Labour has pledged to improve food security and boost the UK’s agriculture sector with a “new deal for farmers”, including a target that at least half of the food used in hospitals, schools and prisons is British.
Condemning what the party called an abandonment of farmers under the Conservatives, the plan also includes a reiteration of Labour’s proposal to seek to sign a new veterinary agreement with the EU.
If successful, this would hugely cut red tape for British farmers by getting rid of many checks on food and agricultural goods at ports, but reaching agreement would involve long and complex negotiations, and could mean the UK signing up to EU standards on those goods.
Labour attacked the “Tory destruction of our rural economy” and said its analysis showed that more than 6,300 firms in the UK agricultural sector had gone out of business since 2017, including nearly 5,000 meat, fruit, vegetable and dairy producers.
Over the same period, there has been a 30% fall in the number of jobs in agriculture, forestry and fishing, the party added.
While many in the sectors blame Brexit and its implementation for harming their competitiveness, the Labour plan makes no explicit mention of having left the EU, just the pledge to seek a veterinary deal. However, the party says it is clear that barriers created by Brexit have been a factor.
Of the five elements in the plan for farming, all have been proposed already by Labour. As well as the target for British food in public institutions and the EU deal, the others are to bring farmers cheaper power through GB Energy, a publicly owned clean power company; helping farmers put surplus renewable energy they generate into the grid; and the creation of a flood resilience taskforce.
Steve Reed, the shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, said: “This Conservative government has wrecked our farmers. It is time we turned the page and embraced a decade of national renewal with the countryside at its heart.
“Labour will give British farmers their future back. We will deliver lower energy bills for farmers by switching on GB Energy, lower red tape at our borders to get our great food exports flowing again and use the government’s own purchasing power to back British produce.”
Mark Spencer, the minister of state for food, farming and fisheries, said: “Labour are incapable of supporting British farming – in government they failed to provide the connectivity, jobs and investment rural communities needed, and years later they still have no plan to support the countryside.
“Meanwhile, the Conservatives have delivered better targeted funding for farmers, protecting our best farmland and speeding up our grid connections for those who need it most.”