The Green Party recognises the fundamental importance of those who work on the land and the contribution that farming makes to the rural economy and to wider society. However, many farmers do not currently receive fair reward for the food that they produce or for the many other ‘public services’ that they provide. We believe that letting conventional market forces dictate agriculture policy, as successive governments have done, can’t lead to the sustainable supply of food that should be the principle aim of farming. The aim of Green food and farming policy is to achieve food security over the long term.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as follows: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The FAO says further that: “The right to food is a human right. It protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.” The current policies of the British Government have failed to do this, hence the rise of hunger in the UK and of food banks. It is frankly shocking that in the worlds seventh richest economy, there are people who can’t get enough to eat on a regular basis, it is a scandal that the response by our rulers to this is to blame the hungry and poor for their plight.
The Government approach to food security is to build a competitive economy to enable the UK to buy its food requirements on the world market. The role of agriculture is to contribute to the national balance of payments to finance this policy – so farming is encouraged to intensify and to maximise output like any other industry. Further, the Government looks to developing countries to supply more of the world’s food. This policy, supported by Labour, Tory and LibDems, expects the poorer countries of the world to feed the rich. This a high risk unsustainable policy that is morally indefensible, like much of the rest of free market ideology.
It is unfortunate that the current leaders of the farming community in Britain buy into this ideology, supporting further intensification of agriculture to maximise output and return on investment. At the same time they do recognise the need to preserve soil fertility, and that farming needs a healthy and properly functioning natural environment. They recognise the dangers of climate change, after this winters floods how could they ignore it? They understand the importance of sustainability. They want to see farmers able to make a decent living in return for their hard work. Yet they fail to see that the free-market economics, focusing on competition and ever growing returns is leading to irreversible environmental damage that makes farming practice unsustainable and is forcing thousands of farmers out of business.
There is an unfortunate tension between the farming community and Greens. This is over issues like animal welfare, access to land, industrial scale farming and hunting. We both need to get beyond these differences and look at what we have in common. This is what the Wildlife Trusts are successfully doing in their negotiations with local farmers over conservation. They accept that at present they can’t agree on badgers or foxes or hedgerows. But they recognise a common interest in maintaining a healthy and properly functioning environment, and that they can and need to work together. Greens and the farming community need now to adopt the same approach.
Our areas of agreement are far more significant that areas of disagreement. We both agree on the need for a healthy and viable agriculture sector to produce our food, and that that farmers need to be able to earn a decent living. We accept the idea of agricultural subsidies from the taxpayer in recognition of the importance of maintaining food supply, and because agriculture can’t operate like a traditional business due to the variable nature of the environment. We both know that farming needs a healthy and properly functioning natural environment and that farmers are well placed to implement long term conservation policies that are in the national interest, and that farming practice needs to be sustainable over the long term. We both want to see farming enterprises being an integral part of a robust rural economy supporting good and sustainable jobs.
And we both agree that farming faces critical challenges from Climate Change and that it must adapt to survive.
This is a lot of common ground and Green Food and Agriculture policy, together with other policy areas, fully addresses these issues. We firmly believe that our policies, based on sound science, need to be implemented if we are to maintain a sustainable food production capacity in Great Britain. Yes, we have our differences with some farmers, on GMO, on cloning, on intensive farming, on the appropriate business model for a healthy farming sector. But rather than trade insults over disagreements, we need to understand each other’s position and find agreement. These are vitally important issues to get right. They are not a matter of opinion, they can be answered through the proper understanding of science, which includes ecology, the science in which this Party is grounded.