[Ms Nusrat Ghani in the Chair]
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered British meat and dairy products.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I am grateful to have secured this important debate at a time when there appears to be a growing disjoint between media coverage of farming and the reality of those of us who live among it. I hope as a baseline we can all agree that in order to survive we need to eat. In this country, we are fortunate that generally we can choose what we eat and where we buy it, albeit with factors such as price, availability and, especially, concern for the environment influencing our decisions.
Historically, there was far less choice in the food we consumed and our reliance on home-grown produce was significantly greater than it is today. If the pandemic has taught us one thing it is that it is good to be able to produce at home what we need, and we all need to eat. As a former fitness instructor, I know well how a healthy and nutritious diet is vital to ensuring that the body has the nutrients it needs not just to survive but to thrive. Those needs change at different points in our lives and according to our activity levels. If we are going to tackle climate change in a meaningful way, healthy bodies with healthy minds are best equipped to do that.
I am fortunate to represent North Devon, home to 475 NFU members, including 95 dairy farmers and 323 livestock farmers. I do not need to go far to find delicious, nutritious British food that comes from environmentally responsible sources. British meat and dairy are produced to some of the highest environmental and welfare standards in the world. Buying local can reduce the environmental footprint of our supply chains and incentivise sustainable farming. To take one example, according to the Government’s Climate Change Committee, greenhouse gas emissions from UK beef are about half the global average.
Since covid started, many of us have begun shopping more locally, and our local farmers have adapted and innovated to help their communities through the pandemic. In Croyde, in my constituency, the Heywood family have adapted their North Hole organic milk farm to sell through a vending machine to their local community. The milk is delicious and the vending-machine experience is a great way to link locals to their farm. Watching the fully robotic milking parlour is also an incredible experience. Those organic cows have a great life and their milk is highly nutritious. Dairy products contain high-quality protein, calcium, B vitamins, iodine and potassium. Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are vital to bone health. Importantly, the greenhouse gas footprint of UK milk production is just 40% of the global average. There are 278 million dairy cows worldwide. If they were all as efficient as UK dairy cows, we would need only 76 million of them to produce the same amount of milk.
This week is Great British Beef Week, which this year is focused on recognising and highlighting British beef farmers and the work they do to support sustainable practices on their farms. Red meat is one of the richest sources of essential nutrients, such as iron, zinc and B vitamins, and a great protein source. It is also much lower in fat than it was 20 years ago. My local NFU chair, Daniel Balment, is the third generation on his beef and sheep farm near Brayford. Daniel maximises the grass that the farm grows well to convert to protein, as 65% of farmland in the UK is best suited to growing grass, rather than other crops. The UK climate is ideal for growing grass. Other crops could not be grown for food on many farms. That has to be factored in to maximising the output of our land.
Farmers have always been custodians of the countryside, and the Agriculture Act 2020 is potentially the biggest victory for nature and farming in a generation. Under the framework of public money for public goods, farmers will be paid according to the benefits they provide to the public—mostly environmental improvements—rather than on how much land they farm. Our British farmers are already committed to reducing their emissions and reaching net zero ahead of the Government’s 2050 deadline. This policy will go a long way towards supporting them.
Livestock provides us with healthy, fertile soil, beautiful landscapes—as my North Devon constituency is testament to—efficient water use, carbon sequestration, and unique, biodiverse wildlife habitats. The suggestion that reducing meat and dairy consumption is a solution to climate change is an oversimplification. As I said earlier, we all have to eat, and in general we choose what we eat. Much of the food on our supermarket shelves has travelled thousands of miles to get there and is not produced to as high a standard as it would be here in Great Britain. Many non-dairy or meat-free alternatives are shipped across the world to reach us, are less nutritious with less protein, are higher in saturated fat and are nowhere near as good for the environment as British meat and dairy. For example, products such as almond milk require 20 times more blue water—water from the normal water supply—than British dairy milk, which is much more reliant on green water from natural rainfall.
When choosing what to put in our shopping baskets—[Interruption.]
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
As I was saying, many non-dairy or meat-free alternatives are shipped across the world to reach us, and are nowhere near as good for the environment as British meat and dairy. Products such as almond milk require 20 times more blue water—from normal water supply—than British dairy milk, which is more reliant on green water, from natural rainfall. When choosing what to put in our shopping basket, we should look for the Red Tractor—the symbol of British farming. Buying locally and seasonally not only might give people a much better diet but will do significantly more to reduce emissions compared with the alternatives. We can all do our bit to work towards net zero, by buying local British produce to support our great British farmers.
I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing this debate as we mark Great British Beef Week. As a representative of a rural constituency, I am incredibly proud of the world-class produce our farmers supply to kitchen tables, restaurants, the food service industry and elsewhere. Using one of the most sustainable production methods in the world and of the highest standards, our farmers work night and day to ensure their produce is truly something to celebrate.
It is those standards on animal welfare, environmental protection and traceability that this Government must properly protect. As we look at future trade deals, those standards must not be sacrificed on the altar of free trade. That would be deeply unfair on our agrifood industry, and it would be against the will of the people who take confidence in the UK mark being on what we eat. The UK mark—the Union flag marking the safety and quality of produce—must become more prevalent, not least in the catering industry. We need to improve transparency in this regard to ensure the food in this sector is not swamped by cheap, sub-standard imports.
We must support the industry as new markets open up. That support must be in the form of a marketing drive, support for promotional activity and, most importantly, substantial investment in our production chain. Our processing sector needs the support of this Government to achieve more value-added product. Primary producers and processors need support for research and development to drive efficiency. We in Northern Ireland need this Government to support our devolved Administration to make this investment, to match the aggressive drive for market dominance from the Irish Republic.
It is vital for our industry right across the United Kingdom that this Government consign the protocol to the dustbin. The unacceptable impact on east-west trade must be corrected, to return to the free flow of goods and the integrity of our internal market that we enjoyed before the protocol was put in place. The additional costs of doing business and the unacceptable administrative burden now facing local companies and farms has to cease. The ability to trade in livestock across the Irish Sea without impediment must be rectified. It is beyond belief that any UK Government would accept such a situation within its own borders.
