News update, May 2018

The coming parliamentary session will be busier than ever, with the likely return of the EU Withdrawal Bill to the House of Commons with 15 important House of Lords amendments to navigate; the possibility of a Brexit White Paper; and perhaps even the long-awaited UK Fisheries Bill. There is also a fair old ruckus building over Defra’s proposed post-Brexit environmental protections.
 
With the Scottish Parliament having voted to reject the EU Withdrawal Bill as a Westminster ‘power grab’, yet their legal right to do so being challenged by the UK Government in the Supreme Court in July, the next few months look set to continue the Brexit bumpy ride.
 
The carbon footprint of Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox continues to grow, as he flies all over the planet having ‘trade dialogues’ that remain determinedly secret. Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Defra Michael Gove has suggested that opening up the UK market to wholesale imports of US food would happen “over my dead body”.
 
To inject a bit of health and wellbeing into the proceedings, join Sustain, Royal Society for Public Health and the Food Research Collaboration for a technical seminar on Public health as a public good on 11th July at City University London.
 
Read on for the detail. And keep on sharing your news and comments – greatly appreciated!

Kath Dalmeny
Chief Executive, Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming

Contents

 
  1. Briefings to MPs
  2. Sustainable farming
  3. Sustainable fish
  4. Food, Farming and Countryside Commission
  5. Environment policy
  6. Defending our food standards
  7. International trade in food
  8. EU Withdrawal Bill (Repeal Bill)
  9. Brexit timetable
     


 Briefings to MPs

 

Sustain has written to all MPs to provide with specialist briefings on four major areas of policy:

These topics are due to be covered in a number of Defra and Department for International Trade white papers, draft Bills and policy measures during 2018. As a result of our mailing, Sustain has been busy meeting with MPs and researchers on key proposals important to the alliance.


Sustainable farming

Seminar: Public health as a ‘public good’ from agriculture
This half-day seminar, 11 July 2018, will examine the question: ‘Public health as a ‘public good’ from agriculture: How can we win support for this principle from UK policy makers?’ It is convened by Sustain, Royal Society for Public Health and the Food Research Collaboration and will inform responses to the RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission. RSVP to: Lindy Sharpe, Food Research Collaboration: Rosalind.Sharpe@city.ac.uk
 
Defra receives 44,000 responses to consultation on the future of UK farm policy
More than 44,000 responses were received on the Government’s ‘Health and Harmony’ proposals for the future for food, farming and the environment after Brexit, with at least one third estimated to have been generated by Sustain members.
 
Sustain argues for public health as a public good in oral evidence to the Efra Committee
Sustain’s farming campaign coordinator Vicki Hird gave evidence to the Efra Committee alongside Sustain members Peter Stephenson (Compassion in World Farming), Helen Browning (Soil Association), Professor Tim Lang (Food Research Collaboration). Read Sustain’s evidence here.
 
‘Public health should be a public good in farm policy’, say health professionals
The Faculty of Public Health, representing around 4,000 health professionals, has called on the government to recognise public health as a public good in farm policy.
 
Defra commission farm inspection and regulation review
An independent Farm Inspection and Regulation Review (England) is underway, commissioned by Defra, to identify opportunities before and after EU exit for improving farming-related regulation and enforcement (including inspections).
 
Defra publishes useful compendium of farming data and statistics
A useful compendium of food and farming evidence has been published by Defra, with chapters on:
  • Farm economics and accounts
  • Food production
  • Public goods and environmental land management

Farming and wildlife specialists propose pilot of farmer-led Environmental Land Management Scheme
Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) South West, the Countryside Community Research Institute (CCRI) and Natural England are teaming up to propose a trial of a new farmer-led Environmental Land Management Scheme.
 
CLA landowners propose Land Management Contract for public funds
Country Land and Business Associates (CLA) has proposed a new Land Management Contract for the payment for delivery of public benefits.
 
Northern Ireland farmers could get ‘basic income’ guarantee
Stormont is considering a direct payment for Northern Ireland farmers, but at a level "significantly below" current EU subsidies.
 
European Union moves to ban unfair food supply chains
The European Commission has published a draft Directive exploring a ban on damaging practices in the food supply chain to give farmers and small businesses more certainty. Sustain worked with members to publish a joint letter in the FT urging the UK government to do the same.
 
Soft fruit may go unpicked as UK farmers face labour shortage
A bumper 2018 strawberry harvest faces the prospect of being left unpicked as UK soft fruit farmers warn of a looming labour shortage. British meat processors also highlighted struggles to fill vacancies in food manufacturing.
 
Government to use prisoners on day release to fill the workforce gap after Brexit.
Justice Secretary David Gauke announced the government’s intention to put offenders to work in sectors likely to be hit by the UK leaving the European Union. This could include catering, retail, manufacturing and agriculture.
 
Pig farmers back proposals to permit food waste for pig feed
Seventy-five per cent of pig farmers agree that to create a sustainable UK pig industry that can thrive, we need to return to the practice of feeding food waste to pigs says Christina O'Sullivan of Feedback. And Brexit provides the opportunity to overturn the damaging law that prevents this.



