We’re in the midst of huge political change, with Brexit posing both challenges and potential opportunities for a sustainable future for wildlife, farming, landscapes and the natural environment that underpins it all. Since 1973 Britain’s farmers have received subsidies and income support through the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The UK Government has published the 'Repeal Bill’ (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill) that will end our membership of the European Union at the same time as ensuring that laws we live by today remain in force. Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, we’re calling on government to put the recovery and future resilience of the natural environment at the heart of any funding system that replaces CAP.
Consultation on Health and Harmony paper
With great fanfare, the consultation on the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove’s, Agriculture Bill for life after Brexit was launched in February 2018 (Health and harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit). It has provided a rare opportunity to shape agricultural policy for the future years.
As the title suggests, Michael Gove is keen to promote a new agenda for food and farming in England, one which ‘promotes environmental enhancement, supports profitable food production and contributes to a healthier society’. The consultation document asks how it might ‘incentivise methods of farming that create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions.’ The proposal are that these outcomes will be achieved ‘by ensuring that public money is spent on public goods’ supporting both the environment and animal welfare.”
The Consultation closed on 8th May 2018 and now the Government will begin to formalise the policies and payments that will shape food production in the UK for the next generation.
How the Organic Research Centre is playing its part
Our main role has been to co-ordinate the response of the English Organic Forum (EOF) to the debate in order to bring a stronger, clearer and consistent voice from the organic sector to Government, opinion formers and the general public. The Forum represents the broad range of organic farming, food, certification, trade, research, information and civil society organisations working in the UK and specifically in England, including: Abacus Agriculture Ltd., Biodynamic Association, Daylesford Foundation, EcoS Consultancy, Future Sustainability, Garden Organic, Institute of Organic Training & Advice, Land Workers’ Alliance, Organic Arable, Organic Farmers and Growers CIC, Organic Food Federation, Organic Growers Alliance, Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative, Organic Research Centre, Organic Trade Board, SA Cert Ltd, Soil Association, South Devon Organic Producers Ltd., Triodos Bank, UK Organic Certifiers Group.
An initial letter from the EOF was sent to Environment Secretary of State Michael Gove as he prepared to address the Prosperity UK Green Brexit Conference in London on Thursday 15th March 2018. The letter highlighted that the UK is lagging behind its major European competitors in the development of organic food and farming and set out why stronger support for organic farming would be a significant opportunity to deliver both economic and environmental benefits, consistent with government policy aspirations.
Many consultation meetings were planned by different organisations including NFU, CLA and environmental groups.
For the organic sector, the ORC organised formal consultation meetings of the EOF with Defra as well as leading on a written response which was submitted to Defra.
Response to Defra consultation - Health and Harmony: The Future of Food, Farming and hte Environment in a Green Brexit
The EOF welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the debate about the future of agricultural and environmental policy in England and the UK. The organic sector supports Defra’s ambition for a policy that delivers the highest standards, one where the delivery of environmental, health and other public goods is very much centre stage, closely integrated with sustainable food production.
The government’s 'Health and Harmony' paper is a positive step in the right direction towards a land management system that will deliver environmental and health benefits. We hope that this will be reflected in the Agriculture Bill. However, more detail is urgently needed (both for the environment and for farmers) on the level of funding post-2022 and there are several key elements we believe would strengthen the emerging agricultural policy framework and any new environmental land management system:
- Government policy should recognise both the environmental and economic benefits of the organic sector and support the growth of the organic sector to at least 10% of UK food and farming within the next 5-10 years. This scale of development is consistent with progress in other countries, and complementary to other policy initiatives envisaged in the consultation.
- Multi-objective, systems-based approaches such as organic farming have the potential to deliver a wide range of public benefits and overall can be more effective than targeted, single-objective schemes. There is a need to prioritise and pilot the wider adoption of such schemes.
- Public health, sustainable resource use and animal welfare should be considered as priority public benefits alongside the ones identified in the consultation.
- Specific organic conversion and maintenance support options should be maintained and expanded, in recognition of the environmental benefits. The payments should reflect these benefits, be developed in partnership with the organic sector, and provide a stable background against which market initiatives can be developed.
- Research evidence, certification schemes and sustainability assessments can be used to demonstrate the delivery of public benefits at lower cost that the direct measurement of outputs, particularly in the context of multi-objective approaches.
- The productivity of organic farming is comparable with or better than non-organic when considered in a broader sense than yields along, including financial and natural capital outputs, and resource use efficiency.
- The organic market in the UK requires further development to underpin the benefits provided by organic land management, meet growing domestic demand, substitute for imports and exploit export opportunities.
- Ecological innovation, participatory knowledge exchange and dedicated organic advisory, training and information services need to be developed to improve system performance and public benefit delivery.
- Citizen and community engagement should form a core part of future food policy, integrated non-commercial recreational horticulture, allotments, Community Supported Agriculture, public procurement and other initiatives.
- Society’s investment in agriculture and the environment should be maintained, not only to support current producers, but to reduce the costs of major issues such as obesity, climate change and flooding.
- The English Organic Action Plan currently under development and scheduled for publication in the autumn provides for a range of actions, some industry led, others that require government support, to address these points. The key actions contained in the plan should be supported as part of future policy.