Professor Terry Marsden, Director, Sustainable Places Research Institute
Recently myself and colleagues Professor’s Tim Lang (City University) and Erik Milstone (Sussex University) published the first major independent review of the overall impacts of Brexit on the UK food system: A Food Brexit: time to get real: A Brexit Briefing. The report, drawing on over 200 sources, examines available industry and government data, policies and literature on a wide range of issues including production, farming, employment, quality, safety standards and the environment. It highlights 16 key issues which urgently need addressing by UK governments in the negotiations with the EU. These include: the development of a clear integrated UK Food Plan and Statutory Framework for Food Policy; new legislation to replace the 4000 pieces of EU law relating to food; investment in scientific and regulatory infrastructure replacing at least 30 EU-based bodies; and new and innovative farm viablility and support packages to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Our overall independent and sober conclusion is that the so far lack (or avoidance) of domestic policy direction and debate in UK government on these matters is seriously increasing the existing insecurities surrounding food production, processing and consumption in all the UK.
Urgent action is needed in Whitehall and in the devolved authorities to develop:
- A strong and clear commitment to a low-impact, health –oriented UK food system.
- A new statutory framework which includes and integrates devolved authorities for UK food.
- A commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agreement in the new framework.
- Establish a new National Commission on Food and Agriculture to provide oversight and review, and to be a source of advice trusted by the British public, consumers and producers.
‘Taking back control’ then with regard to food policy in the UK is going to be complex, challenging and will take time, resource and intense collaboration between UK and devolved government bodies. The Welsh Government will have to be very pro-active in forging positive and power sharing arrangements both during and beyond the passage of the Great Repeal Bill; creating continuous lines of mediation with Whitehall in the forging of these new national frameworks. Wales will have to interact as a full and proactive federal partner in the development of these new frameworks and policies, and will also have to urgently address and protect the degree of national authority it holds to develop bespoken policies. This is especially true in conditions when the formerly ‘ring-fenced’ EU funding schemes- to which much of rural and post-industrial Wales have relied-, such as the CAP, protected food designations and regional policies eventually end.
In light of these somewhat ominous conditions we need to act to seriously and urgently change our (sectoral) mind sets about the types and the modes of public support for food, farming and rural policies in Wales, ‘post Brexit’.
We are fortunate I believe in having developed both the statutory ‘Future Generations’ and Environment Acts in Wales before the Brexit process. These lay out an innovative statutory framework for Wales which could be aligned to the wider UK developments we propose in our report.
For instance, the adoption of the duty to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources and the associated enhancement of biodiversity in the Environment Act, give a basis on which to build new policy programmes for food, farming and rural development. However, given the urgency of Brexit and the ending of existing funding arrangements we need an informed and proactive debate about new bespoken food, farming and rural development policies in Wales.
We have been slow in getting this going, partly I believe, because we are still in ‘hangover’ mode about the sanctity of the former longstanding policy structures- Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, the rural development regulation, Objective 1 and 2, Leader, PGIs, PDO’s etc; and the even more worrying syndrome of optimistically assuming that the sheer volume of financial support from these mechanisms will somehow continue. A sort of ‘muddling through’ mentality.
We have all known for a long time that many of these policy schemes were far from fit for purpose; and now we have the real opportunity to redraw Welsh food, farming, environmental and rural policy in ways which explicitly deliver both for existing and future generations, and for ecological and health enhancement in Wales. So what should be some of the main tenets of a post- Brexit reconstituted food and rural policy in Wales?
- A clear and politically essential requirement will need to be placed upon policies and incentives which encourage rural Wales to deliver a wider and deeper range of social, health and amenity benefits, as well as high quality food and other bio-economy products ( renewable energy, clean water, timber, etc).
- Conserve and enhance the diversity of Wales’ diverse and distinct natural resources and landscapes not only ‘for their own sake’ but also as the strong and durable basis for the green, more circular and ecological economy to be strengthened in rural areas. A goal that the Future National Landscapes delivery group is now working on.
- Create stronger and more targetted green procurement policies at local and national government levels given the regulatory flexibility Brexit could bring.
- Vastly increase the density and diversity of place-based cooperation and partnership development between farmers, other landholders and stakeholders, and make funding support conditional upon these consortia arrangements.
- Create stronger ties and interactions between urban and rural communities by the development of community food hubs and the joint development of, especially, horticultural production and supply.
- Create ambitious food and nutritional standards and targets as part of the UK new food and farming framework, and make this a central part of health and education policy in Wales.
Brexit provides big challenges, but also opportunities for re-drawing food, environmental and rural policies in ways which deliver generational public benefits and reducing the growing inequalities and vulnerabilities currently being experienced. Are we in Wales up for the challenge?
Terry Marsden is Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning and Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University.