A draft of the first UK Agriculture Act for nearly 50 years (currently in Bill form) was published last week (12 September 2018). For the Sustain alliance, we have something to celebrate as it contains specific measures to achieve fairer trading and more sustainable farming.
Fair trade for farmers
The draft Agriculture Bill provides powers to the Defra Secretary of State to regulate “first purchasers” (processors, manufacturers and supermarkets), of agricultural products from UK and overseas farmers, to combat unfair trading practices, gather data and to promote fair supply chains. We understand the powers had been included in the Bill (which we understand remained controversial until the last few days before publication, hence Sustain coordinating a letter to the media to keep up last-minute momentum) and was because during the Agriculture Bill consultation it was “raised many times as an issue of concern”. We also understand our work influences a very large number of the 44,000 responses to Defra’s Health & Harmony Agricultural Bill. So whilst the Ag Bill is draft and subject to further parliamentary processes and amendments, and Sustain will be championing amendments to win improvements to the text, we are nevertheless celebrating this as a clear Sustain alliance success.
Support for environmentally friendly farming
The draft Agriculture Bill also makes a firm commitment for UK farm subsidies to move to a “public money for public goods” approach. Obviously, this has been won by a much broader alliance than just Sustain (Greener UK and its members not least), but 'public money for public goods' has also been one of the Sustain alliance’s key aims – requiring farmers to demonstrate beneficial environmental and social outcomes in return for public payments. Sustain was one of the leading voices in helping establish the arguments for ‘public money for public goods’ in farm payments for several years before the EU Referendum in 2016, and have championed this approach in concert with the Greener UK alliance and many others ever since the Brexit vote. Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove picked up this theme with enthusiasm when he was appointed to the post in 2017 and spoke eloquently on this, including at two events that Sustain helped to organise (ORFC 2018 and Sustain’s co-hosting of a Health and Harmony consultation event). So to see it on the verge of becoming a mainstay of post-Brexit agriculture policy is positive. We are now part of a Defra-led group looking at how payments could be allocated and outcomes measured.
Pay and conditions for agricultural workers
Disappointingly, new policy on pay and conditions for agricultural workers does not yet feature in the Agriculture Bill (another of the Sustain alliance’s key aims) so we will be working to get that into the parliamentary process.
There are also big holes on public health – sugar production, antibiotics controls, explicit support for fruit and vegetable production not least.
Concern over the lack of 'duties'
The Bill does not gives the Defra Secretary of State clear public duties or budgets, which we believe to be prerequisite for giving steer, accountability and resources to the proposed powers.
We will be work with our alliance, and our sister alliances on improving the UK Agriculture Bill - landmark legislation for our alliance - over the coming months.
Published 17 Sep 2018
Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.