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Are Our Food Standards and Farming Industry Under Threat of a ‘Stack it high, Sell it low’ Mindset ?

“If we allow any erosion or dilution of our standards, we will be shooting ourselves in both feet, big style. We are not a “stack it high, sell it low” commodity-driven agricultural economy: far from it. We must maintain our integrity throughout everything that we do—environmental standards, animal health and welfare and so on.” Jonnie Hall, Director of Policy for NFU Scotland


Brexit and Covid19 – two huge events which will and are having a major impact on agriculture and our food security.

Nothing laid bare so vividly the precariousness of the food supply chain than the empty shelves in supermarkets up and down the UK.

 “Currently, the UK operates on a ‘just in time’ food system, maintaining five to 10 days’ worth of groceries in the country (often less in the case of fresh produce). Once the UK is outside the EU, its food industry will need to factor in time for longer inspections of food imports at its borders, and build the necessary infrastructure to conduct these checks.” (Food Politics and Policies in Post-Brexit Britain.)

Before we were hit by the Covid19 lockdown an Agriculture Bill was already making its way through the UK Parliament to deal with the implications of leaving the EU. With or without a trade deal with the EU, the UK will embark on its own course on 1st of January 2021.

The EU standards for food production ensured we knew where it came from and what it contained. It also prevented it containing things we wouldn’t want in it.

Less Favoured Area Status

Less Favoured Area 2017

Scottish Government Rural & Environment Science & Analytical Services

Farmers and crofters in Scotland where 86% of the land is ‘less favoured’ received subsidies because it was recognised that producing food where they were – further from the markets, weather conditions etc, meant supporting them with funding.

less favoured area map

Farming is also a devolved sector to the Scottish Parliament, however, the overall direction of agriculture is from decisions made by the UK Parliament. Although this UK Bill refers a great deal to England there are important parts which affect Scotland. It will dictate the direction of the farming industry throughout the UK.

The EU has an internationally recognised quality standard including protected designation of origin and protected geographic indication. These were not only an assurance of quality but also meant the consumer liked them, trusted them and would pay a bit more for them. This was particularly significant for trade outwith Scotland.

Farming will change. And what we can buy in the shops will change. Those food standards of quality assurance from the EU will be gone, to be replaced by a UK version.

The UK Agricultural Bill has gone through its 3 stages in the House of Commons and is now in the House of Lords. Reminder – the Government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons so we can expect this Bill to go through with ease.

aberdeen-angus

In Scotland where grass fed cattle produce the finest of beef  it would have been expected that MPs representing farming constituencies made sure that the interests of the industry came first – way above party politics. Unfortunately this did not happen. Tory MPs representing Scottish Constituencies voted with the Government with the result that lower standards of food will be allowed to be sold in our shops. These products will be cheaper making it extremely difficult, impossible really, for quality Scottish food to compete. A trade deal with the US will flood our market with food the EU would not have permitted due to the chemicals it contains.

The UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will have “considerable discretion to regulate, determine interventions, and direct funding.” (BVA evidence). The Minister may consult the devolved administrations but he is not compelled to do so.

There will also be an increase in bureaucracy , one of the main issues Brexit voters thought we would be rid of.

“to transport animals, products of animal origin or germplasm from the UK to the EU from 1 January 2021, exporters will require an export health certificate signed by an Official Veterinarian (OV)”

If there is a no deal scenario and that looks increasingly likely “Defra’s “mid estimate” assumption was a five fold increase in the number of export health certificates.”

Agriculture will also be affected by the ending of free movement. The lack of workers from the EU to pick fruit – a huge problem in the Angus area – is the one that tends to have been the focus of attention. But here is another issue “95% of the veterinary workforce in abattoirs graduated overseas – with the clear majority of these coming from the EU.”

This has huge implications for animal welfare, food standards and public health – the latter of which we have become more acutely aware of with Covid19.

