Following the referendum result in favour of the UK leaving the EU, the Sustainable Food Trust and 83 others organisations came together to express their hopes and fears for the future of food and farming.

Brexit Government urged to take control of food, farming and fisheries for public good

  • With many of the UK’s food and farming policies and subsidies being defined at EU level, the UK government now has an opportunity to reshape these to ensure that taxpayers money is spent for public good.

Organisations representing the health and long-term interests of millions of British citizens have called on government to adopt common-sense food, farming and fishing policies that are good for jobs, health and the environment, when they plan for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Concerns are expressed in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May and David Davis MP, the Minister currently overseeing a new unit advising the Government and PM on the post EU Referendum strategy. The letter, co-signed by over 80 food, farming, fair trade, poverty, animal welfare, wildlife and environmental organisations, argues that good food, farming and fishing policies must be central to any post EU Referendum strategy for the UK.

The organisations point out that better food, farming and trade policies can help to cut greenhouse gas emissions from farming and food industries by 80% by 2050, and promote healthier diets to combat heart disease, cancers, diabetes and obesity – saving the NHS, and ultimately taxpayers millions. Such policies can also foster a vibrant and diverse economy, supporting good jobs and working conditions, in the UK and overseas. Further, the UK could prioritise ethical and sustainable production methods, improved animal welfare, more farmland and marine wildlife, a healthy future for bees and other pollinators, as well as enhancing the beauty of the countryside and protecting the environment, whilst also providing a safe and traceable food supply.

Kath Dalmeny, head of Sustain, an alliance of food and farming organisations, who coordinated the letter, said: “The British public has given no mandate for a reduction in food and farming standards, a weakening of protection for nature, nor a reversal of the UK’s commitment to lifting millions of the poorest people in the world out of poverty through trade. We are seriously concerned that such vital considerations may be over-run by a drive for new trade deals at any cost.”

Professor Tim Lang from the Centre for Food Policy, City University London, said: “Brexit was largely won on the idea that the UK can ‘take back control’ but what does this mean in a country that imports nearly a third of its food? How will we manage for fruit and veg pickers if we can no longer rely on the 65% of our farm workers that come from other EU countries? If we want a home-grown supply of fresh, healthy and sustainable food, then farm incomes must improve, including fair terms of trade for farmers, and better pay and conditions for farm workers, as well as some level of continued allowance for migrant and seasonal workers. Will David Davis advise the government to negotiate all that?”

Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “We must do everything we can to ensure standards do not slip. But what we really need is an entirely new vision and model for the future of food and farming. This should be informed by a recognition that we are emerging from a long period of reductionist science and siloed attitudes, in favour of a new world view, characterised by integration and systemic thinking. Most particularly, we need to reintegrate nature and food production, and produce food in a sustainable way that provides the ingredients for healthy diets.”

The signatory organisations also seek to ensure that advice provided to government is drawn up in consultation with people with science, health and sustainability expertise in relation to food, farming and fishing, alongside economic concerns. Further, the signatory organisations urge that food, farming and fishing make up one of the Options Papers being developed by the new unit, to advise the PM and government.

Click here to read the letter in full and see the full list of signatories. This initiative is the work of numerous organisations, for which some key contacts can be found here.

Photograph: Dave Kellam

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