The UK government’s Agriculture Bill, which aims to reform the farming sector after Brexit, has faced criticism from farmers and environmental groups who say it lacks proper oversight and accountability. They have called for an independent body to monitor and enforce the standards and targets set by the bill.
What is the Agriculture Bill?
The Agriculture Bill is a piece of legislation that will shape the future of farming in the UK after it leaves the European Union. It will replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has governed the sector for decades, with a new system of payments and incentives based on environmental and public goods.
The bill proposes to phase out direct payments to farmers, which are based on the amount of land they own, and introduce a new scheme called the Environmental Land Management (ELM), which will reward farmers for delivering benefits such as biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and soil health.
The bill also sets out measures to improve animal welfare, food security, and traceability, and to support innovation and productivity in the sector.
Why are farmers unhappy with the bill?
Farmers have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity and detail in the bill, especially regarding the ELM scheme, which is expected to be the main source of income for many farmers in the future. They have also raised doubts about the feasibility and fairness of the transition period, which will see direct payments reduced gradually from 2021 to 2027.
Farmers have argued that the bill does not provide enough certainty and stability for the sector, which is already facing challenges such as climate change, market volatility, and trade disruptions. They have also warned that the bill could undermine the competitiveness and viability of UK farming, and expose it to unfair competition from lower-standard imports.
What do environmental groups say about the bill?
Environmental groups have welcomed the bill’s ambition to shift the focus of farming policy from production to protection, and to align it with the UK’s net zero emissions target by 2050. They have praised the bill’s recognition of the role of nature in delivering public goods and services, and its potential to restore wildlife and habitats, reduce pollution, and enhance carbon sequestration.
However, environmental groups have also criticized the bill for lacking sufficient safeguards and mechanisms to ensure that the goals and commitments are met. They have called for an independent watchdog to oversee the implementation and enforcement of the bill, and to hold the government and farmers accountable for their actions and outcomes.
They have also urged the government to set clear and binding targets for environmental improvement, and to ensure that the ELM scheme is adequately funded and designed to deliver the best results for nature and people.
What is the government’s response?
The government has defended the bill as a historic opportunity to transform the farming sector and make it more sustainable and resilient. It has said that the bill will provide farmers with more freedom and flexibility to manage their land as they see fit, and to access new markets and opportunities.
The government has also said that the bill will ensure that high standards of food safety, animal welfare, and environmental protection are maintained and enhanced, and that any future trade deals will not compromise them.
The government has rejected the need for an independent body to scrutinize the bill, saying that it already has sufficient checks and balances in place, such as parliamentary oversight, judicial review, and public consultation. It has also said that it will provide more details and guidance on the ELM scheme and the transition period in due course.