What will emerge from ashes of post-Brexit farming red tape bonfire?

Read industry press predictions about the food trends for 2017, and a big focus on local British food features strongly among many of the soothsayers’ visions for the coming year. With food prices, particularly imported products, expected to rise fairly significantly over the next 12 months, looking in your own backyard and choosing liberally from the local larder seems like the best advice. But, what effect is Brexit having on British farms and how will that effect your business?

Apart from the much reported resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the EU, there have been a number of Brexit related news items relating specifically to the food chain and the environment that might have escaped your attention.

First up, the cross party Environmental Audit Committee has published a report calling on the Government to pass a new Environmental Protection Act. The committee says that with so much of the UK’s environmental and wildlife legislation being rooted in EU directives, Brexit posed a huge risk to wildlife and habitats.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has said that about a third of the current environmental rules would be difficult to transfer into UK law and the committee warns that a wholesale transposing of EU environmental regulations would lead to what it calls zombie laws – which fester and don’t move with the times.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the committee, said:  “European law protects huge amounts of the UK’s environment, farming and countryside.

“The process of leaving the EU presents a huge risk to all of those protections which is why in our report we’re calling for a new environmental protection act so that when we leave the European Union we are no worse off protected than we are at the moment.”

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference this week Farming Minister George Eustice indicated that farm subsidies would be overhauled – post Brexit. Under the Common Agricultural Policy British farmers receive £3 billion each year – many for doing no actual farming.

Encouragingly, from an environmental point of view, Mr Eustice said rather than straightforward cash subsidies, farmers would have to deliver ecosystem services – like enhancing wildlife – in return for payments. Farmers insist that attaching strings to payments would make them less competitive than their European counterparts.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom has announced that the Government is going to scrap a number of EU rules and regulations. These include the three-crop rule introduced that mean large farmers have to grow three crops to ensure diversity to help wildlife, previously threatened by large mono-crop planting. She sought to rally the troops saying:

“By cutting the red tape that comes out of Brussels, we will free our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food whilst upholding our high standards for plant and animal health and welfare.”

Some big questions which will have a serious impact on the cost of food that food foodservice businesses source, remain unanswered – like continued access to the single market and the availability of migrant labour. The picture is starting to become a little clearer, but the canvas is still pretty blank.

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