Pay farmers for healthy food, say MPs

Farmers should be financially rewarded for producing healthy, nutritious food, a committee of MPs has said.

The environment, food and rural affairs (EFRA) committee said that healthy food makes a wider contribution to public health and should be supported as part of a new government policy of providing public money for public goods.

The recommendation was made in a new report on the future for food, farming and the environment, which forms the committee’s response to proposals set out in the government’s Health and Harmony consultation paper.

MPs said the consultation paper lacked discussion of wider food policy and failed to link agricultural policy to wider public health goals and reducing diet-related diseases.

They also called on Defra to work to bring forward changes to Government Buying Standards to ensure greater use of healthy, affordable, British food in government procurement.

The committee urged the government to make it official policy that future trade agreements should always contain provision to prevent food which does not meet the UK’s environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards from entering the country.

And it reiterated a previous recommendation that the government improves country of origin labelling following the UK’s departure from the EU and introduces mandatory method of production labelling.

The committee called on the government to ring-fence funding for farming post-Brexit and to provide much greater detail on its new support mechanisms for farmers.

“Defra’s consultation is ambitious and we welcome much of its intent,” said Neil Parish MP, chair of the EFRA committee. “There is a notable lack of detail in the government’s paper, however, and we seek more clarity on funding, delivery, and timing. The government risks not achieving its ambition and risks damaging the sector.”

The Soil Association said it strongly supported the committee’s recommendation that public health be recognised and rewarded as a public good. “In practical terms, that should include an end to the routine, preventative use of antibiotics in farming, more support for British and organic fruit and vegetable production, and harnessing the full power of public procurement to create new local markets for British farmers and ensure school children and hospital patients are provided with healthier, higher quality, sustainably produced food,” said Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association.

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