Post Brexit government must make sustainable food policy a priority

July 14, 2016 by Staff Reporter

Organisations representing the health and long-term interests of millions of British citizens have called on government to adopt common-sense food, farming and fishing policies that are good for jobs, health and the environment, when they plan for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Concerns are expressed in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, and David Davies MP the Minister currently overseeing a new Unit advising the Government and PM on the post EU Referendum strategy. The letter, co-signed by over 80 food, farming, fair trade, poverty, animal welfare, wildlife, health and environmental organisations, argues that good food, farming and fishing policies must be central to any post EU Referendum strategy for the UK.

The organisations point out that better food, farming and trade policies can help to cut greenhouse gas emissions from farming and food industries by 80% by 2050, and promote healthier diets to combat heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and obesity, saving the NHS, and ultimately taxpayers millions.

Such policies can also support a vibrant and diverse economy, supporting good jobs and working conditions, in the UK and overseas. Further, the UK could prioritise ethical and sustainable production methods, improved animal welfare, more farmland and marine wildlife, a healthy future for bees and other pollinators, as well as enhancing the beauty of the countryside and protecting the environment, whilst also providing a safe and traceable food supply.

Kath Dalmeny, head of Sustain, an alliance of food and farming organisations, which coordinated the letter, said: “The British public has given no mandate for a reduction in food and farming standards, a weakening of protection for nature, nor a reversal of the UK’s commitment to lifting millions of the poorest people in the world out of poverty through trade. We are seriously concerned that such vital considerations may be over-run by a drive for new trade deals at any cost.”

Pat Thomas Director of Beyond GM adds: “The diversity of groups that have come together for this letter are a good illustration of how food connects so many areas of out lives. However we shuffle the pieces on the political chessboard, one thing remains true: when we make how we are going to farm and what we are going to eat the political priority, all the other important policy decisions fall neatly into place.”

Lawrence Woodward, Director of Beyond GM and Future Sustainabily adds: “Some of the claims that there will be a bonfire of regulations governing food and farming, and that thousands of existing regulations will have to be amended, are likely to prove overblown and overhyped. However, there is no doubt that the UK government whichever type finally emerges – Tory, Coalition or Neo Labour – will share the EU Commission focus, which is pro-deregulation, pro so-called “free trade”, pro-corporate and pro-GM. All of us who want an environmentally sound, equitable and healthy food and farming system will have to fight for it. We are pleased to support this letter which raises the flag to say we will fight for it.”

NGOs speak out

Stanley Johnson, co-chairman, Environmentalists for Europe, said: “Brexit means Brexit. What matters now, on the food, farming, fishing and animal welfare front, is to make sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We need to stick to key standards agreed throughout Europe, often as a result of a UK initiative, and we need to find ways of ensuring that, in the future, we are still able to play a leadership role in European and international food, farming, fishing and environmental negotiations.”

Professor Tim Lang from the Centre for Food Policy, City University London, said: “Brexit was largely won on the idea that the UK can ‘take back control’ but what does this mean in a country that imports nearly a third of its food? How will we manage for fruit and veg pickers if we can no longer rely on the 65% of our farm workers that come from other EU countries? If we want a home-grown supply of fresh, healthy and sustainable food, then farm incomes must improve, including fair terms of trade for farmers, and better pay and conditions for farm workers, as well as some level of continued allowance for migrant and seasonal workers. Will David Davis advise the government to negotiate all that?”

Malcolm Clark, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, an alliance of health and children’s organisations, said: “Brexit must not mean an end to policies that can reduce the diet-related conditions, such as cancers, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, that threaten to overwhelm the NHS. We have already waited nearly a year for the government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy, yet decisive action is still urgently needed to decrease consumption of junk food. Since the result of the EU Referendum, we have already seen the food and soft drinks industry calling for the sugary drinks tax to be shelved. But the UK’s future outside Europe must not be allowed to result in a rise in diet-related disease.”