Sustainable fish

The UK Fisheries Bill, due for introduction to Parliament in 2018, needs to have a strong overall vision, to make sure fishers are guaranteed a bright, sustainable future.
 
Sustain has submitted evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee ‘Sustainable Seas’ inquiry, urging government to make more use of the very significant buying power of the public and food business sectors to secure a sustainable future for fish stocks and marine ecosystems.
 
Draft(s) of UK Fisheries Bill white paper leaked and discussed
Several versions of the UK Fisheries Bill white paper have been leaked and discussed in the media and on social media. View a copy and one commentary by following the link above, see also:
Lack of UK commitment to end overfishing raises renewed concerns
Sustain has raised renewed concerns about the UK’s commitment to end overfishing, as leading European fishery policy experts highlight the need for all EU members to accelerate progress towards their agreed 2020 deadline.
 
‘Transition deal offers certainty’, Defra tells seafood companies
Brexit transition arrangements recently agreed between the UK and EU, set to last until the end of 2020, should reassure seafood companies and provide opportunities to prepare for the future, said UK fisheries minister George Eustice.
 
Falkland Islands urge British MPs to maintain EU market for fish
The Falkland Islands government has lobbied British MPs to ensure that their fishing industry continues to have access to EU markets after Brexit, with fishing accounting for 41% of the Islands’ economy.

 

Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Food, Farming and Countryside Commission calls for ideas
The RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission research team has reviewed 1,000 proposals from 160 reports, speeches, consultation responses and other documents, all published since 2015, concluding that in the documents reviewed:
  • Proposals are mostly in policy silos
  • Public money for public goods is a common theme
  • Wildlife trumps climate change
  • Calls for action by government are widespread
  • Many proposals are vague about how and where changes will happen
The RSA has launched a Call for Ideas focusing on practical action that could improve the way we eat, farm and regenerate our environment and countryside communities. Responses are requested by 12 noon on 31 May 2018, email: FCC@rsa.org.uk. Follow the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s nationwide bike tour on Twitter.
 
Seminar: Public health as a ‘public good’ from agriculture
This half-day seminar, 11 July 2018, will examine the question: ‘Public health as a ‘public good’ from agriculture: How can we win support for this principle from UK policy makers?’ Seminar convened by Lindy Sharpe, Food Research Collaboration; Kath Dalmeny and Vicki Hird of Sustain; and Shirley Cramer, RSPH. Kath and Shirley are also commissioners for the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and this seminar will inform their response to this and other processes.
 

Environment policy

Follow the Greener UK alliance on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GreenerUK_
 
Consultation on proposed environment watchdog criticised by UN and many Sustain members
The UK government has launched a consultation on environmental governance after Brexit, widely received with disappointment by the UN and environment and wildlife groups, with one industry commentator saying that it shows “the misperception that regulations are bad for growth still stands in the way of good environmental policymaking”. Legal experts Client Earth have proposed a new Nature and Environment Commission that could speak up for nature and hold the powerful to account.
 
House of Lords amends EU Withdrawal Bill to reinstate key environmental principles
The House of Lords voted for an amendment that would reinstate key environmental principles into EU law, including the Precautionary Principle, Polluter Pays and access to environmental information and justice. Lord Deben (formerly Sir John Gummer) said that the Lords were “running entirely with public opinion on this, the public wants proper protection, the public wants to make sure that their children and their grandchildren live in an enhanced and better world.”
 
Greener UK updates Brexit risk tracker for key environmental policies
An updated risk assessment by Greener UK, a coalition of environmental NGOs tracking Brexit, shows improvement related to chemicals and plastics policy. However, they argue that seven policy areas are at medium risk, while air pollution policy is at high risk.
 
Brexit requires a 4-nation approach to UK environment, farming and fisheries
The Institute for Government has published a report on Devolution after Brexit, 'Managing the environment, agriculture and fisheries', recommending changes to the way the governments of the four UK nations interact and make decisions.

 

Defending our food standards

Health Select Committee member champions ‘health in all policies’
Labour MP Luciana Berger is championing ‘health in all policies’ as part of her role as a member of the Health Select Committee. In May, she took an interest in the impact of trade deals on availability of junk food and its impact on population health, challenging a health minister to say what talks the Department of Health has been having with the department for International Trade.
 
Food prices will almost certainly rise after Brexit unless UK signs good trade deal with EU, says House of Lords
Currently, half of the UK’s food is imported, 30% of it comes from the EU. Being part of the EU customs union has meant that food from the EU can enter the UK easily with no tariffs.
 
US food standards? “Over my dead body,” says Gove
Secretary of State Michael Gove MP has said that the UK would accept US food standards “over my dead body”, in an interview with food campaigner Rosie Boycott at the Hay Festival, 2018.
 
Liam Fox speech tries to brush aside consumer concerns on food standards
Liam Fox gives speech in which he says that it is ‘anti-trade’ and a ‘myth’ to point out that future trade deals we sign after Brexit could result in a “degradation of food and environmental standards2. He says this is a false claim and even says it is a “deception”. 
 
