Only four weeks into 2018 and our collective feet have barely touched the ground. Highlights are reported below.
Of headline importance: our sights are now set on the imminent Agriculture Bill Command Paper – we hear likely to be launched within the next month or so, with a 10- to 12-week consultation period. This is arguably the biggest piece of legislative work the food and farming movement has needed to respond to for decades. So if you aren’t engaged already, get involved now.
The UK Trade Bill is also making its way through the legislative process, with our friends at the Trade Justice Movement valiantly leading the call for public and parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. Today, Sustain publishes our consultation on 10 Red Lines for Trade in Food. Please read, share and comment. Several proposals have been picked up by the Labour Party to table as food standards amendments to the Trade Bill (see pages 4 and 5 in this pdf link).
Get the feeling that 2018 is going to be the start of an epic journey for food, farming and fishing? We certainly do! It’s good to be sharing all this with such fine travelling companions.
Key developments for food, farming and fishing
Oxford Real Farming Conference, Michael Gove and more…
Sustain used the opportunity of our two-day Brexit Room at the Oxford Real Farming Conference on 4th and 5th January to take stock and talk with farmers, Sustain alliance members and sector specialists on how best to approach the game-changing year ahead – Sustain’s ORFC write-up is here. How apt that Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove MP chose this year to speak at both the Oxford Farming Conference AND the Oxford Real Farming Conference, with audience ears in both venues pinned back for every nuance of his thoughts on food, farming and fishing – watch his Q&A session on YouTube via the link above. At the ORFC, we heard much to please, and many in the audience expressed new-found hope. Now we all await the concrete commitments, policies, institutions and legislation that would turn fine words into action.
UK Agriculture Bill
Get ready, get set… the Agriculture Bill Command Paper and government consultation seem likely to be launched in the next month or so. When we hear more details, we’ll flag up how to get involved. Sustain’s farming campaign coordinator Vicki Hird will be coordinating Sustain alliance responses: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vicki Hird has also published three helpful blogs:
- The Politics of Food: What to look out for in 2018
- LEGOs, Landscapes and Catchments: delivering a new farm payment scheme
- Can Michael Gove MP redefine productivity in farming? – arguing that productivity and farm efficiency need to be redefined for the modern age
UK Trade Bill
Today, Sustain publishes our consultation on 10 Red Lines for Trade in Food. Please read, share and comment. Several proposals have been picked up by the Labour Party to table as food standards amendments to the Trade Bill (see pages 4 and 5 in this pdf link).
Sustain continues to receive many enquiries from media and researchers interested in the implications of trade deals for sustainable food and farming, especially following Sustain CEO Kath Dalmeny’s oral evidence on risks to meat hygiene and food standards, as part of the EFRA Committee Trade in Food Inquiry, and subsequent stories about the possibility of out-of-date meat being served up in schools and care homes.
A clarifying blog on trade from the Green Alliance reminds us that “OECD analysis shows that the number of trade deals that include provision for environmental co-operation rose from 22 per cent to 67 per cent in the five years up to 2012. […] Our manufacturers are rightly concerned about being put at a disadvantage if domestic policy requires them to pay their fair share of environmental costs whilst their foreign competitors don’t have to. […] Increasingly trade deals need to help to achieve environmental aims and level the playing field.” The message for food and farming? Modern trade must support public goods – environment, food standards, decent pay and working conditions, animal welfare and human health – not fuel a damaging race to the bottom.
25 Year Environment Plan – a disappointing album after a few hit singles
The 25 Year Environment Plan was launched on 11th January by Prime Minister Theresa May, to many plastic-related plaudits and after a warm response to plans for major new afforestation; but less audible cheers on many other fronts. There has been, as yet, no cry of “House” from those playing Sustain’s 25 Year Environment Plan Bingo.
Members of the Greener UK alliance have expressed “serious concerns” that UK environmental protections will be reduced after Brexit, despite the Government's promises to put the environment into a better state for the next generation. The Greener UK alliance’s policy risk tracker also paints a worrying picture of poor progress on vital environmental issues.