“Allowing goods onto the UK market which fail to meet current UK standards of animal health, animal welfare and public health would increase the need for Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks on all goods leaving the UK and entering the EU Single Market.” (BVA evidence)

Link: Agriculture Bill 2019-21 House of Commons Library

“There is a risk of a two-tier regulatory system emerging whereby, after its withdrawal from the EU, the UK produces food at higher standards but imports cheaper and potentially lower-quality food from countries with reduced welfare or environmental standards. These developments could affect consumer confidence and cause public distrust.“(Food Politics and Policies in Post-Brexit Britain)

The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament FGGoing through the Scottish Parliament, and now at Stage 2, is The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill. The Crofting Bill which would have seen much needed reform of crofting in Scotland and all the work that had led to it was withdrawn due to time being used up with Brexit related matters.

This Bill is extremely important because whilst a member of the EU, Common Agricultural Payments(CAP) came to Scotland , Pillar 1 EU funding and Pillar 2 Joint Scottish Government and EU funding.

With Brexit all funding will come from the UK Government – as we will have left the EU.

The Barnett Formula is used to apportion money to Scotland from taxes paid in to the UK Treasury. So Scottish taxes go to the UK Treasury and a proportion of those are sent back to Scotland for funding services the Scottish Parliament is responsible for. If this same formula were to be applied to agricultural support there would be a steep reduction in the money available to farmers and crofters in Scotland farming in those less favoured areas.

There is still a lack of clarity of the funding that will come the way of Scottish farmers but it won’t be the same as was received from CAP.

The intention of The Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill is to have some stability and simplicity for the sector in payments.

How Does The UK Bill  Affect Farming in Scotland?

The UK Bill affects the following in Scotland:

  • Food security

  • Fair Dealing with Agricultural Producers and Producer Organisations

  • Competition Exclusions

  • Fertilisers and Identification and Traceability of Animals

  • Organic Products

  • Power to reproduce modifications under section 35 for wine sector

  • WTO Agreement on Agriculture

Scotland currently has its own system in place for the traceability of livestock. The UK Bill will see the  introduction of a new digital and multi-species traceability service, the Livestock Information Service (LIS), based on a database of animal identification, health and movement data.

Negotiating trade deals is done by the UK Government. There is huge concern that the desperation to secure a deal/deals will result in accepting lower standard food products into our shops.

“There is not currently, and nor is there proposed to be, any legal requirement to consult the devolved administrations and legislatures, stakeholders or the public. “ (Scottish Government)

The Scottish Government, Scottish stakeholders and Scottish public currently have no formal role in agreeing trade negotiations, and therefore will have no power over products placed on the Scottish market. The sale of agricultural products produced to lower standards than is allowed in Scotland, may also therefore undermine Scotland’s ability to keep pace with EU standards and maintain current rules. Briefing

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

 

6 replies »

  1. Exactly the problems the Swiss agriculture has been battling for decades. Only for us (I am a Swiss citizen with longtime and strong ties to Orkney) the EU-standards are the less restrictive ones, the more permissive ones resulting in cheap food of inferior quality and most definitely inferior standards as to animal welfare and health and as to working the land and the pastures conscientiously, ecologically and with a minimum of invasive chemicals.
    If the UK strictures are going to be even less healthy and of less quality than the EU ones, there is definitely reason for concern!
    Our Swiss farmers are struggling to compete with cheap EU food that is allowed to be sold, even though we’re not in the EU. Animals held along our own welfare and health standards cost more effort, time and money. Food grown along our laws about pesticides and fertilizer cost more time , effort and money, too. The prices of home-grown food are higher than those of imported goods.

    Not being a member of the EU has it’s drawbacks – but it has it’s compensations, too: In spite of the financial pressure, our farmers have the choice of producing along our own lines which are cut out to suit our country with it’s specific agricultural circumstances.
    And the number of people willing to pay more for healthier food and the wellbeing of the animals involved is slowly but surely rising.
    I very much hope Scotland and especially Orkney manages to keep up the very high standards I have been enjoying for the last three decades!

    Best regards

    Elisabeth Sidler

  2. An excellent piece Fiona, just a pity that the Greater Scottish Public will be unlikely to learn of what they are about to be subjected to. Bet that they didn’t realise all these consequences when they voted leave the EU choosing to believe all the rubbish being fed to them in the likes of the Daily Fail, Daily Distress, the Nae Fun and not forgetting the Daily Torygraph!!!

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