News update, December 2017

The past month has been dominated by the EU Withdrawal Bill (Repeal Bill) and the hearings and reports of several committees in the Houses of Commons and the Lords. We have also heard the early sounds of important processes creaking into action, such as the Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill. And the first signals of the possibilities and pitfalls associated with new trading relationships.

This newsletter serves as an end-of-year 'clearing the decks', to provide updates on some recent milestones, and to focus on key strands for 2018. The coming year already looks set to be an historic period for food, farming and fishing policy – summarised brilliantly as ‘four hot potatoes’ in this blog by Sustain’s Vicki Hird.

As ever, keep the news and insights coming – we really do appreciate it. See many of you at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Sustain is running the opening "Brexit: State of Play" session, and then working with others to steward the Brexit Room, so if there's anything you'd like us to highlight, or if you're planning to attend the opening session, let me know by latest close of play 3rd January. Meanwhile, hope you all have a great festive break!

Kath Dalmeny
Chief Executive, Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming
www.sustainweb.org; @UKSustain


Agriculture Bill

It looks like we will have to move fast in the New Year, if the Command Bill in preparation for the new Agriculture Bill comes out in January as Defra’s Michael Gove suggested on 20th December when giving oral evidence to the EFRA Committee. Sustain will be consulting with the alliance’s Farming Working Party, as well as with other coalitions such as Greener UK and Wildlife & Countryside Link, and will help coordinate responses. January will be an important time to decide our positions, share insights and plan for activities. Contact Vicki Hird to get involved: vicki@sustainweb.org.

And in other farming news...

Defra will issue a consultation early in 2018 on a new body or bodies to fill environmental governance gaps created by the UK’s exit from the EU, as well as a policy statement setting out the environmental principles. The alliance of environmental NGOs coordinating work on Brexit via Greener UK says that key points include:

  • Make sure governance functions continue immediately after exit, including continuity in reporting obligations.
  • Publish consultation ASAP, so it can inform parliamentarians’ decisions on Withdrawal Bill.
  • Ensure new body/bodies are independent, robust, on statutory footing, adequately funded, evidence-led.
  • Functions that need to be preserved somehow include: monitoring, ensuring proper implementation, checking compliance, enforcement, reviewing performance.
  • Consider which functions might best be done at a UK or devolved level or both, as well as any cross-border issues.

Meanwhile, the existing Welsh environmental watchdog, Natural Resources Wales, is warning of a budget squeeze meaning it may not be able to “fulfil its ambition”.

Sustain has joined Defra’s Plan for Public Procurement Implementation Taskforce, which held its first meeting in December. Contact kath@sustainweb.org to find out more.

Following public and parliamentary pressure, the government has promised to instate the principle of animal sentience into UK law, recognising the ability of animals to suffer, feel pain and feel joy. It is hoped that a new Bill, to become the Animal Welfare Act 2018, will require current and future governments to pay regard to animal sentience when formulating and implementing policy.

When asked via a parliamentary question for news of the Government’s response to its consultation on extending the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (which closed in January 2017), Farming Minister George Eustice (12 December) replied simply: “In due course.”

When asked in a parliamentary question what assessment Defra has made of the potential effect of a trade agreement with the United States on UK farming, Farming Minister George Eustice replied (12 December), that Defra and the Department for International Trade are “conducting ongoing research and analysis” and that, “Leaving the EU is a golden opportunity to secure bold and ambitious trade agreements that work for consumers, farmers and businesses in the UK.”


Fisheries Bill

The Fisheries Bill white paper had been previously expected in December 2017, but is now likely to be published in the New Year. Contact: ruth@sustainweb.org


EU Withdrawal Bill (Repeal Bill)

The EU Withdrawal Bill Committee Stage in the House of Commons is now over. Sustain’s take on progress so far is that:

  • Constitutional and technical issues have been the main battleground – i.e. the extent and detail of Parliamentary scrutiny over important decisions. The House of Lords Constitution Committee stated that the delegated powers in the bill would “fundamentally challenge the constitutional balance of powers between Parliament and Government and would represent a significant—and unacceptable—transfer of legal competence”.
  • Proposed amendments were worryingly defeated (principally for Sustain’s alliance interest, over treaty principles such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, environmental principles and the principle of animal sentience), but proved to be opportunities to raise public awareness of key issues, and flushed out potentially useful promises and concessions from government.

