The disruptions to the food supply chain threatened by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and - depending on what happens later in the year, by Brexit, highlight the need for sustainable, affordable, UK grown food produced using agroecological, nature friendly, farming methods.
The third reading of the Agriculture Bill, brought back to Parliament after prorogation, is due to take place today, 13 May 2020. The bill is - in many ways - this generation’s opportunity to shape farming legislative policy for the decades to come. It is difficult to overestimate its potential importance. The bill already does a lot to protect the environment - there is a great deal of good stuff included already. However, we risk missing a significant opportunity if we do not question whether it goes far enough.
For example - should it be law that any international trade deal laid before Parliament should be preceded by a statement that confirms that the deal does not undercut domestic standards in relation to animal health and welfare, plant health or environmental protection? That is what the proposed amendment NC2 would achieve. Is that a suitable, sensible protection for the domestic market, or is that going to hamstring our trade deal negotiations with other countries (anyone remember the chlorinated chicken headlines)?
Should the government to be stepping in (via the Agriculture Bill) to ensure that agricultural and horticultural businesses are supported in enabling public access to healthy food farmed in a sustainable, environmentally sound manner (amendment 26, also captured in amendment NC8)? Does that mean organic? Not necessarily. Do we need a definition of “agroecology” (amendments 18 and 19)?
I’m also very interested to see the (highly topical) amendment NC7, dealing with a coronavirus emergency food plan. While not widely covered, if passed this clause would require the Secretary of State lay before Parliament a coronavirus emergency food plan, within six months of Royal Assent. That plan would need to assess the incidence of hunger, malnutrition and food poverty as well as reviewing the proper functioning of the food supply chain. Given the current crisis situation that clear (albeit realistically timed) obligation looks like a sensible addition.
Looking forward to following coverage of today’s debate.
A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament...that contains provisions relating to the importation of agricultural and food products into the UK unless they have first made a statement confirming that...any agricultural or food product imported into the UK under the agreement will have been produced or processed according to standards which are equivalent to, or which exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to— (i) animal health and welfare, (ii) plant health, and (iii) environmental protection.