Five Tests For The New Government
Following the formation of a new Government, we're calling on politicians to give food and farming a higher priority than ever before - and setting out five tests for government policy.
As the UK prepares to leave the EU, the government has a unique opportunity, to produce a new agricultural policy for the first time in decades, and a new Agricultural Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech. We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to transform the future of food, farming, and the countryside for the better.
The Soil Association is advocating for food and farming policies that address the root causes of some of society’s problems. Issues such as soil protection, climate change, obesity and public health, and farm animal welfare, were not high on the agenda during the election campaign. Yet these are fundamental for a healthy future, making it critical that the Government gets food and farming policy right – and takes a prevention not cure approach.
That is why the Soil Association has taken soundings from the wider good food movement and is setting 5 tests to decide if this Government is up to the mark on the future of food and farming:
Will the Government take every opportunity to use the £2bn public investment in hospital and school meals to enshrine our British values around the countryside, wildlife and animal welfare?
New Environment Secretary Michael Gove introduced Universal Infant Free School Meals. Whilst he was Education Secretary he spoke about how important it is “that children appreciate where their food came from – the impact of the seasons and the vital importance of making sure that what we put on our plates is connected to the country in which we live and the world which we value.” Now is his chance for the Government to put that vision into practice by making food procurement a far more positive force for British farmers and the countryside.
Will the Government put an immediate end to public health budget cuts that are starving child health programmes like Food for Life, while the NHS staggers under the burden of diet-related diseases?
With over 10% of the NHS budget now spent on diabetes, and 1 in 5 primary school leavers now obese, it is short-sighted in the extreme to cut local authority prevention budgets which in turn fund programmes like Food for Life. If every primary school in England was a Food for Life school, 1 million more children would be eating their 5-a-day. Can we afford not to make this investment in child health?
Will the Government put tackling climate change at the heart of agricultural policy, by embarking on a transition towards zero carbon, resilient farming systems by 2050?
Our food and farming system must no longer be the elephant in the room when it comes to action on climate change. The Government must recognise the enormous impacts of climate change on how we farm, use land and access food, and the urgency of cutting emissions. New policies and trade deals need to be compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement. Solutions to restore soils, store carbon and end fossil fuel dependence - such as more organic farming, less artificial nitrogen fertiliser, and boosting tree-planting – must flourish.
Will the Government guarantee that high standards will be the bedrock of the UK’s vision for farming, food and countryside?
High standards that mean: maintaining and strengthening food quality, environmental protection, animal welfare and labour standards. There is no public mandate for compromise, and broad support for the development of world-leading standards that the UK can be proud of and that better protect consumers and our natural world. We also need robust, transparent and accessible oversight and enforcement mechanisms, which give confidence to citizens and businesses alike.
Will the Government recognise and invest in the people who put food on our plates and who care for our countryside?
One lesson from the referendum was that rural communities felt left behind. The Government needs to address this by promoting affordable rural housing, investing in neglected amenities like post offices and public transport and ensuring a Living Wage across the farming and food sectors. Farmers need to be assured a steady transition from the CAP, maintaining overall farm payment budget, increased investment in countryside stewardship and support for practical, farmer-led innovation. There should be a focus on localising supply chains and ensuring farmers and growers get a fair share of profits, as well as ensuring trade deals pay special attention to the interests of smaller scale sustainable farmers and growers.
What we are doing now
Time will tell if our new Government's food and farming policy stands up to these 5 tests. In the meantime, we will continue to work to ensure that organic and ethical farming issues remain a political priority; recently, we took part in the first organic sector forum with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and we're pleased to have seen Michael Gove responding to our call for agroforestry development supportively at the Green Alliance summer reception.
We are committed to working with our politicians to keep agricultural issues at the heart of the post-Brexit agenda, and are encouraged to hear Michael Gove saying he intends new agricultural policy to allow farmers to:
"plant more trees in a way which will ensure we combat soil erosion, provide a carbon sink, and provide an environment for those birds and other species that we want to nurture"
We now have a unique opportunity to change the future of food and farming in the UK. Now is the time for change.
How can I take action?
If you are behind our 5 priorities for agricultural policy, please share them with your MP, and ask what action they intend to take to ensure the Government listens to you. Find your local MP here.
Want to make this change happen? Join the Soil Association today to shape a UK food and farming system fit for our future.
If you'd like to know more of our campaign priorities, or you would like to stay up to date with other food and farming policy, you can visit our Food and Farming Policy Hub.