First Reading of the Bill in the Lords will be the end of January; Second Reading probably late January or early February, with Committee Stage likely to start after the February recess (20th Feb). Get on the Fix the Repeal Bill mailing list to keep in touch with developments.

Unlock Democracy, coordinating third-sector work on the Repeal Bill, commented: “The Report Stage will be another opportunity to demonstrate to the Lords that the Government has listened to concerns, as most expect a rougher passage for the bill in the Lords.”


Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

The first meeting of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, coordinated by the RSA, will take place in January 2018, and the Commission will also be sharing news and information at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Commissioners and other key individuals involved are listed on the website, and involve several people from Sustain member organisations as well as Sustain’s CEO Kath Dalmeny. Sustain will report on news and opportunities via this newsletter; also get on the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission newsletter mailing list for updates.


Trade: EFRA Committee inquiry on Trade in Food

Secretary of State for Defra Michael Gove MP and Farming Minister George Eustice gave oral evidence to the EFRA Committee on Trade in Food, on 20th December. Of note, Gove said that new trading arrangements could reduce food prices, but also put “considerable strain on farmers”, particularly livestock farmers – hence farmers needing public support “for several years to come”.

Asked about trade arrangements and food prices, Eustice said that – according to the Resolution Foundation, “Whatever the trade scenario, the impact on retail prices is relatively modest.”

Gove also stated that in the face of new trade deals that might challenge UK standards of production, “The Cabinet has agreed that there should be no compromise on high animal welfare and environmental standards”. Pressed on limited Parliamentary Scrutiny of new trade deals that may contain questionable food and farming standards (as witnessed during earlier TTIP negotiations), Gove opined, “Any trade deal would have to go through Parliament,” and “I think if Parliament wants to, it could stop the Government signing a trade deal.” But did not say by what mechanism this could happen. Watch the session on Parliament TV here.

Sustain CEO Kath Dalmeny also gave oral evidence to the EFRA Committee on Trade in Food, on 6th December. On behalf of Sustain alliance members, she expressed deep concern that the beguiling promise of ‘cheap food’ from new international trade deals, which could result in risks and costs to health, food safety, animal welfare and farming livelihoods. Kath gave evidence alongside Sue Davies of Which? and Tim Martin of Wetherspoon, so handed out Sustain’s Manifesto for a Better Food Britain printed on spoof beermats. Watch the session on Parliament TV here.

Trade: Campaigners call for trade democracy

Sustain is supporting the Trade Justice Movement in its call for future trade deals to be open and democratic, ensuring that the UK uses new trade relationships to support sustainable development rather than a global race to the bottom. At the end of November, a group of international development NGOs – including Sustain members Fairtrade Foundation, Global Justice Now and Traidcraft – handed in a petition with over 265,000 signatures demanding a democratic and transparent process for negotiating future trade deals.

Notably, Angus MacNeil, the Chair of the International Trade select committee has stated that “Without an improved role [for Parliament] in scrutinising trade agreements, from scoping to negotiating to ratifying, we’ll be bound to ask who exactly has taken back control. It may even transpire that the British parliament had more say, limited of course, on EU trade deals, than it will on some deals after Brexit. The myriad vexing ironies here will not be lost on many.”


Governance: Standards, agencies and mechanisms

A report has been published by the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) setting out members’ priorities for continued cooperation with EU institutions and agencies post-Brexit. The CBI says that “a close future relationship between UK and EU rules is key to the success of Brexit. Achieving the ambition of close-to-frictionless trade will require an unprecedented level of regulatory cooperation between the UK and the EU in many areas”.

The CBI argues for “continued UK involvement on current or close-to-current terms with (among others) the European Chemicals Agency; European Committee for Standardisation; European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency (which covers veterinary drugs). European Agencies also highlighted as important include those working on the environment and on maritime safety.

Back in October, the Chemical Industries Association also told government that being part of the European REACH programme that regulates chemicals is “the passport to the global marketplace”.

The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee has also called on Government to set out a plan, explaining exactly how it intends to ensure that UK citizens' consumer rights will be protected and enforced after the UK leaves the EU. They state that “Consumer rights are best protected through shared legislation, shared mechanisms and cooperation with cross-border agencies.” Following an enquiry, the Committee report points out that, “The  rights  enshrined  in  [ninety EU] Directives  enable  all  consumers to seek redress for any poor service they receive, for instance, when they hire a car; book a holiday; eat in a restaurant; purchase a product; or stay in a sub-standard hotel at home or in another EU Member State,” pointing out that the  EU  (Withdrawal)  Bill  will  mirror individual  EU consumer  rights, but cannot ensure protection of UK consumers’ rights when they visit the EU 27 post-withdrawal. "Nor can it guarantee the UK’s continued access to the EU’s shared network of agencies, mechanisms and infrastructure that police, secure, develop and underpin consumer rights across the Single Market.”

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 688) calling on government “to work with environmental health professionals and ensure that when legislation is repatriated into UK law following Brexit, environmental and public health standards are maintained and where necessary strengthened, and not undermined by new international trade agreements”. The motion is backed by MPs from several political parties.

Meanwhile, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh MP has called the Government “woefully unprepared for Brexit” after, as she said, not one department - including the Department of Health, the Department for Transport and Defra - gave her a clear answer on how much the UK would need to spend to replace EU agencies’ work.


Industry: Sectoral analyses published (at last)

Controversial and previously secret “sectoral analyses” have at last been published by the Department for Exiting the EU. As DExEU Secretary of State David Davies had earlier conceded, they are not impact assessments. Rather, they are a whistle-stop tour of key statistics and information about which EU rules and agencies are relevant to the various sectors, so perhaps worth having on file. Of most interest to the Sustain alliance are those on food and agriculture, fisheries and retail. One summary paragraph – a salutary reminder – stood out in the food and agriculture report:

  • “For the UK, there is extensive regulation across food and agriculture and virtually all of it is governed by  EU  legislation,  some  of  which  is  underpinned  by  internationally  agreed standards.”
  • “High quality food and strong food safety standards help underpin the good reputation the UK’s food and drink products enjoy on the world market.”

Now we can all go back to wondering if or how David Davies and his DExEU team are taking into account concerns about the impact of Brexit on these industries and the people, animals and environment they affect. Comments from the industry in each sectoral analysis have been redacted. Many industry associations are producing their own impact assessments, including this from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, highlighting major concerns about future availability of agricultural labour.

Industry: New Food and Drink Sector Council

The Government has published its UK Industrial Strategy, widely welcomed for containing commitments to ‘green growth’ and investment in renewable energy. More details have since emerged of the new Food and Drink Sector Council, welcomed by the industry’s Food and Drink Federation and by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
 


Other Brexit-related news from the last month

The politics of food: What to look out for in 2018
Blog by Sustain’s farming campaign coordinator, Vicki Hird, setting out four food Brexit issues that will hit the stands in 2018; all illustrating why politics, finance and food are being increasingly entangled, and why a new vision, policies and partnerships are needed.
Food and Farming Policy

LEGOs, Landscapes and Catchments: delivering a new farm payment scheme
The rich debate about how we deliver new farming and land management support after we leave the CAP is getting interesting. As we anticipate the White Paper on a new UK Agriculture Bill in 2018 choices are presenting themselves. How will new schemes work out on the farm? How will decisions actually get made? This article from Vicki Hird of Sustain gives ideas for the discussion ahead.
Food and Farming Policy

Green Alliance warns of upland farming threat from 'hard Brexit'
Chief Executive of the Green Alliance Shaun Spiers argues that the environmental consequences of the UK crashing out of the EU with ‘no deal’ will be severe.
Brexit

Gove to cap farm payment
Farmers’ Weekly reports that Government plans to limit the amount in direct payments received by larger farms. Details could be unveiled as soon as January 2018. Capping is one of the first changes that will be made after the UK leaves the European Union, said Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove.

