Most UK farmers are understandably concerned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit trade agreement, which could leave many exposed to the cold winds of unregulated global free-trade agricultural products.
The sterling efforts of Jamie Oliver, the Mail on Sunday, Minette Batters and others mobilised a million signatories to put pressure on the government to prohibit farm product imports produced to lower standards. However, Patrick Holden, Founding Director and Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, is not holding his breath as to whether the prime minister will follow this course of action due concerns over ensuring that we have tariff-free exports for the range of other goods and services over the fortunes of UK food producers.
From Patrick’s perspective, the whole discussion about preventing imports to lower standards for food seems a little too defensive. Instead, he believes the UK should be leading the world in brokering a new international framework for all future food trade, based on a harmonised framework for farm sustainability assessment.
The essence of such an agreement would be that only foods produced from farming systems that address climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and score highly against the international farm sustainability audits, which all farmers would complete for tariff-free international trade, while all food produced to lower standards would be subject to the application of the polluter pays principle in the form of tariffs or taxes. Patrick believes this would protect UK food producers who adopt regenerative farming practices from being undercut by farming systems that are depleting natural capital, causing climate change, accelerating biodiversity loss and damaging public health.
The exciting thing about this proposition, according to Patrick, is that it would enable the government to play a leadership role rather than delving into disheartening discussions about chlorinated chicken and genetically modified soy, all of which are likely to antagonise the US agencies.
Such a scenario would be akin to a Paris agreement on food, played out on the world stage at COP26 - the sixth UN Climate Change Conference - hopefully inspiring billions of people across the world that through exercising their food choices, they can become part of the solution in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss.