Policy

Making the food and farming industry more competitive while protecting the environment

Issue

The farming, food and drink sector is responsible for 3.5 million jobs and 7% of the UK’s overall economy. Making this sector more productive and competitive, particularly by increasing exports, will help economic growth.

We need to produce more food, not just for economic growth but also to feed the growing world population.

We also need to get better at producing food in efficient ways. Farmers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers all have a part to play in reducing waste and using resources effectively.

At the same time, we need to try to prevent the pressure we’re putting on the land, including through climate change, from damaging the environment.

Actions

Increasing exports and making the food industry more competitive

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) are working with the food and drink industry to implement an action plan to increase exports in the farming, food and drink sector. It sets out how we’ll:

  • open more markets and remove trade barriers
  • promote our industry at important overseas trade events
  • encourage more companies to export and support those who already do so

We’re already working to:

We’re also encouraging more food producers to add value to their products by registering them under the EU Protected Food Names scheme and Protected Wine Names scheme.

Increasing food production while improving the environment

In the natural environment white paper, we said we would find ways to increase food production while also improving the environment.

To do this, we set up the Green Food Project, working with the food, farming and environmental industries. This is a major study into how Britain’s food system needs to change.

We published the project’s initial conclusions in July 2012. We’ll use these conclusions and ongoing work and discussions from the Green Food Project to inform policy in the future.

Building a sustainable food chain

As part of our wider work to make sure the UK has a secure, environmentally sustainable, affordable supply of food, we’re:

Funding for agriculture to support good environmental management

We provide funding, advice and other support for farmers to promote environmentally friendly ways of managing land and increased production.

Farmers can get funding for work that meets these aims through the Rural Development Programme and the Environmental Stewardship scheme.

Farmers who claim payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must meet a set of conditions, called cross compliance. This includes conditions for good environmental stewardship.

Providing better information to farmers

We’ve reviewed the way we provide advice and information to farmers (the Review of Advice, Incentives and Voluntary Approaches). We’ve published the results of the review, and set out our plans to provide information that is better integrated and more straightforward to use.

Attracting more skilled people into agriculture

We need to attract more people with the right skills and knowledge into the agricultural sector. We have been working with the industry led ‘Future of farming review’ group to identify the barriers facing talented new entrants when considering a career in agriculture.

The review group has now published their recommendations.

Regulating the use of pesticides

Pesticides are needed to control a variety of weeds, diseases, pests and moulds. However, if they are not made and used safely, they can be a risk to people and the environment. We regulate and control pesticides and neonicotinoid insecticides to minimise the risks without losing the benefits.

Protecting soils

Soils are an essential part of agriculture and an important natural resource. We’re working to make sure soils are safeguarded and managed in sustainable ways. We’re also supporting the horticultural industry as it reduces its use of peat.

Controlling cloning and genetic modification

We regulate to ensure the safety of environmental releases of genetically modified (GM) organisms (like plants and medicines) for research trials. At EU level we are pushing for the controls on the commercial use of GM products to operate sensibly, to encourage innovation and growth, and so that we don’t forego the potential benefits of this technology. Read more about our policy on GM.

We enforce EU and UK legislation that controls the cloning of farmed animals.

Using evidence and research

We develop policy based on evidence from research. Our priorities for research are to:

  • fill the evidence gaps highlighted by the Green Food Project report
  • give more cohesive information to farmers, land managers and policy-makers

We’re using large research ‘platform’ projects such as the Greenhouse Gas Research and Development Platform, which brings together over 100 scientists in 16 research institutes.

We’ll use this platform approach to research issues involved in producing enough food for a growing population from a shrinking land, water, nutrient and energy resources. This will build on the insights from the Foresight Report and the Green Food Project.

Background

We’ve developed this policy in accordance with our priorities for 2012 to 2015, which include:

  • support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production
  • enhance the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life
  • support a strong and sustainable green economy, including thriving rural communities, resilient to climate change

The natural environment white paper

The natural environment white paper set out our plans for the natural environment for the next 50 years. In the white paper, we say that England needs a competitive farming and food industry which contributes to global food security. In the long term, food production depends on a healthy environment. As over 70% of the land is farmed, farmers and landowners play an important role in achieving these goals.

The Foresight Project

The Department for International Development (DFID) and Defra jointly sponsored the Foresight Project on Global Food and Farming.

This was an international project looking at how we can produce enough food to feed a global population of 9 billion, while protecting the environment.

The project’s final report was published in 2010.

Genetic resources

Defra, the devolved administrations and the Farm Animal Genetic Resources expert committee carried out an inventory of all UK breeds of farm animals in 2012. This was published as part of a UK country report on farm animal genetic resources in April 2013.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture

We published a detailed review of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in November 2012. This assessed how well our approach to reducing these emissions has worked.

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