Last week, the Sustainable Food Trust submitted written evidence to the Welsh Government’s consultation on Environmental Principles and Governance in Wales Post EU Exit. The goal of this consultation is to enhance and improve environmental standards and ensure that Wales has effective governance in place when the UK leaves the EU. You can read our written evidence here.

Wales has already taken steps towards a more sustainable future with groundbreaking legislation (such as the Well-being of Future Generations and Environment Acts) and a number of environmental principles, drawn from international best practice. The Sustainable Food Trust has fed into these discussions with the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Government in recent years. These interventions include our significant involvement in the consultation Brexit and our land: Securing the future of Welsh farming and you can read our response to the enquiry here and learn more about  Welsh Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths’ visit to CEO Patrick Holden’s farm in September 2018. This new consultation provides a further step towards delivering a sustainable future for Wales.

Our response supported enacting the ‘polluter pays’ principle across Wales post-Brexit. Already, the Welsh Government has indicated a desire to support farmers in their delivery of public goods. To implement this vision of a sustainable future, farmers or food businesses that are causing very significant damage to the environment through intensive practices, should be made financially responsible for that damage. Our 2017 report The Hidden Cost of UK Food found that for each £1 spent on food in UK shops, consumers incur extra hidden costs of £1, totalling £120 billion in external costs. These extra costs are currently not paid by the food businesses that cause them, nor are they included within the retail price of food, but instead they are passed on to society through taxes and other public spending.

However, environmental principles – such as the ‘polluter pays’ principle – go beyond the legal implementation of standards. A more systemic and holistic view of land management needs to be adopted wholeheartedly to meet the challenge of climate change. Around the world, natural resources are being progressively eroded and systematically destroyed, and once they are gone, it will be impossible to repair the damage. Wales, and the wider UK, is not immune to these processes. To achieve sustainable land management, there needs to be stronger oversight of natural resources in Wales so that they can be better protected for future generations. By extending the concept of sustainable land management as our consultation response suggests, the Welsh Government can protect the country’s environment from further damage.

The Welsh Government has already taken steps towards a sustainable future for Wales, but by identifying a set of core principles, targets are more likely to be reached because all relevant stakeholders (and the public at large) will be pulling in the same direction. This vision of shared environmental objectives is at the core of the Sustainable Food Trust’s harmonised farm-level sustainability assessment. We believe that, in order to be eligible for the receipt of public money, farmers should be required to complete a sustainability assessment (based on a harmonised framework of indicators and metrics) each year. This data would then allow for more targeted interventions by the Welsh Government to help farmers meet the stated goal for each specific public good, such as biodiversity and net carbon emissions. Additionally, farmers could benchmark themselves to show that they are delivering on their commitments and provide evidence of the improvement. For the assessment to be comprehensive, there needs to be a blend of specific targets, proxies and hard data collection methods. These would include (but not be limited to) monitoring soil carbon levels, on-farm biodiversity, resource use efficiency and water quality.

We will continue to educate elected officials and civil servants on the growing need for environmentally-sensitive agriculture. We will continue to inform our readers of the work that we are doing to promote policies in Wales (such as our recent policy briefing on Welsh farming) that helps to meet the challenge of the climate emergency and deliver a sustainable future for the whole of the UK.

Photograph: Steph French 

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