I again thank the hon. Member for North Devon for securing this debate and for allowing us to both celebrate and promote the needs of our farmers and our agrifood sector.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, Ms Ghani. I thank my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for securing the debate, because British meat and dairy products are a great asset to the whole country and to everybody who eats them. I can say that I have consumed a large quantity of both meat and dairy; hon. Members can see that a good live weight gain was achieved in the process. Joking apart, we sometimes forget the great part that meat and dairy farming plays in looking after the landscape and the grass. When we look at holding carbon in the soil, we sometimes forget how much carbon is held by permanent pasture.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart). She raised the interesting point that there is a problem at the moment with exporting from Scotland into Northern Ireland. Scotland should not have to export to Northern Ireland, as it is part of the United Kingdom. We heard evidence at the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from Northern Irish farmers having problems getting sheep from Scotland, because they have been on winter keep since the end of last year and they are not yet able to go over to Northern Ireland. When they get to Northern Ireland, they have to have their tags removed and have another tag put in. I suggest that that is also an animal welfare issue that needs to be dealt with. I have great respect for the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who is here today, and for the Secretary of State, but we need to do more to rectify the trade situation between Scotland and the rest of the UK, including Wales, and Northern Ireland, so I look forward to that being sorted out.
We live in a world where, if we are not careful and if we do not value the great meat and dairy production in this country, we will land up importing a great deal more food. When we import food we have to analyse how it was produced, including looking at the water that was used across the world to produce it. Many countries probably cannot afford to have water taken away from them for the production of exports to this country.
One only has to look at the Brazils of this world to see that they are driving their beef cattle towards the Amazon, they are ploughing up the savannah and they are damaging the environment. We need to help the Brazilians to stop that process. Perhaps the President of Brazil, dare I say it, might have something to do with what is going on. We need to take this very seriously. We must not look for the cheapest product in the world when we import, because doing that does much to damage the environment. We produce our meat and dairy from grass, but we must be careful when we import proteins to help with that because some of that protein, especially the soya bean, is grown on deforested land or savannah. All of these things are important.
The number of Members here today shows that we think our production of both meat and dairy is important. We not only have great permanent pasture but good grass leys. The New Zealanders have done a lot of work on the digestibility of grass leys and different types of grass, which affects the amount of methane gas that animals produce while they are producing meat and milk. If a cow milks more efficiently and gives more litres of milk, the total amount of methane gas given off collectively is far less, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon said. With the production of beef, the more efficiently we can produce it, and the better the breeding, the quicker and faster that beef is produced, and again, the methane gas is far less.
We have to take production of agriculture very much in the round. I think it is very simplistic to say, “Stop eating meat, stop eating dairy—that will solve the problems of the world.” No, it won’t, actually, because the grassland in this country relies entirely on meat and milk production—that is the balance. I made the joke when I started that I am a product of eating much meat and much dairy, so for me to actually say this is almost unbelievable, but there could be an argument that sometimes we do not actually need to eat quite as much meat or quite as much dairy, and I would probably be the first to admit that. On the other hand, a balanced diet is so necessary. If we look at the research, an expectant mother, for example, is not always able to gain the right protein and nutrients without their vegetable or vegan diet being very expensive and diverse. Let us be sensible as we move forward. Meat and dairy play such an important role.
My final point is that this is linked to the countryside that we see and love. Grassland, heathland, moorland, and Exmoor—my constituency adjoins that of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon through the Blackdown hills, a very small part of Exmoor—these are all areas of grassland and permanent pasture, and they are very beautiful and full of trees. All of those things are so essential. Do not forget that although it is beautiful that people can go and walk in and enjoy our landscape—we want to see more of that—it is not entirely a playground; it is also a production zone for producing good-quality food. If we combine the two, which I think we can do easily, food, farming and the countryside can all come together. I very much support my hon. Friend’s debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this important and timely debate.
I do not think it is, strictly speaking, a declarable interest, but the House may be aware that I come from farming family. My family still farm on the south-east corner of Islay. My wife is a partner in a veterinary practice in Orkney, serving a diverse range of farming interests: beef and lamb production, and, sadly, a decreasing number of dairy farmers. I declare that interest with some pride; it contributes directly and indirectly to the Carmichael family mortgage payment every month.
Food production has always been at the heart of the local economies in Orkney and Shetland. The designation of Orkney beef and Shetland lamb as protected geographic indicators is an indication of that and, indeed, of the quality of the produce for which we have been responsible over the years. In recent decades, we have seen a growth in producers who have been able to add value in a blossoming food and drink sector, which, in turn, has fed into a growing visitor economy, so it remains as important to the northern isles today as it always has been.
In Orkney, we have a long history of producing finished cattle for Orkney beef. In Shetland, traditionally we produced cattle for the store market, but in recent years, by a bit of creativity and a lot of effort, local farmers in Shetland have also been able to produce finished cattle, which have been slaughtered for local consumption in our good, well operated local abattoir. It is an exemplar of how agriculture can feed into a rural or island economy such as ours. Crucial to that operation, however, is the existence and operation of a thriving network of local shops. My concern today is that many of those local shops are currently under threat.
We have had supermarkets in Shetland for decades, like everybody else—we have a big Tesco and a fairly big Co-op in Lerwick and a smaller but still sizeable Co-op in Brae—but recently the Co-op Group lodged applications for planning permission for two further Co-ops, which would be bigger operations, in communities in Scalloway and Sandwick, which are currently served by a variety of small, thriving local independent shops. Those shops are quite clear that if the applications are granted, the future for them looks to be pretty bleak. That network of rural shops, however, is absolutely critical to food production in the Northern Isles, and the farmers I spoke about, who now produce finished cattle for slaughter and sale in the local retail sector, will struggle if that network of local shops is not there.
One of the local shops that will be most directly affected told me last week that it reckons that it takes goods from no fewer than 80 different local suppliers, which are all small and medium-sized enterprises that will never sell in the same quantity to a big outlet such as the Co-op Group. We know, and the Co-op will tell us, that it takes from local producers to put local lines into its shops. That is true. However, the beef and lamb farmers and those food producers who add some value to our local products will tell us that the Co-op, like all supermarkets, will take their products, but only on its terms. Therefore, even if a product does end up on the shelf, the supermarket will determine the price, the quantity, the regularity of supply, the delivery and often even the labelling. The hard commercial reality is that these local suppliers cannot survive on the margins that the supermarkets give them, so the existence of that network of local shops is critical to the future viability of agriculture in Orkney and Shetland.
