MPs call for refocus of subsidies on environment

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has called on the government to refocus farm subsidies on environmental projects after the UK leaves the EU to provide a better balance between support for agriculture and environmental protection.

The EAC believes that any new farm subsidies that replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) “should have clearly defined objectives linked to the delivery of public goods”.

Subsidies from the EU make up around 50-60 per cent of total farm incomes in the UK, with CAP expenditure in the UK reaching £3.5 billion in 2015.

During their meeting the EAC called for a change to the way in which subsidies were distributed arguing that the UK should adopt a “landscape approach” for any future funding model, rather than individual landholdings.

Currently funding is allocated on a farm-by-farm basis, with “no consideration of the relationship between farms and the wider landscape”, according to the report.

During their committee meeting MPs also warned the government that UK farmers may face a “triple jeopardy” from changes in the UK’s trading relationships after Brexit.

They said that:

  1. leaving the CAP could threaten the viability of some farms
  1. restricted access to the Single Market, may lead to farmers paying tariffs when exporting produce to the EU
  1. new trading relationships with the rest of the world “could lead to increased competition from larger economies with lower animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards”.

The UK government has already committed itself to meet the current levels of agricultural funding until 2020, but EAC chair, MP Mary Creagh, said it was “concerning” that Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom gave the committee “no reassurance that there would be subsidies for farmers after we leave the EU”.