During lockdown, we came to value local food production more than ever. We are particularly lucky because Cambridgeshire and the Fens are home to more than 50% of the UK’s Grade 1 and 2 agricultural land. And much of the production, as well as livestock, is salad and vegetable food, which is becoming ever more important for our health and for climate-friendly diets.
However, farmers are facing a tough time with a rollercoaster of unusual weather conditions, from the extreme cold of the Beast from the East in 2018 to a severe drought with little winter or spring rainfall, and now a wet harvest in August.
This autumn, British food and farming face further uncertainty as the Agriculture Bill returns to the House of Commons to be passed into law, and as trade negotiations continue with countries across the world.
At a hearing in May this year, I was disappointed that our local MPs, Lucy Frazer and Anthony Browne, did not vote to protect the UK from poor quality food being imported through proposed amendments to either the Agriculture Bill or the Trade Bill.
At that time, a poll showed that around 80% of Britons did not want to ditch animal welfare and environmental rules as part of any new trade deal with the United States. More than a million people signed the National Farmers’ Union’s petition urging the government to ensure future trade deals do not lead to an increase in food imports that would be illegal to produce here.
We are quite rightly proud, not only of our world-class animal welfare standards but also of our standards on the sustainable use of pesticides, which reduce risks to consumers and the environment. The UK Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food consistently finds that over 97% of UK-produced food meets or exceeds trading standards – better than imported food.
However, as Jamie Oliver said in his letter to the Prime Minister, British farmers are massively disadvantaged if we “open the floodgates to cheap, low-quality imports from the US and at the same time drive world-class British producers out of business”.
As the Agriculture and Trade Bills come back to Parliament, there has never been a more important time to highlight the crucial role farmers play in feeding the nation and caring for the countryside. On the annual Back British Farming Day, therefore, MPs are being asked to wear a wool and wheatsheaf pin badge in the Palace of Westminster as a sign of their support for British farmers and a commitment to enshrine manifesto promises into law.
Covid-19 has highlighted just how important our food security is. As Liberal Democrats, we submitted a motion to the County Council asking for the Food Standards Commission powers to be made statutory so that they would have teeth. Sadly, although supported by Labour and the Independents, the motion was voted down by the Conservatives on the Council. We believe we need to support our British farmers to produce high-quality food to feed the nation. I hope to see our MPs wearing the wool and wheatsheaf badge and showing they believe the same.
Pippa Heylings, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for South East Cambridgeshire
(Photo: Pippa with farmer Tony Humphrey)