The final Brexit talks were, rightly, focused on Britain’s trade deal with the EU. The complicated thing about trade deals is that they don’t just concern the trade itself, but also whether the products meet the standards set by one side or another. In turn, these standards in food production and responsible farming practices also have an impact on our environment, meaning that they affect everyone.
EU law offered Britain’s people and the land they live in a number of protections, including responsible use of pesticides and a ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Having left the EU, Britain now has the option to make its own laws. Will the government retain the high standards set by the European Union, or lower them to make it easier to trade with other markets?
What does Brexit mean for farming: Pesticides
Under EU law, harmful pesticides called neonicotinoids are banned for use in farming. They are known to be very harmful to bees. As well as being a beautiful part of any ecosystem and living creatures with a right to life, bees also do very important work pollinating our crops. If the bees die, the human race has four years left – we cannot grow food fast enough without them.
Worryingly, less than a fortnight after Britain formally left the EU, the UK government has decided to use its new freedom to lift the ban on neonicotinoids. Some commentators believe that this is because this pesticide is authorised for use in the USA, with whom the UK could end up trading with as our relationship with Europe fizzles out. If we cannot buy crops because they’re grown using a banned substance, the answer is to lift the ban.
What does Brexit mean for farming: GMOs
Britain’s new relationship with GMOs is marginally less bleak. Until we left the EU on 1st January, Britain’s farmland and environment was protected against potential contamination by GM crops because the EU has such tight controls. While Environment Secretary George Eustice MP did say what Brexit meant for farming with all of Britain’s new freedoms: “gene editing is an area we ought to be considering because…we want to reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides,” he also said, “We would not propose changing at all the regulatory framework on GMOs,” suggesting that European protections will be retained at least for the time being. More recently, it has been suggested that the public will be consulted on use of GMOs – think about it now and be ready with your answer!
What does Brexit mean for farming: Subsidies for farmers
Farmers used to receive subsidies from the EU, and these were awarded based on the size of the farm. These will gradually be replaced by Environmental Land Management (ELM) grants that will be rolled out between now and 2028. Under the ELM scheme, grants will be awarded to farmers who follow good environmental practices, like reducing pesticide use (but see above – I’m sure I’m not the only one to spot that contradiction!), planting new woods and hedgerows and improving animal welfare. While this is excellent news for the environment, this scheme could hit smaller farmers hard because they lack the economies of scale.
So it’s not all good news, but it’s not all bad either. As with all new legislation, we will have to wait and see how it works in practice. For now, we can support our farmers by buying local produce. Oh, and bees love a wildlife garden….
- Cows: Unsplash