Stephen Trotter, the Wildlife Trusts’ Director for England, a federation of 47 charities, protecting, championing and taking action for wildlife and wild places at land and at sea, said: “Public money should be spent on public goods. We have the chance now to increase the wildlife in our farmed landscapes, prevent flooding, stop pollution of our water supplies and reduce climate change. We will be looking to make sure that the proposals for what comes after the Common Agricultural Policy mean that wildlife and the environment don’t lose out.”

Tim Aldred, head of policy and research at the Fairtrade Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the Fairtrade Mark on products in the UK, said: “Millions of people in developing countries work hard and rely on their food exports to the UK for their livelihoods. It is essential that the UK takes their needs into consideration when negotiating new trade deals, to ensure there is no loss of livelihoods amongst the world’s poorest people. With the right political commitment this could be an opportunity to strengthen truly fair trade that works for the poor, that delivers on the sustainable development goals of reducing poverty worldwide and towards a sustainable future.”

Ruth Westcott, who coordinates the national Sustainable Fish Cities campaign, a collaboration of the UK’s leading marine conservation and sustainable fish organisations, said: “We can take back control of our seas to some extent. But it is vitally important that life outside the EU does not lead to a fishing free-for-all. Fish swim across national boundaries, and precious stocks that we share across the EU are still under threat from over-fishing. So stocks must still be managed sustainably and in negotiation with other countries. David Davis must put the science of marine conservation at the heart of government’s decisions about leaving the European Union.”

Government must act

The signatory organisations also ask David Davis MP to ensure that the advice the new unit provides to government is drawn up in consultation with people with science, health and sustainability expertise in relation to food, farming and fishing, alongside economic concerns. Further, the signatory organisations urge that food, farming and fishing make up one of the Options Papers being developed by the unit, to advise the PM and government.

The letter, copied to Theresa May the new Prime minister is below and can also be downloaded as a .pdf).
Dear David Davis MP,

We are writing to you in your role overseeing the new government unit, which will lay the groundwork for a British exit from the European Union.
Our group of 85 signatory organisations works across a wide spectrum of food issues, including farming, countryside, environment, fishing and marine environment, poverty, trade, animal welfare and public health, together representing the interests of millions of people. We met this week to discuss the implications of the EU Referendum for food and farming.

A large proportion of the UK’s current food, farming and fishery policies is covered by EU competence, and re-thinking this creates many opportunities.

Better food, farming and trade policies can help to cut greenhouse gas emissions from farming and food industries by 80% by 2050, and promote healthier diets to combat heart disease, cancers, diabetes and obesity and to promote oral health. Such policies can also support a vibrant and diverse economy, good jobs and working conditions, ethical and sustainable production methods, international development, improved animal welfare, more farmland and marine wildlife and restored farmland biodiversity, as well as enhancing the beauty of the countryside and protecting the environment (in particular fresh water and soils), while providing a safe and traceable food supply.

Crafting good food and farming policies is also essential to help heal the rift that has so far characterised the EU Referendum process, as well as to combat the disenfranchisement and distrust in the political process that so many of our fellow citizens have expressed.

We therefore suggest that the new unit, under your leadership, should:

Ensure, in concert with the devolved administrations, that fair, healthy, humane and environmentally sustainable food, farming, fishing and land management are central to the post EU Referendum strategy for the UK.

• Food, farming and fishing policies, and the sectors’ compliance with strong environmental protections, designed explicitly to achieve public good, must be the bedrock principle for any post EU Referendum negotiations.

• Public spending on subsidies, research or other support must be directly linked to public goods.

• The role of migrant and seasonal labour in food production needs to be tackled head on.

Ensure that new trade agreements build on, and do not undermine, progress achieved over several decades and under several governments.

There are many examples, to name but a few: local and sustainable food in public sector food buying, which can help lead the way in investing in quality British production; environmental legislation that protects natural environments, wildlife and habitats; the living wage and better working conditions; millions of food jobs supported in the world’s poorest countries; food labelling and marketing controls; animal welfare standards; tackling food waste; support for organic production methods, and new approaches to reducing farm antibiotic use.

