David Drew, the UK shadow minister for environment, food, rural affairs and waste spoke to EURACTIV.com’s Samuel White.
MP David Drew is probably the only politician who has expressed the importance of food security – the basic need for food – writing: “If you ignore this you ignore one of the most basic building blocks of how any country looks after its people”. His article is summarised below. For the full text go to https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/interview/uk-shadow-minister-britain-needs-a-real-food-policy-after-Brexit/.
He believes that, after Brexit, the UK should develop a food policy focused on consumer health and self-sufficiency, while ensuring public money gets to the farmers who need it
It would determine who produces your food, what they produce, who it’s for, what you sell it for, whether it is what people should be eating and whether they get enough of it – it’s not just about what you eat but about hygiene and fitness and diet.
The shadow minister asks if an independent UK can design a farming system that is both economically and environmentally sustainable – or will there always be this tension between the economy and the environment?
Many advocate much bigger farming units. But David Drew’s view is that mega-farms are not acceptable because the environmental price is too high. For example, if a dairy herd of 1,500 cows gets a disease outbreak, it is just not containable. He likes a variety of smaller farms and wants more people on the land to provide more jobs in the rural economy – not necessarily in farming itself but in all the associated trades and suppliers.
There are parts of the farming estate that are important for the environment – such as hill farming – but just won’t survive without subsidies. So the question there is do we pay them to manage the farms? Do we pay them to manage the countryside? Do we say, ‘we aren’t paying you and the countryside can look after itself’ and we re-wild these areas? These are all quite logical but difficult questions that have to be asked.
He is a big fan of stewardship schemes but a lot of the money under the CAP greening pillar currently goes to people who don’t need it: if they’re good farmers they should be taking environmental action anyway. The crunch point on the economy versus environment question is going to be how we pay for environmental schemes and stewardship.
The UK is a big importer of food. Will this new food policy aim to make Britain more food independent?
The food chain is a very important issue. Supermarkets only carry two days’ worth of supply at any one time, which effectively means we are only ever three days away from anarchy. So short-term food security has to be where we want to get to, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of having a longer-term strategy for producing more of our own food.
Supermarkets are still too powerful, so one thing we will look at is the power of the grocery industry regulator. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) told Dr Drew that farmers are now more in favour of longer-term contracts for stability and he comments, “[T]hat could play into the drive for greater self-sufficiency because we would know more precisely where demand and supply are”.
One of the things he is pushing for within the Labour Party is to make Britain 80% self-sufficient. He asks:
“Why should we worry about exports?
“Why don’t we just concentrate on becoming more food secure?
And adds; “It may sometimes mean we have less choice but that’s why we need a food policy that promotes what is seasonal and appropriate to our diet, rather than pushing, say, mange-tout over carrots. We are already 100% self-sufficient in carrots, by the way”.
David Drew is the Labour MP for Stroud, in southwest England