The final report of a two-year RSA study into the future of UK food and farming post-Brexit has been broadly welcomed by the industry, subject to shielding domestic food production from cheaper imports of lower standard.
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) launched its Commission into the Future of Food and Farming in November 2017, aiming to “help make the case for change to build a fairer food and farming system and ensure a sustainable future for the UK’s countryside”. The study was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
Recommendations from the final report, Our Future in the Land, are: to level the playing field for a fair food system – good food must become good business; committing to grow the UK supply of fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses, and products from UK sustainable agriculture, with more use in everyday foods; implementing world-leading public procurement, using this to transform the market; establishing collaborative community food plans to help inform and implement national food strategies and meet the different needs of communities around the UK; and reconnecting people and nature to boost health and wellbeing.
The RSA identified farmer and wider industry priorities to achieve a more sustainable system as: a predictable policy environment with a clear and reliable framework to unlock investment and allow strategic planning; relevant innovation – public research investment that matches what farmers need; peer-to-peer support – technical, business and social support complement each other in a sector under pressure; fair prices and stable markets – a decent income from production so farmers can save, plan and reinvest; and access to innovative finance – farmers are being asked to adapt to an uncertain future, and need investors and lenders who are ready to share the risk.
The RSA report concludes that these ambitions could be achieved through: designing and implementing a ten-year transition plan for sustainable, agroecological farming by 2030; backing innovation by farmers to unleash a fourth agricultural revolution; ensuring every farmer can get trusted, independent advice by training a cadre of peer mentors and farmer support networks; boosting co-operation and collaboration by extending support for Producer Organisations to all sectors; and establishing a National Agroecology Development Bank to accelerate a fair and sustainable transition.
“There’s much to welcome in this report from the RSA which explores how we can encourage healthy food, drive positive change in the farming sector and food chain through technology and financial support, and ensure that we deliver an economically and environmentally sustainable rural economy,” says CLA president Tim Breitmeyer. “We agree this should be the responsibility of the entire food chain.
“But a food system which can avert the climate and health crises society is facing should not come at the expense of domestic farmers becoming uncompetitive internationally and facing imports from countries with lower environmental or animal welfare standards. In this scenario we would just end up exporting our carbon footprint abroad.
“We also recognise the need for a strong regulatory baseline and critically we endorse the call to make it ‘do the right thing and increasingly difficult to do the wrong things.”