The Government has officially introduced the new Agriculture Bill to Parliament, establishing a new system of funding for the industry.
The Bill explores how the agricultural sector can boost productivity and encourage farmers to make environmental improvements once the UK has left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020.
Farmers will be given seven years to adjust to the new system, according to the Government, as the new legislation includes a stronger emphasis on land use as well as improvement in the tracing of livestock movements.
This will include factors that maintain high welfare standards as well as rewarding farmers for their contributions to better air and water quality as well as improvements to soil quality and habitats for wildlife. The new system is set to replace the current subsidies system of direct payments, which has been seen to benefit some of the richest farmers.
Theresa Villiers, Secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs called the revised bill “one of the most important environmental reforms for many years” saying the aims are to protect nature as well as helping us meet crucial goals on climate change.
“We will move away from the EU’s bureaucratic common agricultural policy and towards a fairer system which rewards our hard-working farmers for delivering public goods, celebrating their world-leading environmental work and innovative, modern, approach to food production.”
However, one point in the legislation that may bring concern to many famers is there is no binding commitment to prevent trade deals being agreed that allow the import of food produced at lower standards than those demanded of British farmers.
This had been one of the key demands that British farmers had following Brexit as they could be undercut by cheap imports from the US and Asia where there are much lower food safety and animal welfare regulations.
This was backed up by comments made by Minette Batters, President of the NFU, who stated “Farmers across the country 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. We will continue to press the government to introduce a standards commission as a matter of priority to oversee and advise on future food trade policy and negotiations.”
Martin Johnson, Manager at Milsted Langdon, said: “The long-awaited new Agriculture Bill provides clarity to farmers and those in the agriculture industry about the future of Government funding. However, there will be concerns from farmers that the bill does not go far enough with regards to a binding agreement on the standards of food imports.”