Can we be an ‘environmental superpower’?
This week we challenged the government on their promises for a "Green Brexit" and becoming an "environmental superpower" outside the EU. We set out that it cannot be done without radical ambition in food and farming policy.
This week in partnership with the APPG on Agroecology, we launched our major new report Setting the bar for a Green Brexit in Food and Farming to a packed room of MPs, Lords and civil society groups.
We will use this report to hold the government to account on their promise of a “Green Brexit” by making it clear that the biggest barrier to becoming the promised “environmental superpower” is our ambition, not Europe.
See what people were saying at the event by searching #GreenBrexit on Twitter & Instagram.
A panel of farmers, academics and NGOs shared their experience of agricultural policies past and present with an eye on what should come next. The warnings were clear – farmers are frustrated with inflexible farming policy. The answers are less clear, but many in the room agreed that the UK cannot continue in the same vein if we are to address the urgent issues of climate change, wildlife decline and diet-related poor health.
“We must do more than play catch up with the Common Agricultural Policy” - Viviane Gravey, academic & report author
Our report finds that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is more flexible and diverse than we have been told. It is far from “common”, even at home, as different devolved governments interpret the regulation and framework flexibly. The report authors shared inspiring case studies from elsewhere in Europe, such as Denmark which is well on track to providing 60% organic food in public institutions, such as schools and hospitals.
There was consensus around the room that food and farming are so much more than agricultural policy – farming interacts with so many areas from planning to public health. Any move away from the existing frameworks would need to understand this complexity and recognise that much broader policies looking at all of society are needed.
"Health is as infectious as disease" – Robert Goodwill MP
The recently appointed Defra Farming Minister, Robert Goodwill addressed the room, quoting passages from Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour, the originators of the organic movement and the Soil Association. It is heartening to see the once overlooked areas such as soil health becoming common sense politics with the environmental benefits of organic farming praised.
But food and farming policy is stuck right-now, with the Agriculture Bill weak and frozen, and the risk of no-deal still looming over the farming sector. Our CEO, Helen Browning, pointed out to the minister that, while we are in Brexit limbo, we can act right now to incentivise sustainable farming by serving more organic food in our own public institutions.
We have a fight on our hands to build on the progress Defra Secretary Michael Gove has started. It’s vital we convince the Treasury that the environment is a public good and to ring-fence the £3 billion farming already receives, and to link food, health, climate and farming policies. We also need to make sure that UK farmers are not undercut by any trade deal allowing imports of products produced to lower standards in other countries.
"We do not need to wait for Brexit to deliver this promise" – Helen Browning, Soil Association CEO
There was an encouraging sense of urgency to get on and make progress in the room. So much is already within our grasp - our European neighbours show it is already possible for us to go for it with agroforestry, putting organic on the public plate and support and empowering sustainable producers in the marketplace.
Attention is on the farming and environment sectors like never before, we must come together, capitalise on the momentum and ensure that food and farming delivers healthy, sustainable food that supports good livelihoods for farmers and a countryside full of rich, diverse wildlife.