While more progress is needed in all of these areas, we are seriously concerned that such considerations may be over-run by a drive for new trade deals at any cost, and pressures to de-regulate. Conducting Environmental and Health Impact Assessments as part of the preparation for new trade deals should be a critical step in the process.

We therefore urge you to ensure that:

1) The unit’s terms of reference include public health and sustainability.

2) Food, farming and fishing makes up one of the Options Papers being developed by your unit.

3) The unit includes officials with food, farming and fishing, public health and sustainability expertise, including from e.g. DEFRA, DfID, BIS, FSA, FSS and DH, and from the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland governments and administrations.

4) You draw on expertise outside the civil service to support your fact-finding and development of options. We are ready to support you in this and our networks include some of the UK’s best academics on food policy, experts on key issues and other well-informed stakeholders.

5) Respect for scientific advice on environmental and public health matters is prioritised, for example when advising on environmental legislation and fishing quotas.

6) Consideration is given to the wealth of policy work that our organisations and others have done in recent years, to inform your food and farming Options

Paper. Examples include:

• Square Meal: Why we need a new recipe for farming, wildlife, food and public health (Square Meal group) –

• Plenty: Food, farming and health in a new Scotland (Scottish Food Alliance) –

• The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Welsh Government):

7) Important principles, processes and legal requirements that are already enshrined in UK policy or have been upheld in EU negotiations, often with the strong support from the UK, are built upon. For example: the need for policy to further international development objectives; legislation to protect species and habitats and to ensure fishing at sustainable levels (Maximum Sustainable Yields – MSY); drives to reduce waste in commercial fisheries; climate change targets; the precautionary principle, and the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030 for which the Cabinet Office oversees domestic implementation), especially to support the most economically vulnerable in the UK and internationally.

8) Important policy initiatives already underway are not further delayed, nor undermined, such as the Childhood Obesity Strategy; the 25-year Environment Plan; implementation of the national pollinator strategy; and the devolution of power and responsibilities to UK cities and local administrations.
9) The highest standards of transparency in policy development are upheld, as this will be key to winning support and building public trust.
We would really value an opportunity to meet with you, at your earliest convenience, to discuss these issues and to explore how we can support the new unit in its important work.

