A new landmark agricultural bill for the UK was brought before the country’s Parliament today (16 January), designed, its proponents say, to provide a better future for farmers, protect the environment, and improve transparency in the supply chain after Brexit.

“The reforms set out in the Bill are supported by the manifesto commitment to maintain overall annual funding for farm support at current levels for the duration of this Parliament,” according to a statement from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Improving transparency in the supply chain – from farm to fork – by investing in new technology and research forms a key component of the bill to ensure the country’s food producers remain competitive once the UK leaves the European Union. More than a quarter of the UK’s food comes from the EU.

If passed, the bill will legally require “any” UK government to report regularly to Parliament on food security and will entail investment in the “foundations of food production” – clean air, soils and water. And regular data collection will help food producers get a fairer price for their products.

“A future where farmers are properly supported to farm more innovatively and protect the environment is a step closer today following the introduction of the Agriculture Bill…….and will provide a boost to the industry after years of inefficient and overly bureaucratic policy dictated to farmers by the EU.

“It sets out how farmers and land managers in England will in the future be rewarded with public money for ‘public goods’ – such as better air and water quality, higher animal-welfare standards, improved access to the countryside or measures to reduce flooding. This will contribute to the government’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while at the same time, helping to boost farmers’ productivity.”

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said the bill will “transform” British farming as the country moves away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. 

She added: “We will continue to champion British produce and support farmers to adapt to our new pioneering approach to agriculture through a seven-year transition period in England, ensuring we unleash the potential of our farmers for the future.” 

The new farmer rewards system will replace the current direct payments subsidy method, which Defra said pays base producers for the total amount of land farmed, “skewing payments towards the largest landowners rather than those farmers delivering specific public benefits”. 

Ian Wright, the chief executive of The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the body representing the UK’s food and beverages producers, said the organisation will work closely with the farmer representative – The National Farmers Union – to ensure the bill delivers throughout the GBP121bn (US$158.1bn) food-supply chain.

He added in a statement today from the FDF: “We welcome the commitment from government to keep our food security under review. It must assess both domestic production as well as vital ingredients and goods from overseas. We are committed too to reducing our own environmental impacts and to working with others to increase resource efficiency and help protect natural capital across the supply chain.” 

Wright noted the importance of prioritising the quality and choice of food and drink manufactured in the UK in any trade deals with the EU and other parties post-Brexit.

“The UK’s 8,000 food and drink manufacturers must continue to have access to adequate supplies of raw materials that are safe, of high quality and competitively priced,” he said.