Food Imports Are a Threat to Our Environment

On World Environment Day, Sallyann Mellor, Lectuer in Law, addresses the issue regarding the Agricultural Bill, brought about from leaving the EU, and what this means for our environment. 

Our UK Government had the opportunity to amend the Agricultural Bill on 13th May 2020 to ensure imported foods followed the same strict food hygiene and animal standards that our UK farmers pride their selves on. Sadly, the move to change was defeated in the House of Commons by a majority of 51 votes.

The Agricultural Bill provides a framework that will replace agricultural support schemes such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) due to the UK leaving the EU. It is due to pass through parliament by the end of summer.

English farmers will be paid to produce goods which have a positive impact on the environment or animal welfare improvements.

The Bill offers wider measures to ensure fairness in the agricultural supply chain and there have been several additions to the Bill compared with the previous Bill which stalled due to the dissolution of parliament in October 2019. These wider measures include a requirement whereby ministers will report on food security at least once every five years, set out how farming will be funded by submission of plans and the consideration of food production in England, to encourage environmental sustainability.

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You might be thinking so what, surely that will mean greater choice and cheaper prices? The truth is, we should all be concerned.

If we have learnt nothing else from the COVID19 pandemic it is how important it is to support our British Farmers and buy local because they came up trumps when some products were in short supply.

Have you noticed how blue and clear the sky has been since lockdown, have you heard more bird song and noticed how green our environment is…? The defeat will undoubtedly place our repairing environment under additional threat from imports that will increase emissions and undermine the hard work of our UK farmers in ensuring animal welfare and environmental standards are met.

What are our British farmers doing to support our environment? You may not know that our farmers are trying to tackle climate change to meet the UK Government commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. They do this daily by allowing cows and sheep to graze. You will have read no doubt the controversy regarding cows and sheep in relation to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.  However, what you may not realise is that grazing livestock can bring many environmental benefits.

65% of UK farmland is only suitable for growing grass and grazing. Grasslands store carbon which removes carbon dioxide from the environment as the plant grows and stores its carbon in the soil. Cows and sheep feed on the grass and by eating the grass and fertilising the soil, beef and sheep manage the grass and protect the valuable carbon stores.

Emissions from UK farming is estimated to be around 5% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, this will only increase from importing foods into the UK and seeks only to undermine the efforts of our British farmers.

The impact also on animal welfare must not be ignored, sadly importing products into the UK that do not follow our standards again undermines all that we do. The Red Tractor campaign was launched in September 2019 and remains today to demonstrate that the products proudly displaying the logo are safely produced, responsibly sources and crops and animals are carefully cared for. There are 4 main key standards that all farmers must adhere to if they are given the approval to display the iconic red tractor logo on their product.

  1. Animal welfare-animals must be housed with the right space, water and food and be healthy
  2. Environmental protection-fertilisers and pesticides are only ever used as a last resort to keep crops healthy. Farmers ensure that pollution and impact to wildlife is minimal.
  3. Food safety-no hormone growth, use of any animal medicine, no chlorine washed meat or poultry.
  4. Traceability- food products can be traced from the pack to the farm.

Whilst money will be tight given the economic climate we find ourselves in, please consider your purchases. The cheaper food products will have a significant impact on our environment. Continue to support your local farmer/butcher just as you have during the pandemic.  Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables that have been brought over by boat and not air where possible to reduce carbon footprint or better still buy locally produced seasonal fruit and vegetables.

It is the small things that can really make a difference but the lack of transparency to the consumer in relation the Agricultural Bill is really very important and I hope this blog has given you food for thought… 

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