Green MEPs: Agricultural support post-Brexit must focus on transition away from intensive farming

keith_jean_mollyGreen MEPs are urging Ministers to ensure that post-Brexit agricultural support is reformed to encourage a transition away from environmentally destructive intensive agri-business, as a new report exposes the extent to which current farming practices are driving a steep decline in British wildlife.

Molly Scott Cato, Keith Taylor, and Jean Lambert, have made clear their concerns about the future of farming support in the UK, following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, in a written submission to the Commons inquiry on The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum.

In their response to the inquiry, Green MEPs were keen to draw attention to the continued uncertainty surrounding planning for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, while highlighting some of the threats and opportunities posed by Britain’s retreat from a wide-ranging body of EU-wide environmental and agricultural policies.

The submission comes as a group of more than 50 conservation organisations publish their report into the policy-driven intensification of farming and its role as a significant driver of nature loss in the UK.

Molly Scott Cato, MEP for the South West, member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, and the Green Party’s spokesperson on EU relations, said:

“The government has failed to outline its vision for British farming following the vote to withdraw from the EU. However, the suggestion that the UK might adopt a New Zealand-style agrarian free market model is very worrying. This would leave farmers increasingly vulnerable to market forces with one study suggesting only the largest 10% of farms would survive under such a model. It would lead to the intensification of agriculture, which would place greater strain on our soils and threaten animal welfare standards. Furthermore, as the EU’s 2015 State of Nature report identified, intensive agriculture is one of the leading causes of the current decline and degradation of nature.”
“So the full-scale marketisation of the 70% of our land that is farmland must be resisted. As the State of Nature report makes abundantly clear, it is imperative, for the livelihoods of farmers and the future of British wildlife, that any replacement subsidy scheme must encourage a transition away from intensive farming and giant agri-business towards an environmentally and ecologically sustainable small-scale farming system.”

Keith Taylor, MEP for the South East, member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, and the Green Party’s Animals spokesperson, said:

“As a country, we stand to lose a raft of laws that have, over several decades, been the last line of defence for the UK’s wildlife and the natural environment.”

“Farming is clearly in desperate need of reform, but without EU nature laws the scale of wildlife decline uncovered in the State of Nature report would have been far greater. British conservation efforts have benefitted from the largest single body of environmental legislation in the world. In fact, the EU is responsible for about 80% of all environmental laws in the UK. These laws are driving positive conservation action. Protected wildlife sites were being lost at a rate of 15% a year before EU action; now that rate has fallen to just 1% a year.” 

“Wildlife and environmental issues were sidelined during the referendum campaign, but we cannot allow leaving the EU to be an excuse to erode the vital safeguards Leave campaigners maligned as ‘red tape’. As Greens, we are calling on the Government to commit to maintaining and strengthening current EU environmental protections.”

Jean Lambert, MEP for London, said:

“In trying to show that Britain is open for business, there is a real danger the Government will trade away healthy, sustainable, environmentally-friendly agriculture in the UK. High environmental and social standards must be part of future trade deals and it would be wrong to subsidise exports which damage livelihoods elsewhere in the world.”