Our response to the DEFRA "Health and Harmony" consultation

15 May 2018

Oliver Dowding (SWGP Agriculture Spokesperson) writes "I’m not sure how many responses they expected, that they clearly received many thousands, ranging from every organisation and business (both ginormous and small) imaginable, together with many farmers and interested individuals. They are going to need an army of people to read these and do them justice, and I’ve no idea how they will distil what they want to get out of it. This may not be what most of us who were submitting ideas were hoping for!

I’ve been to many meetings on the subject, including as part of a group within Sustain representing the Green Party, culminating in a fascinating day-long meeting in which we were addressed by Michael Gove himself. Listening to him, at face value you would think all was well. I’m sure the presentation would be somewhat different were the attendees people from the corporate world, for example. Nonetheless, he is on tape having said what he did. We will hope to be able to hold him to account, with the battle really only just having begun.

It will be some time before they launch their report, and therein lies a major problem. Many businesses, both farmers, and also those who buy/process all we produce, and then the consumer, are all completely in the dark. What investment decisions should be made? Many businesses are finding it very difficult to move forward with such an air of uncertainty, especially where they might be financially squeezed already. With so much uncertainty about how Brexit is going to be handled, and what it means for the country as a whole, DEFRA are unlikely to announce much of consequence until that has moved into a more settled position.

Another group was looking at the implications for organic farming, and coordinated by the Elm Farm Research Centre, and other pan-industry groupings. On another occasion I also had the opportunity to deputise for Jenny Jones at a very high-level dinner meeting in London. Our influence goes further than many people perhaps perceive.

After all this, I put together a response, in concert with the party’s agricultural working group convenor, David Davies, and submitted it. This was in the name of the SW Green Party. Anyone who wants to see it, please get in touch and ask.

Another project with which I’m involved was the major Royal Society for the Arts two-year project. They have issued a “Call for Ideas”, focusing on practical action that could improve the ways we eat, farm, and regenerate our environment and countryside communities.

This is a big project which is well funded. I am partly involved also as a trustee of the Soil Association. Check out these 11 interesting slides http://bit.ly/2G7u7ia which show lots of interesting data on who is working on this, and the consensus of opinions thus far.

As ever, if anyone wants to interact, do contact me!"

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