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Actions speak louder than words, say farm leaders Prime Minister urged to build on promises made to farmers

Rishi Sunak has been urged to build on promises made at last month’s Downing Street food summit – and help secure a more prosperous future for farming.

The Prime Minster hosted the Farm to Fork Summit in the Downing Street garden on Tuesday, 16 May. The NFU said it marked a significant step in the union’s campaign for government recognition of the strategic importance of British food and farming.

Planning policy

Ahead of the meeting, the government made a raft of announcements – including changes in planning policy, help for exports and protecting UK food standards under existing and future free trade agreements.

Farm leaders at the summit included Country Land and Business Association president Mark Tufnell, Nick Allen from the British Meat Processors Association – and 24-year-old Clarkson’s Farm star Kaleb Cooper.

The Prime Minister said: “Farming isn’t just a job. It’s a way of life. And it doesn’t matter how young you are, there’s a role for you in farming. Anyone can do it. And farming businesses really thrive from having young entrepreneurial spirit.”

Food security

NFU president Minette Batters said Mr Sunak had delivered on a commitment made last year to host the summit. She added: “Many farmers and growers I represent will be relieved to see UK food security being taken seriously by the government.”

The number of cabinet ministers at the summit showed there was ambition across government to boost home-grown production – and support investment and growth in British food.

“What we need now is to build on these announcements,” said Mrs Batters afterwards.

“We are calling for a set of core agri-food import standards for trade. While it is pleasing government is looking to maintain self-sufficiency at 60%, we believe there’s an opportunity to produce much more of our own food.”

“Vitally, the Farm to Fork Summit should become an annual event, as our food supply is part of the UK’s national infrastructure and will ensure that food security never drops down the political agenda, across all parties, again.”

Risks and shocks

Other organisations also warned that more was needed. Vicki Hird, head of sustainable farming at campaign group Sustain, said: “The government cannot leave the nation’s food security in the hands of the supermarket chains alone.”

More support was needed for environmentally friendly farming. So too were legally binding supply chain codes of practice, and a strategy to ensure more agroecological, nature friendly food for consumers.

Nature Friendly Farming Network chairman Martin Lines said: “The food system has been increasingly commodified and consolidated, which has dramatically exposed our food and farming systems to risks and shocks.

“The government needs to recognise that the twin challenges of producing healthy food and protecting the environment are closely connected. It needs to take a systems view of what we can grow and produce that is ecologically appropriate.”

Raft of pledges ‘must now be delivered’

Pledges made by the government to coincide with the summit included reviews into fairness in the horticulture and egg supply chains – both of which have faced challenges over recent months.

Horticulture has been hit by labour shortages and high energy costs – both of which have seen growers forced to abandon production. Enrgy costs have also hit egg producers – as has bird flu – who have complained that retail prices are too low.

The government said the Groceries Code Adjudicator will not now be merged with the Competition and Markets Authority, in recognition of its importance in ensuring our food supply chains function as they should.

Meanwhile, new export opportunities will be prioritised for UK food and drink. This includes a new bespoke £1m programme to encourage more dairy exports. Five additional special attaches will help spearhead the removal of restrictive market barriers.

The EU Fruit and Vegetable Producer Organisation Scheme will now be retaned when it closes in 2026. And retrictions will be eased to make it easier to build new glasshouses through changes to national planning policy;

UK food standards will be protected under all existing and future free trade agreements – with the government finally ruling out the prospects of chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef coming into the UK.