Higher welfare English food could be labelled in shops to give consumers greater choice amid concerns over import standards in post-Brexit deals.
English farmers could be paid for producing free-range eggs or grass-fed beef under post-Brexit changes to agricultural subsidies, the Government will announce on Monday.
Reforms to £3 billion subsidies for farmers under the much-maligned EU Common Agricultural Policy are a cornerstone of the Government’s post-Brexit plans. Where the CAP was blamed for encouraging inefficiencies and poor environmental practices, farmers will be paid for producing “public goods”, including clean air and water, and reductions in carbon emissions.
English farmers will ultimately have higher legal standards for the food they produce in a move that may raise concerns about global competitiveness.
Unproductive land will be redirected for tree planting, peatland restoration and declining species, while productivity will be enhanced by hi-tech and sustainable farming methods.
Overhauling the system marks the biggest shift in 50 years in the way the English countryside is managed, and will mean changes for every farmer.
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, will say: “Rather than the prescriptive, top down rules of the EU era, we want to support the choices that farmers and land managers take. If we work together to get this right, then a decade from now the rest of the world will want to follow our lead.”
Farmers will be supported to improve animal welfare and the change could see them being paid for reducing the use of cages and crates used in poultry and pig farming, and ending practices such as beak trimming and tail-docking.
About £1.8 billion in direct subsidies, which are given out based on the amount of productive land managed, will be phased out from next year, with cuts of at least 50 per cent by 2024, to reach zero by 2027.
But while farming and environmental groups welcome change, there are widespread concerns that farmers have not been given sufficient information to make the transition.
Direct subsidies make up 90 per cent of the profits of some farms, in particular upland and lowland sheep farming, raising fears about their ability to adapt.
But detail of how much will be paid and for what is yet to be finalised.
The money will go back into the sector for environmental and animal welfare schemes, and the Government has promised to maintain the full £2.4 billion in annual subsidies for agriculture for the rest of the parliamentary term.
The long-awaited document released on Monday was described by one expert as “underwhelming”.
“Expecting farmers to run viable, high-cost farm businesses, continue to produce food and increase their environmental delivery while phasing out existing support without a complete replacement scheme for almost three years is high risk and a very big ask,” said Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union.
Writing for The Daily Telegraph website on Monday, he describes a vision to “rediscover some of the techniques my great grandfather might have deployed and fuse them with the best precision technology and plant science available.”
Keen to see progress, Mr Eustice has turned down calls from farming groups to delay the changes for a year.
Under the plans, farmers who wish to exit the industry will be paid a “golden handshake” in order to encourage new blood into farming. Not all newcomers are expected to be traditional farmers, with the new subsidy scheme including maintaining tree plantations or rewilding projects. The reforms laid out only apply to England, with Scottish and Welsh plans still in development.
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