Opinion: In a divided country, one thing unites us all; food

Minette Batter disccuses how "every British citizen has the right to expect a supply of safe, traceable and affordable food."

As we approach a general election with a country as divided as I can ever remember, there is one thing that unites us all: food. Every British citizen has the right to expect a supply of safe, traceable and affordable food.

British people care about the food they eat; where it has come from, the environmental standards it was farmed to and its animal welfare credentials.

British farming has a great story to tell. It’s a story of centuries of tradition maintaining the landscapes that shape rural Britain; farmers who look after their land and their animals. It’s about pride. We are world leaders at producing high-quality food.

We should not take this for granted. All this could be placed in jeopardy if future trade policy works to undermine the standards, safety and welfare of our own farming system.

We are proud of the fact we don’t need to chlorine-wash our chicken or feed growth hormones to our cows. We are proud that our antibiotic use has declined by 53 per cent since 2014, making us one of the lowest users in the EU.

The public are proud of that too and have made clear they don’t want that jeopardised.

Yet farmers remain deeply concerned at the prospect of any future trade deal leading to imports of sub-standard food being waved through the border on low or zero tariffs, leaving British farming completely uncompetitive.

For me, that is where the biggest threat to our industry lies. One of the National Farmers’ Union’s headline demands in our general election manifesto, launched today, is for all parties to commit to protecting our high standards of food production in any future trade policy.

We want to work with a new government, and politicians from all sides, to celebrate and deliver the safe, traceable, sustainable and high-welfare food the public enjoy today, and in the future.

Any future trade policy must have a level playing field at its core. Our own high standards of food production should be front and centre of any trade deal, never sacrificed and always championed.

It is crucial that you recognise what is at stake here. Our farm-to-fork approach delivers some of the most robust levels of food safety and traceability in the world. It serves as a model for food production globally. Shoppers have a level of trust in British food that is unique. It is not something to be risked.

This goes hand-in-hand with our vision for agriculture to reach net zero by 2040. And we mustn’t forget that it is our farmers and growers who are the critical factor in ensuring our cherished and iconic British landscapes — 75 per cent of which are farmed — are managed sustainably and sympathetically.

The future government needs to recognise the valuable contribution British farming makes to the economy,

underpinning the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, which delivers £122 billion to our economy and provides almost 4 million jobs.

I am asking all parties and candidates to commit that any future trade deal will protect our high standards and the food we all eat.

With this commitment and the right political environment, farmers and government can work in partnership to deliver long-term investment in British farming to support a sustainable and ambitious sector.

Minette Batters is president of the National Farmers’ Union

First published in The Times