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As Britain deals with the vital issue of ensuring food security and increasing British food production, both prospective leaders, Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, and Rishi Sunak, previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have responded to calls for a rigid plan for the farming industry.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), declared in an open letter to the remaining two candidates, “Both the pandemic and the situation in Ukraine has highlighted just how important domestic food production is.
“The government’s Food Strategy, published in June, represented a clear milestone as it recognised that food production is a core part of our nation’s resilience. In order to deliver on the ambitions within the Food Strategy, the NFU wants to see food production taken seriously.”
Speaking in a similar open letter, farming charity Sustain also told Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, “British farming needs a similar emphasis to the energy-efficient homes drive that has been debated. A plan is needed to support farmers to transition away from a heavy reliance on very costly synthetic fertiliser, pesticides, and animal feeds inputs, which also have a big environmental footprint.
“The UK Government’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) programme is a key tool in supporting a shift towards Net Zero, nature recovery and food security. The journey to implement it over the next two years, as set out in the Agricultural Transition Plan, must be a core policy of yours.
“The Sustain alliance of more than 110 farming, conservation, health and welfare organisations, ask you to commit to the full development and implementation of ELM, with the hope that Defra will ratchet up ambition as it progresses over the coming years. Diverting away from the ‘public money for public goods’ approach would present a hugely backwards step.”
The Sunak campaign
Responding to the NFU’s open letter, Rishi Sunak has declared his intentions to establish a new food security target, including a statutory duty to monitor and report on domestic food production levels annually.
“I will chair a new, UK-wide annual food security summit at 10 Downing Street, which I would very much seek to do in partnership with the NFU and stakeholders from across the UK”, he revealed.
“I will also introduce a new target for public sector organisations to buy 50% of their food locally, to back British farmers and improve sustainability. I will aggressively champion UK food and drink, including the environmental and health benefits of UK-produced meat.
“I know that farmers are concerned by some of the trade deals that have been struck, including with Australia. I will make farmers a priority in all future trade deals. On my watch, we won’t rush through trade deals at the expense of farmers. They will take as long as they take and we won’t water down our standards.
“We will also build on existing support mechanisms to help farmers export to the world’s emerging markets. We will maintain the highest standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety.”
The Truss campaign
Also vying for the top job at Downing Street, former environment secretary Liz Truss has vowed to increase food security and ‘unleash’ British farming from EU red tape to make the industry more competitive.
She has revealed her plans to free farmers to grow more sustainable and high-quality British food through an extension of the seasonal workers scheme which is due to expire in 2024, and intentions to slash Brexit red tape.
The potential PM has also stated that her government would review poultry, livestock and dairy, horticulture and animal health regulations to simplify processes and ensure sector resilience and adaptability.
Responding to her ambitions, Karen Betts, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said, “I’m delighted to see Liz Truss putting food production at the heart of her leadership campaign today. Food and drink manufacturers of all kinds and their staff across the UK work tirelessly to ensure delicious, affordable and safe food and drink is available to everyone, everywhere, every day.
“But we need to work with the government to tackle soaring inflation, which is straining household budgets and putting businesses in our sector under real pressure. Rethinking and streamlining regulation, along with finding solutions to labour shortages and opportunities to boost productivity, would make a huge difference.”
Whether it is Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak who takes up residence in Downing Street next month, it appears that improving food security and increasing domestic food production is definitely on the agenda.