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expert reaction to Michael Gove’s address to the National Farmers’ Union Conference 2018

The environment secretary, Michael Gove has addressed the National Farmers’ Union 2018 conference about the future of farming post-Brexit.


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

“Environment Secretary Michael Gove sets out a compelling vision for a future in which we protect the health, beauty and permanence of our countryside. At Rothamsted Research, we have developed rigorous, science-based systems that can help to evaluate how best to preserve natural capital whilst producing healthy food. Our work comparing grazing systems for livestock production and a new Long -Term experiment to explore crop rotation in the landscape are just two examples that can help to underpin the thoughtful approach Mr Gove sets out today.”


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

“Much of the vision for the future of UK farming and food is to be welcomed. Speech now puts, food production from farming at centre of the environmental and rural policy plans that Gove had spoken about previously. Key environmental public goods determined by farming practices: soil, woodlands, habitats, landscape features and management and animal welfare. Talks of natural capital as “valuing permanence”. Public goods to include farming methods with less intensive inputs, alongside application of newer agri-tech technologies.

“However, several potential pitfalls can be identified:

“Subsidy levels to farming are guaranteed until 2022 but clear indication that some of these will change from 2019. The key will be the soon to issued future of agricultural policy consultation paper. However, subsidies come from the Treasury and that makes them vulnerable to whims of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How secure will Gove’s vision for them prove to be?

“Gove makes a clear statement that puts Britain forward as a high quality, high standards food producer and exporter. Will this vision be accepted and adhered to by trade ministers in Cabinet, and in trade negotiations with other countries, or will they pursue the contradictory policies of a cheap food Britain?

“Caution: talks of the need for farmer collaborations but tensions still exist along the food value chain. The Department for Business (BEIS) rejected calls to widen the remit of the Grocery Code Adjudicator to go beyond large retailers to include food processors and manufacturers under the code of fairer terms of trade to whom farmers also sell their produce. Rather the importance of food manufacturing to the economy is stressed, as part of the recently announced Industrial Strategy with no mention that farmers struggle to get fair trading terms with these companies as well as the large retailers. Are these Departments, Defra and BEIS, effectively speaking for different interests along the food chain?

“The need to harmonise the UK market by aligning England’s new agricultural polices and subsidies with the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and in turn Ireland itself are identified. But, how will this be achieved? And what of the island of Ireland as a whole and its trading border?

“The need to import labour to gather the UK harvests and processing and carry out veterinary inspections is identified, but with a hint that this temporary labour will come from countries beyond Europe. How will this sit with the Cabinet, and the PMs views on immigration?

“The remit of the on farm inspection standards review will be interesting to see. What it covers and doesn’t cover and how inspection will be carried out that ensure the highest standards of food safety and animal welfare; especially, when we are seeing currently that food safety inspection from public officials are severely depleted through the Treasury’s budget cuts to local authorities.”


Dr Mark Downs FRSB, chief executive of the Royal Society of Biology, said:

“The announcement that Government intends to encourage and reward high standards of agricultural practice, including animal welfare, is very welcome. Successful outcomes of this initiative should include increased funding for R&D, development of new technologies, and greater provisions for training and education.

“Overall care and sustainable use of the environment goes hand in hand with human and animal health. Future trading deals should keep, or indeed increase, current standards in animal welfare and food production.

“There are many factors to be balanced along the way and so careful and thorough consultation will be essential. Science advice and evidence will be crucial in achieving the right outcomes.”


Prof Michael Lee, Livestock Scientist, Head of Sustainable Agricultural Sciences at North Wyke Farm Platform, and Leader of the Institute Strategic Programme, Soil To Nutrition, at Rothamsted Research:

“The support for UK Agriculture exemplified in Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s speech is timely and reassuring, as our farmers face unprecedented challenges in the face of Brexit. We need to value and support our farming community to produce the high quality food and landscape which we ‘the consumer’ sometimes take for granted. Our ruminant livestock industry is at the heart of rural life in the UK, not only providing high quality food in a world leading animal welfare setting but also providing jobs for rural communities and a blossoming UK food sector and protecting our countryside which we can all enjoy. Without support now we run the risk of losing this vital industry which is the heart of the UK. I look forward to working with my colleagues at Rothamsted Research and the wider scientific and farming community to help realise Mr Gove’s ambition laid out today.”




Declared interests

None received.

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