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Farm to Fork Summit makes headway in securing a brighter future for British farming

At the first ever UK Farm to Fork Summit hosted by Rishi Sunak at Downing Street today (16th May), the Prime Minister announced extensive measures to strengthen food security and supply chain resilience, with investment in new technologies, further support for horticulture, and protecting farmers’ interests in trade deals being among the highlights.

By hosting the event (also referred to as the ‘Food Summit’), the Prime Minister has fulfilled the promise he made last summer to address the agriculture sector’s most urgent challenges and deliver a solid plan of action to restore stability in the industry.

Ahead of the summit, the government announced a range of measures to help strengthen the long-term resilience and sustainability of the sector and provide greater stability for farmers in the current volatile economic climate.

These include putting farmers’ interests at the heart of future trade deals and extending funding to boost export opportunities. The government has also committed to cutting back red tape that is currently holding farmers back from running diversification projects on their land to create additional income sources.

In a bid to unlock the benefits of innovative technologies in the agri-food sector, the government has pledged an injection of £30 million into the advancement of precision breeding technologies, which follows the passing of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act earlier this year.

In addition, to address labour shortages in the horticulture sector, 45,000 visas will be provided to overseas workers in 2024. The government has also promised to improve future support for horticulture by replacing the retained EU Fruit and Vegetable Producer Organisation Scheme after its expiry in 2026 with an expanded offer.

Moreover, further reviews into fairness in the horticulture and egg supply chains will also be launched, in light of the impact of global challenges affecting these sectors.

Commenting on the new package, Mr Sunak said: “Supporting our farmers and food producers must, and always will be, at the heart of our plans to grow the economy and build a more prosperous country.

“That’s why I’m proud to host this summit, and working together, I’m determined to build resilience, strengthen our food security and champion the best of British at home and overseas.”

The Prime Minister’s letter to farmers

In an open letter to UK farmers, the Prime Minister has set out ambitions to change the way farming is supported in Britain, emphasising the vital importance of the agriculture industry to the country’s national success.

He wrote: ‘If we are to stop a repeat of the shortages we saw earlier this year on our shelves, we need food security. So we have to meet our target to continue producing 60% of the food we consume.

‘And if we want to keep one of those five promises I have made as prime minister – namely to grow our economy – we need to grow our food and farming industry on which the welfare of our whole country depends.’

To ensure British farming is put at the heart of future trade agreements, the Prime Minister set out six principles that build on the government’s approach to the CPTPP:

  1. Trade deals will always consider the full impacts of agreements for the UK’s domestic agricultural sector
  2. Particularly sensitive sectors will enjoy additional protection in trade agreements, and including, where appropriate, through permanent quotas
  3. New export opportunities will be delivered for UK food and drink producers
  4. UK food standards will continue to be protected under all existing and future free-trade agreements
  5. The government will seek to advance international co-operation on animal welfare and to promote high welfare standards. Production methods such as sow stalls and battery cages are not permitted in the UK.
  6. Access to new markets will be provided to UK farmers by removing barriers outside of free-trade agreements

Lastly, the Prime Minister has promised to deliver a £1m programme to support UK dairy exports and a further £1m funding to support the seafood industry.

Industry reacts

NFU President Minette Batters was pleased to learn of the new measures addressing the primary concerns in British farming today.

“These actions recognise the importance of coordinated action across government to support confidence, investment and growth in British food. We look forward to working with the Prime Minister, the Defra Secretary and the rest of the cabinet to Back British farming and bolster our domestic food security.”

Responding to the government’s plans to review supply chain fairness in the egg sector, British Free Range Egg Producers Association CEO Robert Gooch said:

“The announcement that the government will review fairness in the egg supply chain is a welcome development and one that BFREPA has been asking for over the past year.

“It is a necessary step. Free range producers have been trapped in a boom-and-bust cycle for years, primarily caused by unfair contracts which leaves their businesses carrying a huge amount of risk. The crisis seen in the sector over the past 12 months, as costs of production rocketed but prices paid to farmers stagnated, demonstrated why this intervention is needed.

“BFREPA will be ready to play an active role in the review when it begins, and hopes that the outcome is a fairer, more sustainable supply chain where consumers can choose a high quality British product at a price which allows farmers to have the confidence to continue producing eggs.”

Meanwhile, Soil Association head of farming policy, Gareth Morgan, called for the inclusion of a wider range of stakeholders including citizens, environmental and health NGOs in discussions relating to the future of the food industry.

“The empty shelves of the last few months could have been avoided if we had a more robust food and farming system, greater equity in supply chains, and a cohesive vision and strategy from government.

“The government should commit to delivering joined-up policy that helps our farmers and growers, to increase investment in sustainable farming and regenerative forestry, and more trees on farms through agroforestry.

“Importantly, this summit should become a regular event open to a broad range of interests and experts and the government must recognise that now, more than ever, food security and resilience must start with genuine support for UK farmers and growers.”

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