EU Withdrawal Bill (also known as the Repeal Bill)
The EU Withdrawal Bill rumbles on, moving now to the House of Lords, where this landmark legislation is likely to face challenges. Get on the Fix the Repeal Bill mailing list to keep in touch with developments. With thanks to Unlock Democracy for continuing to provide guidance on the considerable detail, the next stages of the Bill’s timetable in the House of Lords are:
- Second Reading: two-day debate Tuesday 30th and Wednesday 31st January;
- Committee stage: 10 days on the floor of the House, possibly more, starting Wednesday 21st February, through until (at least) Easter Recess;
- Report stage: when most votes happen in the Lords; at some point beyond Easter Recess;
- Third Reading: at least one week after the end of Report stage, anticipated for May;
- Commons consideration of Lords amendments: whether government concessions, minor technical changes or voted defeats; to happen soon after Lords Third Reading – with potential for parliamentary ping-pong to follow between the Houses.
Sustain partner Just Fair and 20 other groups have raised the alarm about the human rights deficit of the EU Withdrawal Bill “in large part because the bill removes the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from our law”. And London-based human rights barrister Jonathan Cooper has highlighted 32 reasons to keep the EU Charter as UK law post-Brexit in an article in the Huffington Post.
Sustain member Friends of the Earth has also submitted a complaint to a UN compliance committee, alleging that the UK government has breached the Aarhus Convention by not consulting the British public over the EU Withdrawal Bill.
UK Fisheries Bill
Any news of the Fisheries Bill? It’s been ‘imminent’ for months! When we find out more, you’ll be the first to hear, and Sustain’s Ruth Westcott will be coordinating the Sustain alliance response: email@example.com.
We were concerned to see that the UK’s prior commitment (as part of the UK’s membership of the EU) to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield fishing by 2020, was reproduced without this vital deadline in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. Surely a typo? Worryingly, we think not. Sustain’s urgent enquiries to Defra suggest that this all-important deadline may actually have been ditched. If this proves to be the case, we will express our concerns vociferously to Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove MP and Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davies MP.
Meanwhile, a European Commission taskforce has been less shy in coming forward with the EU’s position on post-Brexit fisheries policy, for transition and beyond, including a priority to “seek the highest level of convergence in [fisheries] management regime”, including “fisheries management based on shared principles such as Maximum Sustainable Yield, best available scientific advice, adherence to a landing obligation, ecosystem approach, [and] alignment with other policies (e.g. environment)”.
Food, Farming and Countryside Commission
Sustain’s CEO Kath Dalmeny reports that the first meeting of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, hosted by the RSA, was both informative and energising. A research team and secretariat have now been appointed, and plans are progressing for consultation events around the country. Get on the RSA’s Food, Farming & Countryside Commission mailing list to be kept informed of developments.
Other Brexit-related news
Sustain welcomes back Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Defra
Prime Minister Theresa May reshuffled her Cabinet but Secretary of State for Defra Michael Gove remained in post. Sustain welcomed his continued tenure, but also highlighted the need to keep up the pressure to turn promises into reality.
Brexit bill may have broken international environment law, says UN
A UN compliance committee is considering a complaint submitted by Sustain member Friends of the Earth, alleging that the UK government has breached the Aarhus Convention by not consulting the British public over the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Conference: Brexit and Wales: Land and Sea
A conference on the Implications of Brexit for Rural Land Management and Fisheries in Wales will take place on Tuesday 13th February 2018, 11am-4pm a the Medrus Centre, Aberystwyth University. Speakers are from the Wales Centre for Public Policy and Sustain alliance member New Economics Foundation.
‘More Farmers, Better Food’
Hearty congratulations to our friends at The Landworkers Alliance for raising £25,000 in crowd-funding to enable them to engage in influencing the UK’s Agricultural Policy.
Food and Farming Policy
Defra invites Uplands Alliance to pilot new environment schemes
The Uplands Alliance - representing hill farmers and upland land managers - reports on meetings with Defra and farming minister George Eustice MP, seeking to influence the design and priorities of new farm payment schemes.
Food and Farming Policy
Sustainable Soils Alliance demands eight actions to save our soils
The Sustainable Soils Alliance has launched a new report outlining eight actions - from incentives to education - that need to be undertaken to reverse the crisis in our soils. They are now turning their attention to the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan with a conference planned at the House of Commons for Tuesday 13 March.
Food and Farming Policy
National Farmers' Union publishes Brexit vision statements
The National Farmers' Union highlights the forthcoming UK Agriculture Bill as "a golden opportunity to build a system that works for British farmers". The NFU has published a range of vision statements to deliver these messages to politicians and the public, seeking to "build consensus for a vision of a thriving farming sector post-Brexit and beyond".
