Farming organisations have welcomed the additional focus on food in the Agricultural Bill, which has generally been welcomed by environmental bodies.
NPA senior policy Ed Barker said the Bill sets out the overarching direction of policy, but remained light on policy detail.
“We will therefore have to reserve judgement. But there is certainly more emphasis on food production and security in this version of the Bill than in the original published by Michael Gove last year, a reflection that Defra has listened to NPA and others across the food and farming sector.
“In particular, we welcome the supply chain measures – the NPA will support any initiatives that improve transparency across the supply chain and ensure fairer supply chain relations. We look forward to working closely with Defra on that.
“As a previously unsupported sector, we see opportunities under the new agricultural policy for support to improve productivity and efficiency on pig farms and to help producers invest in new technology that can deliver these aims and also help the sector maintain and improve on our high environmental standards. We are also keen to see funding used to deliver a health and welfare strategy for the pig sector.
“But we will continue to fight against any attempts to drive domestic farm policy in a direction that makes UK producers uncompetitive in the global marketplace.
“We cannot look at this in isolation from trade policy, which, as we raise standards, must not allow imports of food produced using methods not permitted in the UK.”
NFU President Minette Batters said: “This Bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation for farmers in England for over 70 years and it is absolutely vital that it is tailored to farming’s specific needs and ambitions.
“Our farmers provide the nation with safe, traceable and nutritious food produced to some of the highest standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety in the world. With the right policy framework in place we can build on this to lead the world in the production of climate-friendly food and realise our ambitions to reach net zero by 2040.
“I’m pleased that the government has clearly listened to many of the concerns we raised with the Bill in the last Parliament and has acted to ensure the vital role of farmers as food producers is properly valued. However, farmers across the country will still want to see legislation underpinning the government’s assurances that they will not allow the imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal here through future trade deals.
“It is encouraging to see that the Agriculture Bill now recognises that food production and caring for the environment go hand-in-hand. Alongside this, the government’s commitment to invest in supporting farmers to improve productivity will be critical, given the delivery of sustainable and climate-friendly food systems cannot be achieved in the absence of viable and profitable farm businesses.
“A commitment to regularly report on food security to Parliament is reassuring but this must be more than simply a box-ticking exercise. We look forward to more detail about how exactly the food security provisions will operate.”
CLA President Mark Bridgeman said: “The transition period is set to begin from 2021, but the delay in the Bill and the lack of clarity of how direct payments will be removed during the transition period means there is still much uncertainty among farmers and land managers.
“The seven-year transition period will see the removal of direct payments, which have been the mainstay of support for many years, and a move to the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) that will only be fully available from late 2024 under current plans.
“However, the Government should allow proper time for rural businesses to adjust and adapt, ideally by delaying the start of the transition by 12 months.
“We warmly welcome guarantees of funding for the lifetime of this Parliament, but farmers need to know how it affects them personally.”
British Veterinary Association president Daniella Dos Santos said: “We are pleased to see that animal health and welfare gets the prominence it deserves in this long-awaited Bill.
“We are rightly recognised as a world leader for our animal welfare standards, so measures that incentivise industry to both maintain and enhance those standards are very positive and put the country on a firm footing as we build future trade links. It will be really important for strong commitments to animal health and welfare to be replicated in the devolved administrations as legislation is developed across the UK and to coordinate throughout the UK food chain.
“BVA stands with the wider farming industry in pushing for assurances that imports produced to lower animal health and welfare standards will not be accepted as part of future trade deals. There must be no mixed messages. The UK cannot commit to raising the bar domestically while allowing in goods that don’t meet the high standards that British consumers rightly want and expect.”
Ian Wright, Food and Drink Federation chief executive, said: “We welcome the commitment from government to keep our food security under review. It must assess both domestic production as well as vital ingredients and goods from overseas.
“We are committed too to reducing our own environmental impacts and to working with others to increase resource efficiency and help protect natural capital across the supply chain.”
RSPB head of land use policy, Tom Lancaster said: “The Agriculture Bill is a crucial step in the fight against the climate and environment emergencies, and as it stands will enable farmers and land managers in England to lead the way. A focus on public money for public goods is the right one to drive the restoration of nature across our countryside, and a shift toward more sustainable food production.”
Kierra Box, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Making sure there is enough healthy, sustainably produced food for everyone is a positive aim in this Bill, but technology is not a magic bullet. Future food productivity will rely on protecting and restoring natural services such as pollination and soil health.
“As well as being key for food productivity, environmentally friendly farming is a crucial part of fixing the climate and nature crisis. But, as we begin to trade independently, UK efforts could be undermined by imports from countries that have lower environmental, food, and animal welfare standards. The government must add a legal commitment to prevent trade deals from forcing lower standards on the UK.”
Gareth Morgan, Soil Association Head of Farming & Land Use Policy, said: “We are pleased to see the continued commitment to public money for public goods in the Agriculture Bill – rewarding farmers who store carbon and protect water and wildlife.
“But much more is necessary to bring the radical change our farming sector needs to solve the climate, nature and diet crises. Small tweaks to the status quo will not suffice.”
Peter Snodgrass, partner and agriculture specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, said: “The Bill’s arrival signals a renewed focus on agriculture, which will no doubt please UK farmers, especially given the turbulence experienced in recent months.
“The proposed requirement that the Government will have to report regularly to Parliament on food security may be a confidence booster for those farmers worried that food production was being sidelined in favour of other activities.
“When future trade deals are struck with non-EU countries, the UK must ensure that overseas producers meet the same stringent criteria as their domestic counterparts.”