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expert reaction to the future for food, farming and the environment

Experts reacted to The future for food, farming and the environment which was published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

 

Prof Bridget Emmett, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said:

“The proposed public payment for public goods recognises the important link between farming and the environment and is to be welcomed. However the potential benefits of diversification into woodland and the benefits they could deliver appears to have been missed. Furthermore, providing a more integrated approach linking farming, environment and human health through changes to the food we grow and consume and impacts on air quality (farming produces one of the key precursors of particulates formation – ammonia) is also a missed opportunity. In Wales, CEH is involved with partners in exploring a wide range of environmental and human health impacts resulting from different agricultural scenarios to explore this issue for Welsh Government.”

 

Prof Ian Bateman, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Exeter, said:

“The argument that we should use public money to fund decent levels of animal welfare is fraught with moral hazard if this translates into in effect paying individuals to not treat animals badly. This is better dealt with through clear regulations prohibiting poor welfare backed with trade restrictions against the import of food produced to lower standards.

“The report argues that public health could be improved through an expansion of some sectors of UK agriculture. This is well-meaning but misguided.  Access to food is a public good and preventing food poverty is extremely important. However, trying to ensure that the poorest consumers in society have access to high quality food by subsidising food producers is – at best – highly inefficient and likely to be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. Food producers quite understandably sell to the highest bidder – that’s not going to be the poor. We should subsidise access to food not its production.

“The government are right to target environmental improvement as the key public good that farmers can provide.

“The present subsidy system is grossly unfair, giving three quarters of taxpayers’ money to the 25% of biggest (and typically richest) farmers in the country, simply because they own the most land. The same budget could be reallocated to provide an income safety net to alleviate poverty amongst the poorest farmers in the country and still produce massive environmental improvements. This would be a win-win for the environment, for taxpayers and society, and for the majority of farmers.”

 

Prof David Barling, Professor of Food Policy and Security at the University of Hertfordshire: 

“The committee’s report makes it clear that the Government has failed to address the future of the nation’s food in its policy, instead its focus is on the relationship between farming and the environment.”

 

Prof Achim Dobermann, Director and Chief Executive at Rothamsted Research, said:

“This report welcomes the Defra-led consultation on future farming, but it also highlights that a lot more details on funding, timing and delivery of the future agricultural policy are required soon. I fully agree with the recommendation that the Government produces a farm productivity plan by May 2019, which should also address the critical issue of how to support this through a more strategic and focused approach to research and its translation into better practices.”

 

Prof Dale Sanders FRS, Director of the John Innes Centre, said:

“I think the report is right to warn against future oversimplification of the divide between public and commercial interests, in which public goods are seen solely as environmental and therefore food production is seen as a solely commercial transaction. Surely the secure supply of affordable, nutritious food is both a public health and national security issue.”

 

Prof Richard ffrench-Constant, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, said:

“Public money for public goods is a good model. But does the public know what it’s losing? Many of our farmland birds and butterflies are on the verge of extinction and my feeling is that only concerted public pressure will save them from high intensity agriculture- whatever the economic model.”

 

Declared interests

Prof Ian Bateman:  Member of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Natural Capital Committee (NCC) and is a Member of the Board of Directors of the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). Ian is also a member of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Strategic Programme Advisory Group which advises NERC on its research programme, a member of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) Science Development Group , UK Country Representative and Member of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE) and a member of the Aldersgate Group linking environmental research, policy and business.

Prof David Barling: Trustee of Sustain: the Alliance for better food and farming (NGO).

No others received.

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