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Boosting farming support: Key takeaways from the Downing Street Farm to Fork summit

| Mark Chatterton | 19 May 2023

This week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosted a Farm to Fork summit at Downing Street, bringing together representatives from the farming, agriculture, and horticulture sectors. 

The summit comes amid a renewed focus on farming from the UK government - something which was promised at the last election but had been somewhat lost during last year’s chaotic chopping and changing of prime ministers.

Among a raft of promises made to coincide with the summit, Rishi Sunak announced plans to put farming at the forefront of future trade deals, protect UK food standards, and encourage diversification.

Putting farming at the forefront of trade

The Prime Minister issued an open letter to farmers to outline his plans, including a promise to put agriculture “up front” in future trade agreements. 

The letter included six key principles that will guide the future of agriculture in trade agreements, importantly including a promise to protect UK food standards in all current and future agreements. Allaying widespread fears that Britain’s exit from the EU could lead to diminished safety standards in trade deals, Mr Sunak said:

“There will be no chlorine-washed chicken and no hormone-treated beef on the UK market. Not now, not ever.”

The Prime Minister also explained plans to uphold UK production standards to ensure high environmental and animal welfare standards in future trade deals. 

These announcements will come as a relief to UK farmers, who had previously held valid concerns about the direction of travel of the government’s trade deals after last year’s deal with Australia sparked worrying headlines regarding food standards.

Backing diversification and strengthening food security

Other measures announced this week include a promise to cut the red tape that is currently preventing farmers using land for diversification such as opening farm shops or restaurants - an issue highlighted by Jeremy Clarkson in his series Clarkson’s Farm. Indeed, Mr Clarkson’s colleague Kaleb Cooper and land agent Charlie Ireland were among the high-profile guests representing the farming industry at the summit. 

The announcement included a pledge to review and revise outdated planning policies to ensure that farmers have greater freedom to diversify their existing agricultural buildings with schemes to support the wider rural economy.

With food shortages and rising prices dominating headlines this year, the Prime Minister also addressed the issue of food security. He reiterated the UK’s target of producing 60% of the food we consume as a nation and the goal of growing the food and farming industry.

It is promising to see farming issues getting good air time with the government, and the announcements made are welcome ones. Recent food shortages have highlighted the need for farmers to be paid a fair price for their produce, and not be put under pressure by the large supermarket chains. The government’s promise to prioritise new food export opportunities and cut red tape to encourage diversification should certainly help towards that goal. 

After last year’s confused messaging from Downing Street, this can be seen as Rishi Sunak’s attempt to assure the UK’s farming industry that they are getting a handle on the issues surrounding the sector and have a plan in place to support farmers. Thanks must go to National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters and her team for helping to keep farming at the forefront of government discussion. This is certainly a step in the right direction. 

If you’ve any concerns or questions you should not hesitate to contact our Agriculture team who will be happy to help.

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