The Agriculture Bill will provide a new system of farm support, moving away from direct payments in England towards an approach where farmers are paid public money for the ‘public goods’ they produce – such as enhancing air and water quality, improved access to the countryside, measures to reduce flooding, tackling climate change or improving animal welfare.
The Bill will also contribute to the Government’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while at the same time, helping to boost farmers’ productivity.
The new measures will provide a better future for agriculture in this country, maximising the potential of the land for food production and for delivering public goods.
Food and farming is a bedrock of our economy and environment, generating £112 billion a year and helping shape some of our finest habitats and landscapes. Leaving the EU creates a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. Starting from first principles we can bring in innovative new ideas to support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production and do much better for farming, the environment and animal welfare.
Agroecology and organic farming
The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
The new environmental land management (ELM) system will bring in a new era for farming, providing an income stream for farmers and land managers who protect and preserve our natural environment. For the first time, farmers and land managers will be able to decide for themselves how they can deliver environmental benefits from their businesses and their land, and how they integrate this into their food, timber and other commercial activities.
Organic farmers will therefore be well placed to benefit from ELM due to the environmental benefits they produce, such as increased biodiversity and improved soil quality, which contribute to the delivery of these goals.
The Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.
I fully recognise the importance the public attach to the UK’s high standards of food production, and the unique selling point it provides for our farmers, whose high-quality produce is in demand around the world. I know that in trade negotiations the Government will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.
Without exception, all animal products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the EU and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now. This includes retaining the ban on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. (This ban has already been retained in British law, carried over from when we left the EU.)
These standards have been built up over many years and have the trust of the public and the world. I know the Government will not adjust those standards to secure a trade deal. The standards will be based on science and decided by the UK alone.
I want to see a vibrant and resilient farming sector in the UK, and the UK’s newfound status as an independent trading nation could benefit our farming industry. Indeed, new free trade agreements could lead to gains for UK agriculture.
For example, analysis by the Department for International Trade shows that an agreement with the US will deliver economic gains for the agri-food sector. Opening the vast US market could help boost UK farmers’ incomes and reduce their input costs, making them more competitive, more productive, and more profitable.
Some constituents asked me to vote for two amendments on the matter, NC1 and NC2. I voted alongside the Government against them. The UK already imports food from countries such as Canada, South Africa and Japan through preferences in existing free trade agreements – none of these agreements require those countries to follow domestic UK production standards.
The amendments would have put up new trade barriers and prevented the Government from being able to agree fair and mutually beneficial trade deals. Indeed, forcing all our trading partners to produce to UK domestic standards would only result in fewer export opportunities for our own farmers. In addition, the amendments, if implemented, would have caused real challenges for developing countries and our Commonwealth partners, as for them it would be particularly difficult to align with UK domestic production standards.