The Co-op does have a long tradition of being at the heart of highland and island communities, and I am sure I am not the only one who spent many happy—or not so happy—childhood evenings licking stamps to be put in the Co-op book for the dividend, but the Co-op Group today is a very different beast. It operates effectively in the same predatory manner as we would expect of any other supermarket, bearing down on suppliers in communities such as mine. It is a trail that many communities the length and breadth of the country have seen over the years, but for a company such as the Co-op Group that has always prided itself—and, dare I say it, marketed itself quite effectively—on being the supermarket that was somehow different, to have this change in its culture is unfortunate to say the very least. I hope that it understands the damage it risks doing to the delicate and complex economic ecosystem that communities such as ours rely on. Once an economic ecosystem such as that is lost, it can never be easily recreated.
I do not wish to hold the House, but I want to mention one other matter of supreme importance to the production of food in the Northern Isles: the ability to export it to other parts of Scotland and the United Kingdom. It comes to the point made by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). The Scottish Government are currently undertaking a consultation on the transportation of animals within Scotland. For us, with a 12-hour journey from Shetland to Aberdeen, that could have very serious implications. Even the shorter journey from Orkney to Aberdeen would be severely affected. If, in the last year, we had operated under the wind speed and temperature restrictions that are currently under consultation by the Scottish Government, there would only have been two sailings allowed from Orkney to Aberdeen. It is the law of good intentions and unintended consequences in operation. The people who designed the system, which is currently regarded as being blue-chip, with industry-leading standards, were the farmers at the turn of the century, and they are the people who should be involved in the recreation of that system now.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this timely debate during Great British Beef Week. I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as one of the few practising farmers in the House.
The Cotswolds has one of the most sensitive landscapes in the country and I have always proudly championed British agriculture. As a farmer who grew up on my mother’s dairy farm, I know from first-hand experience how the UK produces some of the highest quality food produce of anywhere in the world, with exceptional animal welfare and environmental standards.
As Britain secures new trade deals, we have the opportunity to promote that high-quality meat and dairy produce across the world, produced by our innovative, environmentally friendly farmers. After 40 years of the European Union’s common agricultural policy, we can now pursue new trading relationships. It is an amazing opportunity to shape the future of our farming, promote our interests and meet the needs and ambitions of British consumers in the 21st century.
In 2020, meat and dairy products combined accounted for 2.2% of UK goods exports and 3.1% of all UK goods imports. The current trade deficit is found in all categories, apart from mutton and lamb, which has a trade surplus of £0.1 billion. We now import roughly 50% of all that we eat, down from 65% when I was a student. The UK is about 85% self-sufficient in dairy production and beef, but 98% self-sufficient when it comes to lamb. We need to work to a point where it is not just lamb that is in surplus, but where we are near self-sufficient in many more sectors.
What is the difference between our lamb and beef sectors? It could partly be better marketing of beef, which is usually a more expensive option in the supermarket. The deficit is something we want to change with our new trading arrangements. Beef exports from the UK last year came to £382 million, with growing markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Peru and Canada. There is also growing demand in China for British pork, and in France for high-quality lamb produced in the Cotswolds.
British agriculture needs to increase and diversify its exports as much as it can in new international markets, after heavily relying on Europe. There is no reason why British food manufacturers cannot be innovative enough to create a wider range of products using British produce. That is especially the case for dairy-based products that are heavily imported, such as yoghurt and prepared desserts. That is unnecessary when we have such a strong dairy sector.
I urge farmers to take advantage of growing global markets. The Department for International Trade is launching a new mentoring programme, providing expert advice on trading internationally. Farmers in the UK are leading the world in finding innovative farming methods to farm in climate-change friendly ways, with the NFU pledging an ambitious net zero target by 2040.
The UK beef industry is one of the most sustainable in the world, with an extensive grass-based grazing system—not a cause of deforestation as in other countries, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said. The Committee on Climate Change found that the UK beef industry emits around half the greenhouse gases compared with the global average.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon said, there are 278 million dairy cows worldwide. If they were all managed as efficiently as UK dairy cows are, we could shrink that number to 76 million and still produce the same amount of milk throughout the world. Around 70% of the British herd is on grass, and 65% of UK farmland produces some of the most productive grass in the world. That protects the character and identity of the countryside and generates an important income for rural communities. In the Cotswolds, which I have the privilege to represent, the distinctive, attractive landscape would not be the same without the raising of livestock, including the production of high-quality lamb, much of which could be exported.
Here in the UK, there is nothing better for the environmentally-conscious consumer who wants a balanced diet than to buy British. Not only does buying fresh local produce reduce greenhouse emissions from transporting produce; in addition the produce will be sourced from farms with sustainability at the heart of their practices. It is good to see some retailers increasingly championing UK products. I know, because I did a lot of the shopping during the lockdown, that Waitrose and Aldi have led the way on supporting British farmers throughout the pandemic. I hope that other supermarket chains will be encouraged to follow their example.
In conclusion, farmers can now set their ambitions well beyond the UK into exciting new markets. As they expand, they will have our full support in doing so.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on setting the scene so well and giving us all an opportunity to participate. I am tempted to use a pun and say that I am pleased to have the opportunity to sow into the debate. I declare an interest as a member of the Ulster Farmers Union and as a landowner.
My constituency is a strong farming community, and all my neighbours are involved in the milk, sheep and other sectors of the farming industry. One of the major employers is a Lakeland Dairies factory. I am acutely aware of the challenges facing the sector. The fact that Northern Ireland faces additional challenges because of the insidious Northern Ireland protocol makes life on our side of the sea that wee bit more difficult. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) mentioned that, and I am sure that other Members will. I must again highlight the need for the triggering of article 16 and an end to the hard border in the Irish sea. That would definitely do away with all the problems that we face at present.
