This article first appeared in our summer ’18 issue of MyGreenPod Magazine, The Natural Revolution, distributed with the Guardian on 03 Aug 2018. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
For some environmentalists, Brexit might be seen as an unmitigated disaster for Britain’s natural world. A moment when regulation and ‘red tape’ (whatever that might mean) is torn up in favour of the market and a drive to squeeze every last drop from our environment, whatever the cost.
Yet as the government’s environmental consultation ‘Health and Harmony’ closes, following responses from all sides of the debate, Britain has a once in a lifetime opportunity to fundamentally reshape farming, land use and the food sector.
One of the great opportunities lies in a strategy to which the government has, so far, committed: the ‘public money for public goods’ approach to future farm payments. While there remains a real lack of clarity in how and when this could be done – and how it would be paid for – it remains an exciting prospect for anyone who cares about healthy and sustainable food and farming.
So, what are the public ‘goods’ we might see from this revolution that stands on our doorstep?
The biggest win will be the ability to tackle many of the things we know British citizens care about: health, and the burden of diet-related disease on the NHS; reducing pesticides and antibiotics to very low levels; improving the welfare of farm animals; getting rid of the massive overuse of packaging, especially – but not only – plastic; reducing waste and improving the accessibility of fresh whole foods and reversing the biodiversity crash.
All the above can – and must – be achieved at the same time as enabling farmers, as the custodians of our land, to meet the challenge of climate change. Their land, through its soils and trees, presents a great opportunity to trap and store damaging carbon.
Decades of relying on pesticides, manufactured fertilisers and antibiotics should be put behind us. By transitioning away from reliance on artificial nitrogen fertiliser and fossil fuel-based inputs towards wholly renewable food production, our farmers can become net contributors to preventing climate change.
Any future system must also recognise the intersection of human health and farming; the health of our soils and natural environment is indivisible from human health. We need to invest in shortening food supply chains, to make fresh, affordable, whole foods more accessible to customers. Within any change to the dominant farming system, the production of foods for a healthier, more sustainable diet should be prioritised.
By making these changes, we will move to a more productive, resource-efficient and environment-enhancing food chain with human health at its heart.
Fortunately, we already have such a system up and running: organic farming. We don’t have all the answers, but it’s a good place to start. Since its inception over 70 years ago, the Soil Association has shown the benefits of managing land with public goods in mind. By buying Soil Association-certified products, consumers can guarantee that they are receiving – and contributing to – these benefits.
Click here to find out how to support wildlife-friendly farming with the Soil Association and help Nature to thrive
Organic sales are up for the sixth consecutive year, and as public demand for cleaner products grows, organic food, farming and land management should no longer be the pinnacle to which we aspire, but the foundation upon which any future food and farming system is built.
Food and how we produce it has the power to transform lives. Now is the time for a powerful movement that could transform our countryside and provide plentiful, safe and healthy food.
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