Ministers urged to back British farming and avoid 'offshoring' climate change challenge

Ministers are being urged to meet a growing clamour for greater action on climate change with responsible trade deals and support to help nature-friendly farming flourish.

Future trade deals must not be used for offshoring the UKs climate and nature commitments, the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission said in a warning backed by more than 100 influential individuals. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

More than 100 influential figures in academia, farming, wider industry and politics, as well as other prominent campaigners, warn that future trade deals must not be used for “offshoring” the UK’s climate and nature commitments to countries with fewer resources and weaker environmental standards.

Rural communities could suffer “immense harm” if the UK rushes into trade deals “at any cost”, states a letter to Ministers organised by the independent RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission.

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It calls for the Government to act upon recommendations put forward by the Commission, including better support for healthy, affordable food, including British grown fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and sustainable fish, meat and dairy.

It also wants the Government to commit to a “workable transition plan” for climate and nature-friendly farming as Britain leaves the European Union, and to provide the necessary resources for a “fair and green transition”, including funding a new National Agro-Ecology Investment Bank.

Sir Ian Cheshire, who chairs the RSA Commission and Barclays bank in the UK, said: “While UK civil society is rallying to respond to these challenges, all of us in government and business need to match this ambition with urgent action.

"This means investing in healthy food production, supporting a transition plan for climate and nature-friendly farming, and mobilising resources through a new development bank to help green farming initiatives off the ground.”

The Commission is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Signatories to its letter to Ministers include Waitrose chief executive Rob Collin; Natural England chairman Tony Juniper; Environment Agency chair Emma Howard-Boyd; the National Trust’s director-general Hilary McGrady; and the presidents of the National Farmers’ Union and Country Land and Business Association, Minette Batters and Tim Breitmeyer.

Sue Pritchard, the Commission’s director, said: “The breadth of signatories demonstrates how important this is to so many people across food and farming, environment and countryside.

“We’re sending this letter to the Secretaries of State in Defra, International Trade, Health, Business, and International Development, as well as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to urge them to work together to weigh up carefully the wide-ranging implications of the trade decisions they take.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “We have been clear we will not compromise our high environmental standards in the pursuit of any trade deals. As we leave the EU, we have a historic opportunity to lead a green transformation that will help our country thrive, while supporting our crucial food and farming industry to grow more, sell more and export more British food.”

“We are firmly committed to protecting and enhancing the environment for future generations. Our landmark Environment Bill will address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, setting out world-leading, legal commitments to our natural environment and putting environmental accountability at the heart of Government.”