I am part of the movement that believes we can and must do better with the stewardship of our environment. However, there are few who know more about cause and effect in the environment than the farmers who live it every day. I want to speak for the farmer, the person who looks after and manages the land—who lives on and loves the land, and whose very blood is in the land he farms every day. We are increasingly coming across a movement that seeks to blame the farming industry for environmental issues throughout the world. What it claims is simply not the case. When the total 460 million tonnes of UK greenhouse gas emissions are broken down, cattle and sheep account for 5.7%. The whole of UK agriculture was responsible for 10% of the UK’s total emissions. When grassland sequestration is taken into account the figure for cattle and sheep drops to 3.7%. Let us look at the reality of the stats. The farmer is clearly not to blame. It is time to work with the farming sector. I know that the Minister does that every day of her life and we represent those areas in dealing with the farmers in our constituencies, because we are there to support them.
The hon. Member for North Devon referred to figures on the efficiency of the dairy sector. They tell us all about how well the British farmer does his job. Our farmers know their responsibility, and they live it daily. I want to speak for the farmers in my constituency, and those elsewhere, and commend them for their industrious endeavours.
I read an interesting snippet in the National Farmers Union briefing. It was a statement by Dr Trevor Dines, a botanical specialist at Plantlife, on the publication of Plantlife research:
“Early succession habitats like hay meadows and permanent pastures, grazed by the right amount of livestock at the right time, can support an astonishing 770 species of wild flower and are crucibles of biodiversity.”
Wow—that is something for people to take the time to listen to, and I hope they will. It continued:
“Nearly 1,400 species of pollinators and other insects rely on species-rich grassland for their survival and they, in turn, support a myriad of bird and animal life. Re-creation of these open habitats must be seen as a priority as urgent as planting trees.”
That is what farmers say and what they and landlords do every day of their lives—365 days a year.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group for eggs, pigs and poultry, and the British Egg Industry Council set up a petition on change.org, to which there have been some 20,000 signatures. Supermarkets should use British eggs for foods made in Britain and stop importing eggs. Research shows that, although consumers put their trust in British supermarkets to sell safe products and be transparent about their sourcing, supermarkets continue to use a significant number of imported eggs in pre-prepared foods. I think it is time that we all bought British Lion eggs. I am old enough to remember that advert on TV—“Go to work on an egg”. Well, every day of my life, I go to work on two eggs. Seven days a week, I have two eggs for my breakfast. Incidentally, I have noticed in the Members’ Tea Room that many others in this House do too.
A survey of 3,000 British shoppers on their attitudes towards the use of eggs and egg ingredients by major retailers showed overwhelming support for the increased use of British eggs. That is why I am backing British farming, which has never been so important. The British egg industry is worth over £1.07 billion per year, and employs 23,000 people both directly and indirectly.
I will conclude on this Ms Ghani; you have been very kind to me. We need to keep this vibrant industry vibrant, and we in this House have a role to play, not in enforcing unattainable goals, but in supporting and rewarding best practice, which is standard practice in farms in every corner of my constituency, and indeed in every constituency throughout this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this debate. Like her, I am fortunate to represent a large rural west country constituency, although mine is in God’s own county of Somerset. This debate gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to Somerset’s farming community and farmers in less fortunate areas.
This past year has presented farmers with unprecedented challenges. We all remember early in the pandemic seeing empty supermarket shelves, and many people feared that we were going to run out of food. Farmers rose to that challenge and enough food was produced to overcome the fears and meet the demand, and our shelves were fully restocked.
As I travel through the glorious Somerset countryside, it is impossible not to marvel at the contribution that farmers make to managing our landscape. The contribution that livestock and dairy farmers make to our environment is not fully appreciated. Meat and dairy production goes hand in hand with the sustainability of the landscape. British farmers lead the world in agricultural standards, animal welfare and sustainable farming practices.
This week is Great British Beef Week, and as the focus this year is on sustainability, we should remember that the greenhouse gas footprint of UK milk production is just 40% of the global average. British beef and dairy are fully on track to being carbon neutral by 2040.
The environmental contribution of livestock and dairy farming must not be overlooked, and neither must its enormous contribution to our rural economies, our way of life and brand Britain abroad, but the sector faces enormous challenges. Farmers are determined to grasp the opportunities of Brexit, but many say they face growing problems with exporting to the EU, in particular at the French border, where they are seeing outright inflexibility; they are not seeing the same at the approach to UK borders. I ask the Minister to explore and implement ways to ease exports to the EU, which is obviously our largest agricultural export market.
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership—hard to say, and probably harder to put together—gives us a wealth of opportunity across the Asian, American and Australasian continents, with lucrative markets for our produce. That is great news for dairy producers, and producers of cheeses, in particular. I have some of the best in the world in my constituency, not least Wyke Farms, Barber’s, Montgomery cheddar and Godminster. The trade agreement gives them the opportunity to reach Canada and Australia. Producers can also send pork and poultry to Vietnam, beef to Japan and mutton to Malaysia. However, while Somerset’s farmers want trade partnerships, they do not want them at the expense of food standards, and I know there are concerns about any opening of the UK to cheaper, lower-quality imports.
The Government can do a little more to support farming in achieving net zero by 2040. Many farmers are now installing green energy plants to provide green electricity, but one farm in my patch tells me that the rating value of its green energy plant has doubled in a year, so I ask the Government to look at the rating system for green energy plants. We have to incentivise them and keep a level playing field, because certainty is a rare commodity in meat and dairy production, and over the past few years, of course, it has been harder than ever for the sector to have any kind of clarity. I hope the Government see that and continue to act in a way that smooths the path and gives our farmers clear sight of the future. The future is bright, but these are dark times, and we have to light the way with clarity.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for having secured this afternoon’s debate. As the MP for Truro and Falmouth in Cornwall, it is unsurprising that farming plays a huge role for people in my constituency, and this is a great opportunity to stand up for our many hard-working farmers, farm workers and local supply chains.
It is not surprising that the English MPs in the room this afternoon are mostly south-west and west country MPs. The National Farmers’ Union states that the south-west’s livestock farms account for almost a third of all the dairy and beef farms in England, and over a fifth of all the sheep and lamb. British red meat and dairy has a great story to tell, and farmers can be very proud of having some of the highest welfare and environmental sustainability standards in the world. What is better to eat than Cornish cattle that has been grazing in the sea air on beautiful pastureland, making wonderful beef, clotted cream, and beautiful Cornish ice cream in Callestick, for example, near Perranporth in my constituency?
