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Suffolk MP slams lack of focus on food production in Agriculture Bill

PUBLISHED: 14:13 09 November 2018

NFU Suffolk branch members at their AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

NFU Suffolk branch members at their AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Sarah Chambers

The government’s agriculture bill came under fire for failing to focus enough on healthy food production as Suffolk farmers met this week.

Ipswich MP Sandy Martin speaks at the NFU Suffolk branch AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSIpswich MP Sandy Martin speaks at the NFU Suffolk branch AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Ipswich Labour MP Sandy Martin, who was one of the guest speakers at the annual meeting of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) on Wednesday (November 7), said a lot of the criticisms of environment secretary Michael Gove’s ‘health and harmony’ report were “well made”.

“It laid down the principle of payment for public goods, which I would support, and I think my party would support, but it didn’t mention food,” he said.

The bill has already come under fire from the NFU because of the focus on environment over food production.

Mr Martin sits on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee currently scrutinising the Agriculture Bill, as well as recently being appointed Labour’s shadow minister for waste and recycling, and admitted he was on a “steep learning curve”, getting to grips with his agricultural brief. He and the rest of the committee were currently going through the bill ‘line by line’.

Members at the NFU Suffolk branch AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSMembers at the NFU Suffolk branch AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

While it did receive representation from various parties, “the ones we take most seriously are the ones from the NFU”, he said.

“We need to have an agriculture bill because we need a system to govern the way payments are made to agriculture once we stop being part of the EU,” he said.

While supporting environmental measures, but felt these were “completely pointless if we are not actually producing food”. “We accept the importance of payment for public goods, but we believe that should include food,” he said.

There were lots of foods the UK ought to be growing more of, he argued, as he revealed a partiality for broad beans - often difficult to find in grocery stores.

NFU Suffolk branch AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSNFU Suffolk branch AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

“There are lots of other healthy foods that the climate and soils in this country are absolutely ideal for,” he added.

The current system, under the current European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), effectively paid farmers for being farmers and had environment schemes that were too bureaucratic, he said, agreeing that something should be done. “This does prevent over-production, but it doesn’t necessarily reward good practice,” he said.

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