Reader Letter – Sussex Farmers Need Public Support Now To Survive After 1st January 2021.

Dear Editor

If you have been following the debates in Parliament around the Agriculture Bill and more recently the prospect of tariffs for dairy farmers after our transition period ends on 1st January, you will be aware of the potential impact Brexit will have on our farming community in Sussex.

UK has high farming standards

In the UK we have some of the highest food and animal welfare standards in the world. This means that when we shop we know that there is no question about how the food we are buying is produced. Our beef is free from growth hormones, our pigs have not been reared in cages, our fruit and vegetables are free of pesticides that are detrimental to human health and the environment. We expect our farmers to protect the land they are farming and a walk around Chichester District will show you farm after farm which adheres to the high standards of Red Tractor certification.

Image by Michael Strobel from Pixabay

Farmers and farm shops fear being priced out

The very real fear facing our farmers now is that without cast iron guarantees that cheaply produced food which doesn’t meet current environmental or animal welfare standards will be banned, as is the case now, means that they are vulnerable to be priced out the industry for the benefit of farmers overseas.

This is true even of the small farm shops that serve our villages. As I was told by a farmer at my local farm shop, not everything he produces can be sold through the shop. By law he must therefore sell the remainder of his animals at wholesale prices. These prices are dictated by the wider market of what is entering the country. Even if everyone in the district gets behind our farmers and shops locally, any cheaply produced low quality produce entering our market through supermarkets and catering will be enough to push down wholesale prices. This means his animals will be worth less, regardless of how they are reared.

Our farmers will then need to decide if they can afford to stay in business. Some might contemplate lowering standards and adopting some of the intensive farming methods used widely in the US for example. If they do that, the very landscape of our district will have to change to accommodate vast feeding lots and intensive farming practises.

While large farms with a diverse portfolio, such as the Goodwood and Cowdray estates, can likely absorb some of the problems a flood of cheap meat will bring, smaller family run farms will probably not be able to.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Question to Council

That is why I am posing a question at the next full council meeting in Chichester district on 24th November. I am asking our councillors:

“Do you agree that our current high food standards benefit both our local farmers and consumers and if so will you write to our MP to ask her to lobby Parliament and the Government to ensure that they are maintained in law – including in any new trade deals – and that no food that is produced beneath them will ever be permitted in schools, hospitals or other public places that offer food in the district?”

Gillian Keegan MP reply

Chichester MP Gillian Keegan has consistently voted against enacting primary legislation that would guarantee protection of our farmers, and consumers. A recent reply I received from a letter I sent along with 75 other mothers highlighting our concerns around food standards stated:

“British consumers want high welfare produce and if our trading partners want to break into the UK market, they should expect to meet them too.”

 Mrs Keegan fell short in saying those overseas farmers would be required to meet those standards in law however, and as explained with the wholesale pricing problem, even those farmers serving our local farm shops are going to be exposed to the overwhelming price drop that will occur when American and Chinese pork can be imported. Consumers voting with their feet is not enough protection for our farmers, or consumers for that matter. How will anyone know how the cheaper products are produced and what impact that must have on animal welfare and the environment?

Council need to take the lead

That is why I am asking Chichester District Council to lead on this in Sussex and ensure that no food produced to these lower standards enters our schools, hospitals and care homes. I would like to see other members of the public asking this question in other districts all across Sussex.

The Agriculture Commission now has a legal footing and that was a welcome step from the National Farmers Union. But as Save British Farming made clear, it is by no means a solid safety net and deals that the British electorate might not be in favour of could still be passed with the majority in the House. We have seen this administration ignore the public on debates like feeding disadvantaged children in the holidays (another thing that Chichester MP Gillian Keegan voted against).

Stark Choices

Once our district loses its local farms it will have a very stark choice. Embrace intensive farming that is much more detrimental to the local environment, or built yet more houses on our green belt and agricultural land when the local infrastructure is already feeling the strain.

While Chichester did vote marginally to leave the EU, it did not do that to benefit foreign farmers.

Yours faithfully

Lucia Barbato
Chichester

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