Theresa May urged to place food and fishing policies at the centre of post-Brexit strategy

In her first full day in office, new Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged by more than 80 organisations to adopt "common-sense" food, farming and fishing policies, in the wake of the UK's decision to leave the European Union (EU).

A letter to the Prime Minister and Brexit advisory Minister Oliver Letwin MP co-signed by organisations from farming, fair trade, poverty, animal welfare, wildlife health and environmental sectors states that the Government has an opportunity to reshape many of the UK’s food and farming policies and subsidies formerly defined at EU level.

High-profile signatories of the letter include Environmentalists for Europe, the Fairtrade Foundation, the Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Earth and Forum for the Future.

“Brexit means Brexit,” said Environmentalists for Europe co-chairman Stanley Johnson, who previously claimed that leaving the EU would be a “disaster” for Britain. “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.”  

‘Deliver on sustainable future’

The organisations suggest that improved food, farming and trade policies can help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from farming and food industries by 80% by 2050, and promote healthier diets to combat disease and heart conditions, saving millions for the NHS and taxpayers. Participants also point out that such policies can also support a vibrant and diverse economy, supporting good jobs and working conditions, in the UK and overseas.

The Fairtrade Foundation highlights that millions of people in developing countries rely on their food exports to the UK for their livelihoods.

The organisation’s head of policy and research Tim Aldred said: “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.”

‘Public money for public goods’

According to the signatories, the UK should prioritise ethical and sustainable production methods, improved animal welfare, more farmland and marine wildlife, as well protecting the environment, while providing a safe and traceable food supply.

“Public money should be spent on public goods,” said the Wildlife Trusts’ director for England Stephen Trotter. “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 (CAP) mean that wildlife and the environment don’t lose out.”

‘Stabilise the policy landscape’

Meanwhile, a coalition of sustainable business leaders has welcomed the new Prime Minister’s appointment in the face of the uncertainty caused by the political turmoil of the last few weeks.

The Aldersgate Group has urged May to safeguard the UK’s growing low-carbon economy, specifically calling for the development of a detailed Emissions Reduction Plan by the end of 2016.

In line with Tuesday’s report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the group states that making rapid progress on a 25 year plan to improve the state of the UK’s natural environment must now be essential priorities for the Government.

Aldersgate Group executive director Nick Molho said: “Theresa May and her new government have a lot to do. Clearly, negotiations for the UK’s exit from the European Union will be a priority, but there are opportunities over the next few months to stabilise the UK’s policy landscape and ensure that businesses investing in our low carbon and environmental sectors can continue to do so. We urge Mrs May to provide continuity and leadership for the UK’s low carbon economy.

“For 40 years, European environmental legislation has provided a “backstop” for businesses considering investment in the UK, providing policy continuity beyond the domestic five-year parliamentary cycle. The new government’s priority must be to restore that confidence as swiftly as possible through ambitious and stable environmental policy.”

George Ogleby

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