Food and Farming Policy
Farmers are voting with their feet (and equipment)
Farmers Weekly reports that auctioneers are seeing an upsurge in the number of on-farm machinery sales, with more farmers restructuring their businesses as a result of changes in farming policy. Low commodity prices, uncertainty over Brexit and the desire of some farmers to ‘take their lives back’ are reportedly among the factors driving sales of machinery and equipment.
Farming and Food Policy
Bad trade deals would be ‘biggest peacetime threat’ to UK food security
An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology for Food and Farming shows an overriding concern that food security, environmental protection and welfare standards may be significantly weakened by Brexit.
Drug-laced bacon among risks of US-UK trade deal
The Soil Association release a list of food safety concerns with a transatlantic trade deal. The list includes ractopamine in pork, flame retardant in citrus drinks and chicken litter being used as animal feed.
40 animal charities urge Government to improve welfare post-Brexit
The Government is told to take action on cruel puppy trade, live farm animal exports, foie gras and fur imports to ensure UK can maintain its role as pioneer for animals.
Million chickens dead on arrival after transportation
Investigation reveals that more than a million chickens die before reaching the slaughterhouse, with hundreds of thousands more found to have bruising, fractures or respiratory disease, or being in an emaciated condition. Sustain calls for action to improve British meat standards.
Food and Farming Policy
Out-of-date meat sold to schools and care homes?
Sustain responds to the Russell Hume steak and gammon recall, expressing concern about food safety, and also the recent decline in meat hygiene inspectors, public health laboratory services and the Food Standards Agency. How can we trust the meat on our plates?
Policies for healthy lives: a look beyond Brexit
A collection of essays has been published, curated by the Health Foundation. It features contributions from Kath Dalmeny of Sustain; Sue Davies of Which?; Councillor Richard Kemp from Liverpool; Nina Renshaw of the European Public Health Alliance; and Karen Steadman of the Work Foundation; as well as considerations for policy-makers.
Addressing trade policy as a macro-structural determinant of health
Trade policy has been identified as “a macro-structural determinant of health” by academics from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Deakin University Australia, and the LSE – saying that such policies “shape individual behaviours and risk”, with “significant influence over our living and working conditions and our lifestyle choices and behaviours”.
Food and Farming Policy
Sustainable Fish Cities questions Wetherspoon directors
Ruth Westcott questioned the board of directors and JD Wetherspoon’s founder and chairperson, Tim Martin, at the company’s 2017 Annual General Meeting in a pub in the heart of the City of London.
Sustainable Fish Cities
Sustain slams Wetherspoon Chairman’s claims on cheap food post-Brexit
Sustain questions Wetherspoon Chairman Tim Martin's opinion that food prices will fall after Brexit, and argues that - in any case - cheap food would come at a cost - to food quality, British jobs and British farmers.
US tells UK it's 'sick and tired' of our objections to chlorine washed chicken
According to a report from Bloomberg Politics (which you can read here) the US is ‘sick and tired’ of us going on about chlorine-washed chicken, claiming that they don’t really use chlorine washes in their farming any more. Read Sustain's response.
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.
Unite launches Brexit Check to protect members from Brexit impact
Sustain member Unite the Union, whose hundreds of thousands of members include food and farming workers, has launched a new Brexit Check website to help protect union members from the possible impact of Brexit at work
Veteran campaigner for a fairer food system, Charlie Clutterbuck, has published a website to promote his book Bittersweet Brexit: The future of food, farming, land and labour.
Food and Farming Policy
Don’t leave, you’ll hate it!
The Politico news site reports Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg warning the UK not to leave the EU. She said that Norwegians pay a high price for not being at the table on EU decisions.
Who on earth did the shopping?
British business representatives have reportedly delivered a hamper of British food to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. The hamper contained a biography of Churchill, a collection of Shakespeare plays, Fortnum & Mason tea, a small cheese, a pot of piccalilli and some marmalade (sporting an EU organic logo), a bottle of Hendricks gin, a pot of Marmite and a large box of PG Tips tea bags (non Fairtrade). Commentators highlighted many ironies thrown up by the choice of gifts.
New anthology of poems on farming published
Sustain has been delighted to read the poems of Adam Horowitz following his launch at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January 2018. The Soil Never Sleeps is the second full collection of poetry by Adam Horovitz, published by Palewell Press in January 2018.
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Brexit: We stand at a cross-roads. When the UK leaves the European Union, will our leaders uphold good standards for our food, farming, fishing and trade deals? And will they agree a sensible deal with the EU? We need to make sure that they do!