NFU Conference 2018

NFU Conference 2018

David Drew, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Labour MP for Stroud, addressed the NFU Conference 2018 in Birmingham on Labour’s vision for the future of farming.

This is the most critical time for our farming and food industry since the Second World War.

The Brexit negotiating team must step up to the plate and get the best deal for Britain, and food and farming are a critical part of our trade talks.

Labour is committed to maintaining the UK’s high standards of food quality, environmental protection and animal welfare. Any future trade deals must not allow the British farm industry to be undercut by food produced with lower animal-welfare and environmental standards.

Labour will oppose any free-trade deal that threatens existing standards and will oppose any attempts by this government to sneak these in through the back door.

It is essential that we get this right.

Farming is a key component of the British economy, providing 475,000 jobs and driving growth in rural communities. It also provides 61% of our food. Not only that, farmers act as custodians for our environment, managing more than 70% of the UK landscape.

Brexit brings challenges, risks and opportunities and it is impossible to emphasise just how much is at stake for farming during and after the Brexit negotiations.

Eighty percent of UK food legislation has been negotiated at EU level, many British farmers are heavily dependent on EU farm subsidies, and 80% of agricultural exports are to the European Union.

We need to negotiate trade agreements that work for British farming, while recognising and protecting the high standards of food safety and animal welfare that consumers expect.

The government’s vision for the UK as a free-trade nation with low-tariff barriers does not sit easily with its commitment to high quality and welfare standards in British farming. Combining these two objectives will be a considerable challenge.

But what is at stake is far more than the interests of one industry. It’s our nation’s food security, nutrition, environment and public health.

Labour’s food strategy would look at food production, its importance to the rural economy and its relationship to health as well as considering packaging and waste.

The threat of food-price rises is one of the biggest challenges of Brexit. Food banks remain a disgrace, and any new support system must acknowledge that food is a basic necessity. DEFRA and the Home Office must find a solution urgently to the declining number of seasonal workers coming to work on UK farms.

A Labour government would sort out this mess as a priority. We need a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ scheme, and we need it now. The standoff between DEFRA and the Home Office is completely unacceptable and counter-productive.

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MP praises award-winning apprentice scheme and calls for more applicants from Stroud to apply for future intakes

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