The UK has the fifth lowest use of on-farm antibiotics across the 31 European countries, beaten only by the Nordic countries, and that is due to their climate of cold and dry weather, which stops the bacteria from breeding and therefore reduces the demand for antibiotics. The amount of antibiotics used on UK farms reduced by 53% between 2014 and 2018. We really are leading the world in how we look after our animals, and in our welfare standards. A number of steps are being taken on farms that are done in the best interests of the animals, and are in line with expert advice and veterinary guidance. I also congratulate the UK meat and dairy industry on its work on tackling emissions—we have heard from various Members this afternoon how we have been doing that. British beef and lamb are among the most efficient and sustainable in the world, due to our extensive grass-based systems.
Livestock plays a key role in maintenance, as we have been hearing, and in the enhancement of wildlife habitats. Biodiversity would suffer hugely if the UK population became vegetarian and gave up meat. There are several examples of where livestock is critical to the life cycle of wildlife: for instance, the large blue butterfly, which breeds in warm and well-drained grassland. Livestock plays a key role in producing the suitable habitat through grazing, and if we gave up meat, suddenly that would not happen at all.
I am always encouraged when shoppers look to buy local, sustainably produced meat and dairy products, and most retailers are now increasingly sourcing British products to meet this demand. The UK is around 85% self-sufficient in dairy production, as we have heard, and 75% self-sufficient in beef production. Significantly, more than 11,000 dairy farmers and more than 23,600 beef and sheep producers in the UK are members of the Red Tractor scheme, and when shoppers buy British red meat and dairy products carrying the Red Tractor logo, they can be confident that those products are produced to world-leading environmental and animal welfare standards for the whole length of the food chain, from farm to packet. The supermarkets are starting to move in the right direction. We have a huge number of farm shops in Cornwall, of which I would like to mention a few in my constituency: Cusgarne near Truro, Curgurrell near Portscatho, and Trudgian in Probus. Not only do they buy local meat, so people can literally see the animals grazing in the fields before they buy meat for their family to consume; they also support smaller producers.
The Minister will not be surprised that I am making a call to ensure that the same encouragement and clout from Government goes into buying British fish—she knew I was going to say that. This has been a very difficult time for Cornish farmers and fishermen, who rely on their local outlets as well as on the supermarkets. Another hon. Member spoke about supermarket price points; it is really important that farmers and fishermen make a good living out of this. I am not—
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my colleague and fellow south-west Great British Beef Week love-in leader, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby). I speak not as a rural MP standing up for his constituent farmers, but as an urban representative for the city of Gloucester and its 100,000 consumers, and as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy for much of south-east Asia and its regional organisation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The two things come together very well.
I relate strongly to my hon. Friend’s calls to buy local. There can be no argument at all, at least among the six Gloucestershire MPs, that the finest beef is from Gloucester cattle—just as Single Gloucester cheese, made only from Gloucester cows, is one of our great cheeses. At this time of year, as all colleagues will know, a great round Single Gloucester cheese is normally to be found rolling down the steepest stopes of Coopers Edge in the great, globally renowned cheese-rolling competition pursued by 100-odd enthusiasts or lunatics. So yes, let us buy local and buy quality.
Let me focus on the export of British beef to south-east Asia in general and Indonesia in particular. Demand in Indonesia—a nation of 270 million people, predominantly Muslims—is growing by 7% a year, and 70% of the roughly £650 million-a-year market is imports, mostly from Australia and India, so there is an opportunity for us, but there are four questions. First, is there potential Indonesian demand for British beef? Secondly, is there potential export capacity here? Thirdly, is our halal certification process compatible with Indonesia’s legislation and approval process? Fourthly, is halal beef a sector that we want to pursue with other potential markets in Malaysia and the middle east? If that is all possible, we have an opportunity. We may need to pursue a free trade agreement to make our prices competitive with friendly Australian and Kiwi farmers.
As so often, these questions cross departmental boundaries, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Trade have worked closely on many issues. Today, in Great British Beef Week, I look forward to hearing the view of our excellent Minister on whether the enthusiasm and capacity of our farmers for halal beef exports are strong, and whether we can resolve the certification question.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this excellent debate. I declare an interest: I married a farmer’s daughter, and most of my family on her side are farmers across Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and—I say it quietly—even Devon. It is great to see so many colleagues from the south-west—we just about include my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) in that. That representation reflects how important farming is to our communities and our economy across the south-west.
We should be proud of our livestock and dairy farmers, who not only produce some of the finest-quality produce to be found anywhere in the world, but maintain the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. It is no mean feat to operate at such high standards while producing food of such amazing quality for us to buy and consume. Cornwall is particularly renowned for its dairy—Rodda’s clotted cream, which is located in the Secretary of State’s constituency, and our amazing cheese —as well as for its beef, lamb and pork. Much of it goes to support our hospitality and tourism sector, and the quality of food available in Cornwall is one of the things driving our tourism sector. People want to come to Cornwall not only for our amazing beaches and countryside, but because of the amazing food we produce. Clearly, farmers have faced huge challenges in recent times, but they have faced those challenges head on, which just goes to show the resilience within our farming sector. It has managed to do that over the past year during the pandemic and has adapted to a rapidly changing market.
Regrettably, as has been reflected in the debate, farming is sometimes presented as part of the problem in protecting our environment, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. British farming is among the most sustainable forms of farming anywhere in the world. Some of the facts and figures quoted by colleagues reflect that. Farmers are the custodians of our environment. They rely on our natural environment for everything that they do, so of course they want to protect it and care for it in the best possible way. Many of our farms are generational. Farms are passed down from one generation to another, so of course the farmers care for them because they want to be able to pass them on to their children and grandchildren.
