Rishi Sunak unveils new support package for British farming

A new framework for future trade deals, additional support for horticulture, and significant investment in precision breeding technologies are among an eye-catching package of measures announced by the government ahead of the food security summit in Downing Street today (16 May).

The so-called UK Farm to Fork Summit is being hosted by prime minister Rishi Sunak in fulfilment of a promise he made during last year’s Conservative Party leadership contest.

There had been concern from farm leaders before the event that it would amount to little more than a talking shop.

But a far-reaching package announced on the eve of the summit contains a number of commitments and proposals from government that will help alleviate this fear.

International trade

In an open letter to farmers, Mr Sunak has spelled out a number of measures the government will take to boost UK food and drink exports and provide some protection from sub-standard imports.

Among six key principles, the prime minister has promised to consider the full effect of any future trade deals on UK domestic agriculture, and secure protection for sensitive products “including, where appropriate, through permanent quotas”.

“Without exception, we will continue to protect food standards in the UK under all existing and future free-trade agreements,” he added.

“There will be no chlorine-washed chicken and no hormone-treated beef on the UK market. Not now, not ever.”

Mr Sunak also committed to “safeguard our ability to maintain high environmental, animal welfare and food standards in new trade agreements,” pointing to the UK’s existing bans on sow stalls and battery cages as examples of where the UK goes above and beyond.

The package also includes £2m to increase the UK’s presence at international trade shows, the appointment of five more agri-food attachés around the world, and a bespoke £1m for dairy exporters.

Other measures

The government announcement contains a number of further measures which, Mr Sunak says, will help build resilience and strengthen food security. These include:

  • A promise to provide 45,000 visas for overseas workers to work in the horticulture sector in 2024
  • Up to £30m to drive forward the use of precision breeding technologies
  • The launch of new reviews into supply chain fairness for the horticulture and egg sectors (building on the current reviews for pigs and dairy)
  • A commitment that the Groceries Code Adjudicator will not be merged with the Competition and Markets Authority
  • An expansion of the EU Fruit and Vegetable Producer Organisation Scheme when it closes in 2026
  • Easing planning rules to encourage new glasshouses and farm diversifications
  • Accelerating work on water supply infrastructure.

Reaction

The package has been welcomed by NFU president Minette Batters, who said it showed a “recognition and an understanding of the strategic importance of British food and farming to the nation”.

“These actions recognise the importance of co-ordinated action across government to support confidence, investment and growth in British food,” she said.

“We look forward to working with the prime minister, the Defra secretary and the rest of the cabinet to back British farming and bolster our domestic food security.”

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