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Maintaining a robust and resilient domestic food production sector was in the nation’s interest, said the NFU

British farmers and growers should be the “number one supplier of choice” to the UK market after Brexit, the NFU has urged, with a future farming policy ensuring that public bodies source food primarily from the UK.

Maintaining a robust and resilient domestic food production sector was in the nation’s interest, said the NFU in its response to Defra’s ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation on a post-Brexit food and farming policy, published today (8 May).

A new policy should “define new rules for British procurement, ensuring our schools, hospitals, hotels and restaurants, and all procurement under the government buying standards were, wherever possible, sourcing British assured ingredients”, said NFU president Minette Batters.

The ten-week consultation - which closes today - was described as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to shape the future food and farming sector when it was launched in February by environment secretary Michael Gove.

The government is proposing a shift in emphasis from the direct payments of the Common Agriculture Policy to a new system of paying farmers “public money for public goods”, which recognised their work to enhance the environment and invest in sustainable food production.

Clear justification for public intervention

There was a clear justification for public intervention, both financial and in terms of broader public policy, to support food production in this country, the NFU said in its eight-page response paper.

While it broadly welcomed the government’s proposals, Batters stressed the NFU had “concerns” its post-Brexit proposals were “not always clear and are at times contradictory”. They had an “inherent tension between the government’s international trading objectives and the demands of its domestic industry”, she said.

Any reform for the sector should be “fair and equitable across the industry”. Policy should also seek to maintain a level playing field with respect to the UK’s main competitors, and provide sufficient time and certainty for farm businesses to plan ahead, the report added.

Read more: UK agriculture and trade departments ‘unprepared’ for Brexit, MPs warn

It should also ensure public investment in agriculture remained effective in promoting productivity, and provided fair reward for environmental delivery and managing volatility, the paper warned.

“I want British farmers and growers to remain the number one supplier of choice to the UK market, and I want British people to be able to enjoy more sustainable, quality, affordable British food at a range of different prices that suit all incomes,” Batters said.

“A future farm policy could uplift British farming’s ability to produce food for the nation, giving us greater security in the supply of safe, traceable and quality British food that the public trust. The policy could further enhance our reputation for high-welfare British food, which delivers for the environment, across the world,” she added.

“We’re making the case for a policy that respects the vital work of farmers as food producers, but also in delivering goods for wider society, and for this to be rewarded fairly. Without this, we cannot expect to enjoy the benefits that come from sustainable, profitable and progressive farm businesses.”