Very often there is an unfair message that eating meat is a major contributor to emissions and carbon footprint, which is simply not true. Much of our farmland is suitable only for grazing livestock. We could not grow other food on it, and if we did not produce meat from that farmland, we would end up importing more food, which would increase the carbon footprint as well. There is much greater awareness today—it has increased over the past 12 months—of where our food comes from, which can only be a good thing. One thing I would like us to do with the new freedoms that we have since leaving the EU is to have better labelling of where our good British food comes from, and let us encourage everyone to buy as local as they possibly can.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on organising this debate. In the four minutes that I have I want to talk about agriculture on the Isle of Wight and then discuss with the Minister, through you, Ms Ghani, how we can use the Agriculture Act 2020 for the benefit of all of us, but very much for the Island.
I have noticed that a lot of us are talking about carbon and being responsible about animal rearing, but can we not use some of the incredible science in our country to breed cattle that produce less methane and—dare I say it?—pass wind less? Then we might have less of a carbon problem. I just put that out there. Perhaps the Minister will think about that. I am happy to suggest the Island for a pilot scheme. It would be great. We have lots of fresh air on the Island, anyway, and would have even more so with that idea.
The Island has a fantastic reputation for producing some of the best food in Britain, although, clearly, there is a lot of stiff competition. Briddlesford farm makes some of the best feta outside Greece. Calbourne Classics makes some of the best yoghurt in the country. I am yet to taste better fillet steak than that produced by Andrew Hodgson in the beautiful Bowcombe valley, and Queen Bower Dairy regularly produces fantastic soft cheeses and blue-veined cheeses. Isle of Wight tomatoes are very well known, to say nothing of all the lobster, crab and asparagus that we produce.
However, as the Minister knows, because she has been kind enough to discuss this with me, we have some issues. Living on an island, I perhaps share some concerns with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). Orkney has an abattoir. we do not. Our abattoir closed down a couple of decades ago. To take cattle for slaughter is an extra £70 per head of cattle. I am therefore very interested in the mobile abattoir scheme that the Minister discussed. I know it is being used in Gloucestershire at the moment. We would be extremely interested in having that on the Island because it would be extremely useful and valuable and would help to create a circular economy so that not only could we have a more sustainable agriculture on the Island by reducing the costs of slaughter and potentially make it more competitive, but it would make it more competitive when sending to the mainland as well because of that Isle of Wight brand.
In a similar vein, we would be keen to explore the use of grants for other shared things for items on the Island such as tanker and extra milk storage facilities, new grain storage, central fertiliser storage, animal feed milling facilities, and box erectors. All those things can make Isle of Wight agriculture not only more profitable—that is almost the wrong word—but can add more value to what we do. We would potentially keep more profit on the Island. As various Members have said, when people go to a supermarket they buy stuff that may be produced here or elsewhere in the European Union. I share the calls for better food labelling, because I will always try to buy local if I can.
The more that we can produce a local economy, so that Gloucestershire becomes even more proud of its produce, likewise the Isle of Wight, Kent and Sussex, that is the way that we can help local agriculture, and almost compete among ourselves. We keep forgetting, as has been pointed out, we have some of the most extraordinary food production in the world. Sometimes we do ourselves down and think that something that comes from Italy or France is better, when often it is not. I hope it will continue to be the case that we can push and get more value for UK produce. I will leave it there, but I look forward to discussing these matters with the Minister in due course.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing today’s debate. As the Member for Angus, one of Scotland’s most productive areas, it is a pleasure to sum up for the SNP and to add the Scottish dimension to issues raised by Members from around these islands. In Great British Beef Week, let us all collectively acknowledge that there is no finer beef than Aberdeen Angus. I look forward to the Minister confirming that in her summing up.
I am fully signed up to supporting and promoting British produce, but I will not be dissuaded from highlighting the current challenges that our producers face. The challenges in the meat and dairy sector have their roots in last spring, when we should have seen the emergence of new demand. Instead, we saw the eruption of a global pandemic, which decimated the hospitality and food service sector overnight.
Efforts were made to ensure that domestic demand, which rose sharply, would take up surplus commercial supply but, in reality, commercial food packaging and products made it incompatible with retail distribution processes and consumer tastes. Where we saw a glut of T-bone and fillet steaks, consumers were at the same time rushing out to buy mince. It was not just carcass balance issues that affected our producers. It was cheese, milk and yogurt, in large commercial containers with limited outlet into retail.
It was against that crisis that many of us called for an extension to the transition period last year, also recognising that the transition period was really no such thing. The UK Government advertised to businesses to get ready for exiting the single market and customs union, but were pretty sketchy on exactly how they could get ready to do that. Without a meaningful transition period, a soft start, room for manoeuvre or margin for error, UK meat and dairy exporters were thrown off a bureaucratic and procedural cliff on 1 January.
The dairy industry was especially hard hit, with exports to the EU down 96%, with beef, lamb, mutton and chicken exports collectively losing £50 million in EU sales. Many hon. Members have talked about the opportunities to export to wider markets. That is great, but it should not come at the cost to existing markets. The Food and Drink Federation report has shown that Scottish exports have been hit hardest, down 16%, with Wales 3.9% and Northern Ireland 7%. The British Meat Processors Association Brexit-impact report insists that blaming that on teething problems is no longer credible, if it ever was.
Collateral damage threatens our producers and their suppliers. I recently met with the Agricultural Industries Confederation to discuss the challenges in the agri-supply sector. Exiting the EU was top of their list. New tariffs for importing molasses for livestock feed, caused by an error in the UK global tariff, mean that there is now a higher tariff here than in the EU, which is expected to add £1 million to £1.2 million in extra costs to UK producers, all undermining our competitiveness. DEFRA is aware of this but, to date, there is no resolution. Nor is there a DEFRA resolution to issues affecting processed animal protein and the export health certificates that are now required to export those products from GB to Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Minister might want to discuss that in her summing up. Staying with Northern Ireland, as the president of the Ulster Farmers Union, Victor Chestnutt, pointed out to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee last week, Stirling bull sales in Scotland are vital for pedigree breeding and exchanging genetics. In 2019, 120 bulls from 37 Northern Ireland exhibitors showed at Stirling; by 2021 just four bulls were exhibited at Stirling from three Northern Ireland exhibitors. That is because when Northern Ireland farmers take a bull to GB and it does not sell, they need to pay for six months of residency before they can take it back to Northern Ireland. That madness is a disaster for sales and for breeding, and it is also a problem for Carlisle sales.
