The Rt Hon George Eustice, MP,
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
House of Commons,
LONDON. SW1A 0AA.
Dear Mr Eustice,
Firstly, the National Beef Association wish to send our thoughts to all those in Government at this present time. As you will know from past experience, it is difficult to please all of the people all of the time, but the Government’s response to the current crisis is encouraging. In a difficult and unprecedented situation, leadership appears to be strong, and the policy framework that you have in situ seems able to keep pace with the dynamic and constantly evolving nature of the threat.
We have watched with interest as policies have been put forward for the protection of NHS staff, and others who provide a vital service to our country. It is noted with some irritation that although farmers have been designated as key workers, their role, and the role of agriculture in general, appears to have been omitted both from popular broadcasting and from policy guidelines.
Some of the widely reported scenes played out in supermarkets up and down the country are barely believable, and appear to indicate that the public do not have the confidence they should have in the ability of the country to produce its own food. This is hardly surprising given that your own advisors appear to constantly underestimate the value of UK agriculture to the economy and to the country as a whole. The industry, and especially beef producers, would ask for your support at this time of crisis, and that you and your colleagues ensure that similar priority is given to agricultural workers as it has been to frontline NHS staff. Food production and processing must be prioritised and protected, and sufficient support provided for families and children of those involved in the agricultural industry. The food processing chain, which includes suckler farmers, finishers, auction marts, processors and hauliers and their support networks, must be backed at this time to allow them to continue to produce food for the supermarket shelves. Dramatic increases cannot be achieved overnight for a country which is barely 70% self-sufficient in beef production.
If there could be anything construed as a positive slant on the current situation, it is that the public perception of agriculture and food processing is turning. No longer is food just something that everyone can buy in the local supermarket; an awareness of the food production chain is slowly seeping through. Agriculture is quickly becoming more important, and the longer the current situation lasts, the more the general public will appreciate the process by which food appears on the supermarket shelves. The Government have indicated that the country’s economy must be supported at this time of crisis, and have given themselves the green light to print money. Food, however, cannot be printed.
Moving forward, it is fortunate that the Agricultural Bill has not yet been finalised; there is still time for Government to learn lessons from the current crisis, and to make changes before the Bill becomes set in stone for a generation. The proposed Bill is heavily weighted towards environmental issues, and less towards food security and production sustainability for our population. Whilst the NBA appreciates the importance of environmental concerns, it would be prudent to accept that to produce enough food to feed our nation, there will be some corresponding level of environmental impact. In recent times, aviation and beef production have been linked, and together they have stood accused of being the bad boys of modern living. However, the last ten days has demonstrated the real contributors to global warming are not beef producers. There are the same number of aeroplanes this week as there were last week. There are the same number of cows this week as there were last week. One industry has been functioning as normal, the other has not, and it is becoming abundantly clear which has the biggest environmental impact. Agriculture strives to improve its carbon emissions, but there must be a balance between safeguarding the environment and providing essentials, and now is the time for Government to review the provisions for food security and processing contained within the Bill. The NBA are prepared, and have the knowledge and expertise of beef-producing farmers, to help ensure legislation secures sustainable beef production for the long term future.
The current crisis has the power to change modern life. Viruses have no consideration for social divide, for environmental concerns, for stocks on supermarket shelves. The human instinct to survive is strong, and when that instinct is threatened, anything is possible. The current health crisis has changed the collective perception of humanity’s basic requirements; people are not rushing out to panic-buy holidays or high-end cars. Ideals which only a few weeks ago were considered impossible suddenly appear attainable – transatlantic flights for business meetings have been replaced with conference calls, and many people are successfully working from home. Initial indications are that carbon emissions have dramatically decreased, and it has become crystal clear that human survival does not rely on astronomical air or road miles. However, it does rely on the food chain, and on those who work to keep it running.
The National Beef Association would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the issues raised once the current crisis is stable, and look forward to hearing from you when you have a suitable date for this.
National Beef Association