‘More Farmers, Better Food’
The Landworkers’ Alliance are aiming to raise £25,000 in the next four weeks through public donations. This money will be used to influence the Government's agricultural policy which will be outlined in early in 2018.
Food and Farming Policy

The jeopardy and the opportunity – The Brexit Room at the Oxford Real Farming Conference
Brexit looms large over the agricultural sector, and the ORFC is no exception. The changes ahead look set to be seismic – for farmers and workers, for those in the food movement, for policy watchers, for policy makers and, clearly, for all of us as consumers.
NOW SOLD OUT
Sustain

Smaller fishers set to lose out from Brexit
A major new piece of research from the New Economics Foundation explores scenarios for what Brexit will mean for the UK’s fishing industry.
Brexit

UK food sector’s shadow economy costs taxpayers £120bn
A new report by the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) found that for each £1 spent on food in the shops, UK consumers incur extra hidden costs of £1. The SFT suggests that on top of the £120 billion spent annually on food by consumers, the UK food system generates further costs of £120 billion, nearly 30 times higher than previous composite estimates have indicated.

EAC questions 'one in, three out rule' for post-Brexit environmental regulation
Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee challenges Government Ministers on whether the 'one in, three out' principle will apply to UK environmental regulation post-Brexit, receiving a non-committal response.
Brexit

Red-rated fish on the menu in canteens and restaurants across the UK
A new investigation by Sustain’s Sustainable Fish Cities campaign reveals red-rated fish on the menu in exclusive concert venues, city firms and restaurants, being served up by some of the biggest foodservice companies in the UK.
Sustainable Fish Cities

Risk of “dirty” turkey after Brexit if UK strikes a US trade deal
Consumers' Christmas turkey could have been washed in four disinfectants if the UK agrees a post-Brexit trade deal with the USA, according to a new briefing paper by leading food policy experts.
Brexit

UK Trade Secretary Liam Fox recognises legitimate concerns over food standards
The UK's Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr Liam Fox, has responded to concerns expressed by the Sustain alliance, relating to US food standards such as chlorine-dipped chicken, hormone-reared beef, food irradiation and high fructose corn syrup in processed foods. Read our alliance letter, and Dr Liam Fox's response here.
Brexit

WTO director general warns of higher prices following a 'hard Brexit'
Director General of the World Trade Organisation has warned the UK that prices would be likely to rise after a ‘hard Brexit; due to supply chain disruption and WTO tariffs, which would be especially high on agricultural products.
Brexit

Food trade implicated in expanding Mexican waistlines
The New York Times reports that the influx of processed foods and soft drinks through the NAFTA trade agreement has intensified Mexico’s obesity epidemic – fuelling the growth of American fast-food restaurants, and increasing availability of cheap meat and high-fructose corn syrup products.

Article 22 project seeks to instate food rights into UK law
Article 22 is a collaborative project set up by the Institute of Health and Society at the University of Newcastle, which will engage with academics, members of civil society and policy makers to examine the law and policy changes we need to secure economic, social and cultural rights in the UK. Article 22 is working with Sustain on our Right to Food project, along with Nourish Scotland.
Food Poverty

My Life, My Say aims to secure a better Brexit for young people
My Life My Say is a new youth-led, national, non-partisan movement on a mission to secure a better Brexit for young people by creating safe spaces for debate on and offline, as well as research and advocacy work with decision-makers. They are seeking to “rebrand politics and remove the barriers that prevent young people from participating in decision-making processes”.

Charities will lose at least £250m a year post-Brexit, report concludes
Research by the Directory for Social Change shows that charities benefited from £258.4m in EU funding in 2015, with £210.9m awarded to 295 charities in funds administered by the European Commission, with another £47.5m awarded to 113 UK charities from European structural and investment funds administered by the UK government. Funds from other EU investment were not included in the study, so the £250m total is a minimum figure.


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