I want to touch on a comment from James Withers, of Scotland Food and Drink, who said
“It’s become clear that the EU third country import system was never designed for a country on its doorstep, integrated into its supply chains, sending large volumes of highly perishable product and smaller, consolidated volumes. In the end, the industry and consumer here want to maintain standards so let’s agree to align with our EU partners. Otherwise, the rug will be pulled from a significant chunk of the £1.2 billion of annual Scottish food exports for little, if any, benefit.”
The UK Government have in its power to support our meat and dairy sector through the Brexit carnage. I fully commend the innovation and energy with which our meat and dairy producers feed our communities and contribute to our economy, but let us not uphold any notion that everything is going invariably well. It is not. Those producers and the wider supply chains rely on EU exports, but exporting meat and dairy to the EU and Northern Ireland is harder now than ever. Let us all at least acknowledge that.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Ghani. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this timely debate. These are vital industries that are crucial to our food security, to tackling climate and nature emergencies. They proved remarkably resilient through the pandemic. I pay tribute to all those involved: farmers, processors, retailers and shop workers. But I think one or two contributions have been a touch rose-tinted, because it is really tough out there.
Last week, I joined the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) in launching Labour’s rural review, on a family farm in Cambridgeshire. Thanks to the excellent organisation by the National Farmers Union, we heard from a real mix of farms. It is very hard out there. With the changes to farm support, it is obvious that some—perhaps many—will not survive. We have repeatedly warned that that is exactly what the Government’s Agricultural Act 2020, allied with the refusal to rule out undercutting through lower trade standard imports, was designed to do. We will fight that all the way. We are delighted to support Great British Beef Week.
I must point out just how interconnected but we still are with the European Union. EU countries have accounted for 70% of meat exports, 77% of dairy exports, as well as 83% of meat imports and 99% of dairy imports. Sadly, the rushed botched deal at the end of the year has left us facing really serious problems, not least in achieving carcase balance. The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that exports of food and live animals were down about 31% on January and February 2020. In absolute value terms, exports of meat and meat preparations to the EU were particularly affected—down 52%. That is a systemic issue.
The British Meat Processors Association has warned that the industry is now facing a potential permanent loss of up to half of its exports. For dairy, exports remained at drastically low levels in February, according to recent figures published by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. The figures, drawn from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs data, show trade with Europe down more than 90% for certain products compared with a year earlier. Cheese exports were down 75%, whey 83%, milk powder 86%, and butter exports were down 89%. Be in no doubt that it is tough for many. We know it is particularly hard for small independent producers. If it is hard to sell to the EU, meat and dairy farmers face a challenge to their incomes.
The Minister and I have been discussing changes to farm support for a long time. A new analysis by the Labour party shows that rural England stands to lose more than £255 million this year alone. That translates to as many as 9,500 agricultural jobs, and that will only get worse year on year. Of course, the schemes are still being designed, tested and piloted, as we have discussed on numerous occasions, but farmers are rightly concerned by the gap between the existing basic payment scheme being phased out and the environmental land management scheme. According to an analysis of DEFRA data by the Country Land and Business Association, 75% of farming enterprises are currently unprofitable without direct payments. According to a recent survey of landowners and farmers by the CLA, 76% fear that the new payments will not be sufficient.
It is hard to sell into the EU, support is being withdrawn and, frankly, British meat is still open to being undercut in trade deals. As we have repeatedly said, the Government should have put the protection of food and farming standards into law, but they have not. Without re-rehearsing the arguments made today, deals are currently being negotiated. UK campaign groups have raised repeated concerns over meat production in Australia and New Zealand, and the Government’s consultation on a prospective UK-Australia deal highlighted concerns about Australia’s farming practices, such as hormone injections in beef, excessive use of antibiotics in food production, high rates of food poisoning and lower standards of animal welfare, including continued use of sow stalls. Just last week, however, the Secretary of State for International Trade was lauding their high standards in the main Chamber. Frankly, it should be obvious that British farming will be sold out. The Trade and Agriculture Commission, which the Government conceded under pressure, has reported that there has been no response from the Government. Can the Minister tell us when we will get it, and will they adopt the recommended standards framework?
There is much more to be said, but let me move on to one of the potential solutions: public procurement. Supporting British farming means buying more British produce, which means looking at the public sector and the £2.4 billion a year spent on catering, and thinking about how more can be spent with British farmers. Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services, or GBSF, provide helpful guidelines, but these are not being applied in too many parts of our public services. That is hardly surprising, given the cost pressures that they face, but that is why leadership is required.
In such circumstances, who better to turn to than the EFRA Committee? As usual, its Chair, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), made his thoughtful and well-considered contribution earlier, but the Committee’s recent report urged the Government to update their buying standards for food into the new decade, address outdated standards on nutrition and animal welfare, and close loopholes in the current rules. The report also expresses disappointment that the Government do not use the GBSF as a mechanism to promote buying British within the public sector, as is the norm within public bodies in countries such as France.
Let me say a word about two specific sectors. There is insufficient time to do justice to lamb and poultry, but there are a range of issues affecting dairy. We all hope that the new dairy code of conduct will be successful and ensure the fairness that many people feel has been lacking. We will be watching closely, but I fear that it may have to be revisited yet again. There are also workforce challenges. A recent survey by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers has revealed that almost one third of dairy farmers would consider leaving the industry due to a lack of labour, with 63% of dairy farmers struggling to recruit in the past five years. On their behalf, can I ask the Minister whether DEFRA is considering supporting the inclusion of dairy technicians in the next review of the Migratory Advisory Committee’s shortage of occupation list?
I turn now to the pig sector, which has had a really hard time. It is not all the fault of the Minister on this occasion—there is African swine fever in China, a surfeit of cheap pork in Europe and skyrocketing feed costs—but it is disappointing to hear that the percentage of British pork on the shelves has fallen in two of our major supermarkets, which is not helpful. Alarming figures suggest that specialist pig farms are expecting to see an 80% decline in average income between 2019-20 to 2020-21. The National Pig Association has described it as a perfect storm.