Professors join forces to call for serious attention to food standards
A public debate has erupted between Professors Erik Millstone and Tim Lang and the Food Standards Agency. The professors foresee a deterioration in food safety standards if FSA regulatory proposals are pursued, which the FSA contests.
 
Conference: Watered down food safety standards: Fact or Fiction?
Food Brexit is a major food industry conference that will take place in London on 1 November 2018, with Sustain’s chief executive Kath Dalmeny, Kerry McCarthy MP and Professor Chris Elliott speaking in a session focusing on the opportunities, risks and challenges of implementing a US-UK trade deal.
 
New research paper published on impact of Brexit on British business
Former shadow Chancellor and now Harvard research fellow Ed Balls has published a research paper (co-written with fellow researcher Peter Sands) on the latest thinking of senior trade negotiation officials in the US and UK. You can read the full paper here.
 
Health Minister Steve Brine says Brexit will allow us to 'take back control' of our food labelling
The Health Select Committee’s Inquiry on childhood obesity took evidence from several government ministers yesterday. During proceedings, Public Health Minister Steve Brine commented that Brexit was an opportunity ‘to take back control’ of our food labelling.
 
Loss of protected geographical status could affect £4.8billion worth of UK foods
The loss of Geographical Indication (GI) after leaving the EU could cost the UK food industry billions of pounds.
 
UK food and drink industry calls for EU free trade agreement
A House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee said the Government should prioritise a free trade agreement with the EU to protect the UK food manufacturing industry and hundreds of thousands of British jobs.
 
UK farming groups unite to call for EU single market access
The UK Farming Roundtable, a collaboration of 15 farming groups, has called on government to prioritise taking “every step to retain and protect a single market access for food, agricultural commodities, live animals and plant products throughout the UK”.


International trade in food

Read the Sustain alliance’s 10 red lines for trade in food.
 
HMRC head warns post-Brexit customs checks could cost £20 billion
The HMRC has told parliament’s Treasury Committee that a high-tech customs option for future UK imports and exports could cost UK businesses up to £20 billion per year. Agri-food currently represents 11% of trade flows by value between the UK and the EU, so food manufacturers and farmers could expect to bear some of such additional costs.
 
UK ports, airports, businesses and trade negotiators ill-prepared for Brexit, say industry and parliamentarians
Three separate parliamentary committees - as well as supermarket and food manufacturing associations – and former government trade advisors – have warned that the UK is ill-prepared for future trade deals.
 
EU seeks trade deals with Australia and New Zealand that protect EU farmers
Media reports suggest that the EU has “leapt ahead of the UK in the pursuit of free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand” after member states gave the green light for talks to start within weeks.
 
Wales considers rejecting UK Trade Bill
The Welsh Assembly has recommended that consent not be given to the UK Trade Bill, fearing that Wales would not have sovereignty to approve or reject trade deals and, for example, associated agricultural, fisheries and food standards.
 
Trade specialist publish helpful primers on trade and standards
The UK Trade Forum has published a helpful plain-English primer on trade and standards, including food standards, answering questions such as: What are product standards? Who sets the standards? Are international standards compulsory or voluntary? Does reclaiming sovereignty have a cost?
 
Codex Alimentarius, international food standards that underpin international trade in food, publishes ‘Understanding the Codex Alimentarius’.
 
The Trade Justice Movement has pointed out that democracy and transparency in trade matters to us all.
 

EU Withdrawal Bill (Repeal Bill)

For wider progress updates, join the Repeal Bill mailing list: https://repealbill.org/
 
MPs to debate 15 House of Lords amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill
The House of Lords has voted in favour of 15 significant amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, set to return to the House of Commons within weeks. Several are highly relevant to standards for food, farming and fishing. The Commons can accept the amendments, amend or reject them – possibly leading to policy ‘ping pong’ with the Bill going back to the Lords for further scrutiny.
 
Government confirms ‘Do No Harm’ duty will remain after Brexit
The Government confirmed on 16 May that the ‘Do No Harm’ public health duty will remain as a central tenet of UK policy after the UK leaves the European Union.
 
Trades unions express concern over workers’ rights in the EU Withdrawal Bill
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is concerned the EU Withdrawal Bill will not provide any effective protection for workers’ rights. Instead it would provide UK Ministers “with wide-ranging powers to repeal, dilute or limit hard-won employment rights”.
 
Scottish Parliament rejects EU Withdrawal Bill as Westminster power grab
The Scottish Parliament voted unanimously on 15 May to withhold consent for the government’s proposed EU Withdrawal Bill. The move airs concerns that the Bill represents a power grab by Westminster over devolved policy areas such as agriculture and fisheries, as policy-setting responsibilities return to the UK from the EU.


Brexit timetable

The House of Commons Library has produced a range of helpful documents, including this recently updated Brexit Timeline, covering the period 2016 to 2020. Of course, all Brexit predictions should be taken with a pinch of salt…

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