Working in agriculture policy can be, by turns, both hugely exhilarating and crushingly depressing.
During my four years at the RSPB, I have had the good fortune to meet many amazing people. Among the best days are a number I’ve spent with farmers, those who are working with the grain of nature, producing high quality food from land where wildlife thrives. Some of these farmers are also powerful advocates for the environment . And the dedication and passion of our incredible volunteers and my colleagues never fails to inspire.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) ‘reform’ process is a classic example. The debate has been effectively commandeered by beneficiaries of the status quo weaving a now-familiar narrative based on the imperative of maximising production to feed the world, while reducing burden on business. The current inspection regime – where a farmer will, on average, receive an inspection once every 100 years –is a regularly cited example of how the €1 billion a week of taxpayers’ money spent on the CAP across the EU is associated with ‘unreasonable bureaucracy’. After years of varying degrees of involvement with the CAP, I still struggle with the relative lack of scrutiny about the value this vast sum of public money delivers, and the prevailing framing that this is money the agriculture sector is entitled to.
This is why I have been particularly excited by a new initiative which sees a range of organisations coming together to call for a re-framing of the debate on food and farming. The Square Meal report was written by a collaboration of 10 UK organisations, including RSPB and the Food Ethics Council, with expertise across food, environment, farming and health. The report highlights the overwhelming evidence that we need a step-change in food and farming policy, and an integrated approach which recognises these issues are central to many of the most pressing social and environmental challenges we face.
We need to invest in a genuinely sustainable farming sector through policy that rewards those delivering public benefits and through fair, transparent supply chains. We need to reverse the loss of wildlife vividly documented in the State of Nature report, building ‘bigger, better, more joined up’ networks of habitats and bringing colour back to the countryside. And we need a genuine debate about the causes of food poverty and the growing crisis of diet-related ill-health.
Breaking down siloes and improving integration across
Government departments is not an easy task. It will require real political leadership and a willingness to stand up to entrenched vested interests and address market failures. But, as Square Meal
demonstrates, we shouldn’t underestimate the consequences of inaction. Ultimately, continuing on the current path could cost us far more than we can afford to pay. That’s why we’re encouraging you to have your say on the debate.