Government plans for a post-Brexit program to support UK agriculture are based on little more than ‘blind optimism’ and risk increasing UK dependence on food imports, warned a parliamentary inquiry.
The EU subsidy scheme – known as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and worth £ 3 billion a year to UK farmers – was one of the long-standing complaints of Eurosceptics, who saw Britain’s ability to develop its own agenda. payments as one of the main benefits of Brexit. The ministers said the new program would be used to increase the environmental benefits of agriculture.
However, MEPs from the powerful multi-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found that there remained a crippling lack of detail regarding environmental land management (ELM) programs designed to replace EU payments. They said that, by the government’s own admission, “its confidence in the project looks like blind optimism.” The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had given no explanation as to how the impact of the new scheme on English farmers would be mitigated, warning some would see their income coming from the payments direct cuts by more than half by 2024-25.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative Vice President of the PAC and longtime Brexit supporter, said there was still “no clear plan” to replace the PAC, more than five years after the EU referendum . He warned that some small farms with “very thin margins” could go bankrupt.
“Farmers, especially the next generation on whom we will depend to achieve our combined goals of food production and the environment, have been left in the dark. It is simply not true that Defra’s own failures in business planning undermine crucial certainty for a critical national sector, ”he said.
“The UK is also already a large net importer of food and we have heard that the vague ambition of ELMs to ‘maximize the value of landscape to society’ could actually mean that this is increasing further. The recent energy price crisis should be a salutary warning of the potential risks to food availability and affordability if the UK becomes even more dependent on imports. “
The new program aims to provide ‘public money for public goods’, with farmers funded to restore nature, nourish the soil, improve air and water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife. thanks to ELMs. The National Farmers Union, however, said the report should mark a “wake-up call” for the government and said farmers had been left in an untenable position for lack of information.
“We are very concerned that not all farmers will be able to get involved,” said Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the union. “The government has still not clarified how food production fits into the proposed new programs. This problem needs to be fixed now, if they expect farmers to join in. As the CAP points out, we might just end up increasing imports of food produced to lower environmental standards.
“It is crucial that Defra conducts and publishes the results of impact assessments to understand the true impact of the proposed changes, which we have repeatedly requested but not achieved.
Dustin Benton, policy director at environmental think tank Green Alliance, said it was not clear the new program would help the government meet its own climate and nature goals. “We need ministers to say how ELMs will help achieve net zero carbon and restore nature so that farmers can plan their businesses,” he said. “Without it, the green Brexit promised by the government seems more and more out of sight.”
Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said the program could have unintended consequences for consumers and the planet: costs, replaces foods that could be grown in a nature-friendly way here.
“Working in this way is inefficient, unnecessary for UK land managers and increases the potential for perverse outcomes, such as increased deforestation abroad,” he said.
George Eustice, Secretary of the Environment, said: “We do not agree with many of the points raised by the committee which do not take into account recent developments. Farm incomes have improved dramatically since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and there will never be a better time to improve the way we reward farmers.
“In December, I presented the full details of the incentive for sustainable agriculture, including full payment rates, and we published an in-depth analysis of UK food security and agricultural production. Over the past week, we shared more details on local nature and landscape recovery programs and announced a major increase in payment rates for farmers involved in existing agri-environmental programs.