Yours sincerely (in alphabetical order by organisation),

Jenny Rosborough Campaigns Manager Action on Sugar
Christopher Jones MBE Coordinator Agricultural Christian Fellowship
Jonathan Pauling Chief Executive Alexandra Rose Charity
Baroness Sue Miller Chair All Party Parliamentary Group: Agroecology
Sharon Hodgson MP Chair All Party Parliamentary Group: School Food
Emma Rose Coordinator Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics
Patti Rundall OBE Policy Director Baby Milk Action
Jacqui Mackay National Coordinator Banana Link
Dr Elizabeth Mitchell Chair Belfast Food Network
Dr Sue Christie Vice Chair Belfast Food Network
Pat Thomas Founder Director Beyond GM
Peter Brown Director Biodynamic Association
Katharine Jenner Chief Executive Blood Pressure UK
Shaun Spiers Chief Executive Campaign for the Protection of Rural England
James Treasure-Evans International Policy Manager Concern Universal
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chair Consensus Action on Salt and Health
Philip Lymbery Chief Executive Compassion in World Farming
Sue Dibb Coordinator Eating Better Alliance
Ricarda A Steinbrecher Co-Director Econexus
Barbara Young Co-Chair Environmentalists for Europe
Stanley Johnson Co-Chair Environmentalists for Europe,
and Former Conservative MEP
Dr Mick Horton Dean Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK)
Professor Simon Capewell Vice President for Policy Faculty of Public Health
Barbara Crowther Director, Policy & Public Affairs Fairtrade Foundation
Pippa Woods CBE Chair Family Farmers’ Association
Ian Eggington-Metters Interim Director Federation of City Farms &
Community Gardens
Niki Charalampopoulou Managing Director Feedback: The global food waste campaign
Helen Crawley Coordinator First Steps Nutrition Trust
Dan Crossley Executive Director Food Ethics Council
Anna Taylor Executive Director Food Foundation
Victoria Williams Director Food Matters
Professor Tim Lang Founder Food Research Collaboration, City University
Professor Corinna Hawkes Chair Food Research Collaboration, City University
Geoff Tansey Curator Food Systems Academy
Mark Driscoll Head of Food Forum for the Future
Jonathan Porritt Co-Founder Forum for the Future
Clare Oxborrow Senior Food and Farming Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Campaigner Northern Ireland)
Joe Mann Director and Food Teacher Fun Kitchen
Lawrence Woodward Director Future Sustainability
James Campbell Chief Executive Garden Organic
Nick Dearden Director Global Justice Now
Liz O’Neill Director GM Freeze
John Sauven Executive Director Greenpeace
Oliver Dowding Agricultural Spokesperson Green Party of England and Wales
Professor Ralph Early Professor of Food Industry Harper Adams University (Food Science & Agri-Food Supply Chain Management)
Robin Ireland Chief Executive Health Equalities Group
Dr Richard Marsh Chief Executive Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour
Professor Sylvia Tilford President Elect Institute of Health Promotion and Education
Emily Howgate Coordinating Director International Pole & Line Foundation
Allison Ogden-Newton Chief Executive Keep Britain Tidy
Ed Hamer Spokesperson Landworkers Alliance
Rosie Boycott Chair London Food Board,
Greater London Authority
Jerry Percy Executive Director Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE)
and Chief Executive New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association
Carmel McConnell MBE Founder Magic Breakfast
Carrie Hume Director of Conservation Marine Conservation Society (MCS)
and Campaigns
Professor David Haslam Chair National Obesity Forum
Marc Stears Chief Executive New Economics Foundation
Pete Ritchie Director Nourish Scotland
Alan Schofield Chairman Organic Growers Alliance
Nic Lampkin Director Organic Research Centre
Paul Moore Director Organic Trade Board
John Meadley Chair Pasture Fed Livestock Association
Keith Tyrell Director Pesticides Action Network UK
Ruth West Co-Founder / Director Real Farming Trust
Sara Jayne Stanes Chief Executive Royal Academy of Culinary Arts
Alison Swan Parente Chair School of Artisan Food
Stephanie Wood Director School Food Matters
Dr Jonathan Rae Head of College Schumacher College at Dartington Hall Trust
Professor Annie Anderson Chair Scottish Cancer Prevention Network
Patrick Krause Chief Executive Scottish Crofting Federation
Paul Stuart Interim Chief Executive Send a Cow
Helen Browning Chief Executive Soil Association
Laura Stewart Director Soil Association Scotland
Caroline Bennett Founder / Director Sole of Discretion
Shane Holland Executive Chairman Slow Food in the UK
Rend Platings Coordinator Sugarwise
Kath Dalmeny Coordinator Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming
Tom Andrews Programme Manager Sustainable Food Cities Network
Patrick Holden Chief Executive / Founder Sustainable Food Trust
Tom Wills Policy Officer Traidcraft
Richie Alford Co-Chair UK Food Group
Dr Angela Wright Co-Chair UK Food Group
Modi Mwatsama Director, Policy & Global Health UK Health Forum
Diana Holland Assistant General Secretary
for Food & Agriculture Unite the Union
Dave Prentis General Secretary UNISON
Professor Kevin Morgan Professor of Governance University of Cardiff, Geography & Planning & Development
Vicki Hird Director of Policy & Campaigns War on Want
Kate Allen Executive Director,
Science and Public Affairs World Cancer Research Fund
Stephen Trotter Director for England Wildlife Trusts


  • Thanks to our colleagues at Sustain for coordinating this effort. You can read the letter on their website here.