Specialist online butcher Farmison & Co founder John Pallagi is concerned that moving the goalposts on a key Brexit benefit is bad for farmers and food retailers alike

Cow

A long-term beef supplier said he would get more money for selling a cow for slaughter rather than for breeding

This summer, three prime ministers ago, I had an extraordinary phone call from one of my long-term beef suppliers.

David Harrison told me that, for the first time in his life, he would get more money for selling a cow at auction for slaughter rather than for breeding.

As he bluntly put it: “There is more money in death than life.”

Harrison is one of our country’s best farmers, producing food in a regenerative and sustainable way. But of course, it costs him more to farm like this.

So it was with his words in mind that I went to see Rishi Sunak speak at the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, near Ripon in North Yorkshire. 

“My retail business depends on farmers who take their environmental responsibilities seriously”

Sunak’s Richmond constituency borders Ripon and he’s the MP for several of our long-term farming suppliers. 

He had come to town as part of his (first) bid to become prime minister. I found him knowledgeable, engaging, approachable, and an empathetic public speaker with a strong reputation among our local farming community.  

But I know many of our farmers are concerned about what his government will do about legislation that was touted as a key benefit of Brexit – the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). 

I firmly welcomed ELMS, as did the farmers who supply us. Being compensated for making space for wildlife and helping the country reach our carbon targets made absolute sense.  

The recent news that the ELMS legislation was under review was alarming for all of us, food retailer and farmer alike. 

The rumour is that farmers will instead be paid by the acre, no matter how well they care for their land – just like the old EU system.

I cannot accept that regulations can be so easily chopped and changed. 

My retail business depends on farmers who take their environmental responsibilities seriously. Moving the goalposts is not something I welcome. 

They deserve to be rewarded for the work they do to support their natural environment.

Years of work, consultation and money have been devoted to ELMS. Farmers have planned and invested in anticipation of the reforms. My heart goes out to them, already facing uncertainty in such a difficult time.  

Now is the time for the government to double down on its promise to create effective policies that both produce nutritious food and care for the environment. 

It is those twin aims that power our business and our world-leading farming standards are a vital element of both a healthy environment and good, tasty food. 

The very best food retailers have been planning around these changes too.

“People want better food, to know it’s been produced right and to know it supports, not damages, the world we inhabit”

For us, it was part of the post-Brexit fabric of change that supported suppliers investing in high environmental standards, creating a much less intense price differential between industrial-style food production and food produced in harmony with nature.

I know the new prime minister’s in-tray is overflowing with short-term demands including the economic fallout of the pandemic, war in Ukraine and the financial consequences of Brexit.

But the best governments, like the best farmers, must be good stewards of a much longer time horizon.

Fundamentally, people want better food, to know it’s been produced right and to know it supports, not damages, the world we inhabit.

That is why the Sunak administration needs to strengthen farming systems that are in balance with their environment. Not only does that promise better animal welfare, for customers, it yields real flavour and a much better standard of nutrition.

Our new prime minister will hear this loud and clear when he visits the farms that make up his vibrant rural constituency.

I would encourage him to ask what he can do to make sure the best farmers, like David Harrison, are given long-term support that celebrates their considerable investments to ensure their food is reared right.

That is the only way to ensure farmers like Harrison can make a living from farming with integrity and ultimately make sure customers don’t pay an unsustainable premium for food that’s being reared in balance with nature.

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