOAL
The Sustainable Farming Scheme proposals signify a major change and will be key in supporting Welsh farmers to lead the delivery of a more resilient environment and a more resilient rural economy.
The Welsh Government will provide financial support for the work farmers do to meet the challenges of the climate and nature emergencies alongside sustainable food production.
Wales’s Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths MS, said: “The climate and nature emergencies threaten the sustainability of agriculture and present the most serious risk to food security both globally and locally.
“We must respond to this if we are to ensure we have a sustainable and resilient agriculture sector for generations to come.
One of my intentions for publishing the outline of the Scheme now is to help the industry plan for the future.
“Sustainable food production and actions to deliver environmental outcomes are complementary, not competing, agendas.
“Farming is vital for Wales and plays a key role in supporting our economy and rural communities. I firmly believe the Sustainable Farming Scheme offers a real opportunity for positive change.
“With the support it will provide, we can help the sector prosper.”
Ms Griffiths continued: “The Sustainable Farming Scheme has been designed to support what our farmers do best: sustainable farming and producing food in harmony with the environment.
“I want to see this Scheme drastically improve our biodiversity and strengthen the Welsh farming sector.
“We will rely on the commitment and expertise of the Welsh farming sector to deliver Net Zero and to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity. The Scheme is designed to support farmers with this important role while simultaneously helping them continue producing high-quality food to high production standards.”
FUW SAYS PROPOSALS
“ON THE RIGHT TRACK”
Responding to the document, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome those areas of the proposals that have changed to reflect the concerns we highlighted in response to previous proposals.
“Notwithstanding some areas which raise major alarms, and the devil that lies in further details, the Welsh Government has moved on leaps and bounds and now has an overarching framework that is not dissimilar to what we have proposed.”
However, Mr Roberts sounded a cautionary note: “There are some concerning suggestions regarding universal actions that, while being possible or practical for some farmers, would not be for large numbers of others,” the union leader said.
“The proposal that ten per cent of all farms should comprise tree cover will be a major concern for many farmers for whom this would mean losing a large proportion of their productive land; there are also concerns about how this would impact tenants.
“There are also some farms, such as in exposed coastal areas or those in designated areas, where meeting this obligation would simply not be possible.”
NFU LOOKS FOR
NFU Cymru President Aled Jones said: “I am encouraged by Welsh Government’s proposals that, in return for undertaking a set of universal actions, farmers will be able to enter into the Scheme and receive a baseline payment.
“We now need to carefully consider the practicality of these actions and how they could work to support productive, progressive and profitable farming systems.
“The outline proposed by Welsh Government appears to be a step towards the NFU Cymru vision of a sustainability and stability payment that should be available to all active farmers.
“NFU Cymru has consistently highlighted the need to ensure that the Welsh Government must target support at active farmers: the people and businesses who take the commercial risks associated with food production.
“I am pleased that the Minister has reiterated the importance of payments linked to actions that an active farmer carries out.
“While the outline proposals give farmers a first opportunity to see some of the actions and activities they may need to undertake to enter the SFS, without any information on the levels of funding attached to these actions and activities, it remains impossible for farming families to consider how the Scheme will support their farming business.
“We are clear that the Scheme must deliver at least the same level of stability for farm businesses, the supply chain and our rural communities as the current arrangements do.
“There is a need to ensure that the Scheme works for all farming sectors and all land types in Wales.”
MORE WORK TO BE DONE
SAYS PLAID CYMRU
Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs Spokesperson Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “For several years, Plaid Cymru and the agricultural sector have been making the case that food production should be an integral part of any future farming support scheme.
“It is encouraging to see a fundamental shift in emphasis in the initial proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme published by the Welsh Government – the crucial role of active farmers as food producers is rightly recognised.
“However, there’s more work to be done, and we are waiting to see the detail underneath some of these proposals.
“We share the concerns expressed about the potential loss of productive, good-quality agricultural land for tree cover and the practical feasibility of this proposal.
“We will try to ensure that the substance matches the change in emphasis by actively rewarding food security as an outcome of the Scheme, as well as the wider social, linguistic and economic contribution of agriculture to the sustainability of our rural communities.”
Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society make land available for community garden group
GRWP Resilience are enjoying the fruits of their labour this summer thanks to Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society making land available to the group of local Haverfordwest residents for the production of fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a Community Garden.
The Society believes it is the first in the UK to take on such a project.
Just over an acre has been allocated initially on the County Showground in Haverfordwest for the project which has already seen over 40 local residents interested in being part of the group and using the land to grow fruit and vegetables.
Some of those interested have been waiting for over ten years for such an opportunity to arise.
Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society Board Chairman, Mike Davies, said, “We really look forward to working with these hugely enthusiastic local residents on this project. It is great to see young families already learning from very experienced and knowledgeable growers. Here on the showground we have the valuable resource to kick start the process – fertile soil – and we are delighted to assist. Our charitable objectives cover the valuable opportunities which this great project offer.”
The community garden project came about on the showground following a request to local landowners in the Haverfordwest area from a local resident, retired GP Dr Roger Burns, who was interested in starting a scheme in the area. Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society responded positively to the request and GWRP, a Wales-wide organisation which helps stimulate community engagement and collaboration, then got involved to help officiate the agreement.
The growers have formed their own community interest company called Parc Helyg which is now managing the site. Sian Wells, Co-ordinator, said, “Thank you to the Society for providing the land and the farmers who ploughed the ground. We have waited ten years to grow food. We are delighted to now be on the land and already seeing the fruits of our labour.”
Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society are fully supportive of the community garden project and recognise the value of the health and well-being aspect of the work. During the Covid-19 lockdowns there was a big rise in gardening and outdoor activities including in schools. The health and educational benefits of spending time outside, as well as growing your own food, are obvious.
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