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The convoy of tractors and other farm vehicles circled Westminster, bringing London traffic to a halt over several hours

As many as 100 tractors descended on central London last night to protest about the threat posed to the UK’s food security.

The convoy of tractors and other farm vehicles circled Westminster, bringing London traffic to a halt over several hours.

The protest was organised by campaign groups Save British Farming and Fairness for Farmers of Kent, who argue cheap food imports and a lack of government support for the sector is putting food security at risk.

“The world is descending into chaos, and we know from history when this has happened before that food security is the most important thing and means food is getting scarcer across the world,” said organiser Liz Webster, pointing to a combination of challenges including war and climate change.

“We ought to be digging for Britain not mothballing our food production,” she added.

The organisations said the Agriculture Act 2020, together with poor trade deals and non-existent import controls, had exposed Britain to a farming, food security and public health crisis.

Webster said the protest was a “cry for help” as in her view the government either did not “care if we haven’t got enough food”, or assumed “the supermarkets are always going to be able to go out to the market and fill the shelves, [but] we know that’s not true because last year we had massive shortages”.

London tractor protest

Source: Grace Duncan 

“The [government] could immediately focus on getting legislation through to stop this labelling business,” she added, pointing to the uncertainty around how food sourced from overseas and processed in the UK can still be called ‘British’. This is part of the government’s new labelling consultation, but is not expected will be implemented for a significant period of time. 

“They could also ditch these trade deals, and they need to withdraw from CPTPP because CPTPP is curtains for British agriculture,” Webster argued.

Read more: How British are the supermarkets and what’s behind their marketing claims?

Tim Chambers was one farmer who drove as part of the procession through London. He said he hoped the protest would “raise the profile of farming in the UK” and that it would “remind the government that they’ve got to listen to the rural community”.

Chambers, the owner of WB Chambers in Kent, added that: “We are not here to ask for more money, we just want government policy to help us provide food for the country.

“If we become very reliant on imports, then of course, it will impact all of us,” he told The Grocer. “It will be terrible if we end up with food shortages and price rises.”

Webster said the protest had been a great success and “we felt loved by the police, we felt loved by the media and we felt loved by the people”.

Further action is planned by the farming organisations to build on the protest.

The rally marked the latest in a growing number of farmer protests seen across the UK since the turn of the year.

Several thousand farmers congregated on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff earlier this month over the Labour administration’s handling of new Welsh sustainable farming rules that could see up to 20% of farmland given over to tree planting and wildlife habitats.

It comes as Defra this week announced an upper limit on the amount of land farmers can take out of productive use in England, through its post-Brexit Environmental Land Management subsidy schemes.

Under the changes, Sustainable Farming Incentive applicants will only be able to put 25% of their land into six actions that take land out of direct food production: Flower-rich grass margins; Pollen and nectar flower mix; Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land; Grassy field corners and blocks; Improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management; and Winter bird food on improved grassland.

The changes would ensure the scheme “continues to support farmers to produce food sustainably alongside improving the environment”, Defra said.