The long-awaited Agriculture Act 2020 has at last been granted Royal Assent passed into law today (11 November).

It grants a range of powers to government in relation to agriculture and the wider food supply chain in the UK. These include powers to establish an agricultural subsidy regime based on the provision of environmental and other 'public goods' (including soil and water management, conservation projects, plant health and access to the countryside).  

Other powers granted are designed to improve transparency and fairness in the agri-food supply chain. These include the ability to make provision for reports on food security, collation and sharing of data and fair dealing obligations for business purchasers of agricultural products.

Despite calls for the Act to include a commitment to ensure any future trade agreements include an obligation to meet existing UK plant and animal health and welfare standards and/or environmental standards, the government has not gone this far.  Instead, the Act requires the government to report to Parliament on the extent to which any future free trade agreement entered into with non-EU states and/or with countries which currently have a trade deal with the EU meet UK standards.  The Act does not, therefore, place a clear obligation on government to ensure health, welfare and environmental standards are met in relation to goods coming in from many parts of the world.   Concerns remain, therefore, regarding how level the playing field will be for UK farmers facing competition from overseas producers.

The Act is largely concerned with setting out powers for the government to implement subordinate rules and regulations, and is therefore short on detail.  As always, the devil is in the detail and food producers and businesses will therefore have to wait a bit longer before real clarity is provided around many of these measures.