Some of the problems were indeed down to the post-Brexit export problems caused by the Government, but at its peak, a backlog of 100,000 pigs awaiting slaughter were housed in temporary accommodation on UK farms, which pushed up carcase weights and led to swingeing price discounts imposed by processers. I understand that the pig sector has approached the Government to call for sector-specific support, as was delivered to dairy farmers at the start of the pandemic, and I would be grateful to hear what consideration the Minister is giving to that request.
Let me finally mention our biggest challenge of all: climate and nature. We very much welcome the National Farmers Union’s commitment to reach net zero by 2040, and we want to see more support for farmers to reduce their emissions. That is why it is so important that we get ELM right and make it accessible in good time. British agriculture has to be on the front foot and continue to demonstrate positive progress. We will work with farmers to do anything that we can, and we recognise the efforts that are being made. Be it the dairy road map or Arla’s climate checks initiative, we can see people working hard throughout the farming and processing sector to get the advances that we all need.
There are indeed many paths to a sustainable future. A report from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission in January made a powerful case for an agroecological approach that many will find attractive. Finally, we await part 2 of Henry Dimbleby’s report with keen interest. The country should not have gone without a food strategy for a decade. It will be fascinating to see how palatable the Government find his recommendations. Will the Minister tell us when we can expect it?
We believe that the meat and dairy industries, with the right support and help, will play a key role in achieving the necessary climate and nature targets in the future. I look forward to working with everyone in the industry to achieve that. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to take part in this important debate.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani, and to take part in this debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby). British meat and dairy products have a really good reputation for quality, built on high animal welfare standards, strong environmental protections, traceability and sustainability. This Government will always support our farmers and producers, not only during Great British Beef Week.
It is great to be in a room full of such enthusiasts for their own local products. I will not, however, judge between Angus cattle and South Devon cattle, both of which we have kept at home. Other products are available and are kept by the farmers in the constituencies of those in this room. It is good to hear the enthusiasm in the room for buying local, buying sustainable and buying British. It is encouraging that, despite the challenges of the pandemic, and aside from the recent difficulties in the pig sector, generally our meat and dairy markets remain relatively strong, with good prices for milk, poultry, beef and especially lamb, which has been at 10-year highs since the beginning of this year.
I will not have time to respond to every issue raised, but I briefly mention the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who raised the problem of re-tagging animals moving from GB to NI. This is not required, as I am sure he knows, for animals going for slaughter only, but rather for breeding animals. We are aware of the burdens on those moving livestock and are working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs where we can to try to minimise those issues taking place at the moment.
We heard about a desire to buy British from many Members, and about the commitment that some of our supermarkets have shown to selling British-sourced meat and dairy products. I was grateful to be able to speak to many representatives from our supermarkets on a call last week, specifically, in fact, about pork. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) made a thoughtful speech about the interrelationships in the rural supply chain. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) was keen to support farm shops and, as ever, the fishing industry in her constituency in doing more direct selling to customers.
We are really ambitious, as a Government. We had a manifesto commitment that we want people at home and abroad lining up to buy British. We are working closely with the AHDB, and Members may have noticed that we had a number of successful campaigns during the pandemic, including Milk Your Moments, which is slightly more modern but just as good as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—“Go to work on an egg”.
On trade, the successful conclusion of negotiations with the EU with a deal, ratified only yesterday, based on zero tariffs and zero quotas means that we can now develop new relationships with our trading partners in the EU and globally. We are keen to grow our markets through the Department for International Trade’s new Open Doors campaign and increased market support and help in this area. We have a great agreement with Japan, which opens the Japanese market to UK exports of lamb and beef for the first time in two decades.
It was good to hear the level of ambition from the Cotswolds, represented so ably by a farmer, my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown); from my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who spoke specifically about the Indonesian market—I will follow up with him directly on some of the points he raised; and from my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), who particularly mentioned the cheese that he is keen to export.
The Government are clear, to reassure the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and other Members, that we are not compromising on the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards. The strong British reputation for our food is the basis on which we intend to sell our produce, both at home and abroad.
On other points—my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) mentioned the possibility of looking at a mobile abattoir scheme. I have spoken to him about that before, and am keen to do so again. We are piloting such a scheme, and look forward to learning from that and if it is appropriate to roll out more widely. A number of Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), spoke about labelling—an important issue for all the food we sell. We spent time this morning on a complicated Statutory Instrument on changes to labelling. We will talk more about that this year as we go into consultation on labelling, and I encourage him to get involved.
On the environment, the PM has declared that tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity is the UK’s number one foreign policy priority. He saw this first hand when he visited a livestock farm in Derbyshire last week. Achieving net zero for 2050 is an absolute priority for this Government. We were the first major economy to bring this target into law, and this is just the beginning. We acknowledge the ambition of the farming industry in this space, and have great examples of UK dairy companies and others leading the way on this. There is a great deal that the livestock sector can, and will do, to help move towards these ambitious targets.
As many Members have said, we have one of the most efficient and sustainable systems of livestock in the world. Reducing production of our own, increasingly carbon efficient products, and importing less carbon efficient products from overseas, is clearly not the solution. Nor is it sensible to import feeds grown in ways that are damaging to the global environment just to fit our targets—[Interruption.] I will not give way, I have a great deal to get through—I apologise. New feeds will be of a real benefit, and good work is being done to understand ruminant digestion and target both nutrition use and reduce methane emissions.
We must be honest about possible trade-offs with animal welfare when we have this debate. We need to do further work on the use of nitrogen fertilizers and nitrogen fixing mixes in grass. It was interesting to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton talking passionately about herbal leys, which I would echo if I had longer. Carbon sequestered by hedgerows and on farm woodland can help meet our targets, though some of that will not be recognised for many years. It must be recognised that well-managed livestock provides huge benefits, such as supporting biodiversity, protecting the character of some of our most beautiful landscapes, and creating employment for rural communities. It provides important nutrition as well, and we must remember that food is at the heart of what we do. We recognise the delicate balance between these outcomes and the potential environmental trade-offs, and will ensure that decision making is evidence led, but takes into account the full sweep of trade-offs.
I need to let the hon. Lady finish the debate, but I will say briefly that, despite the views of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), targeted support for our farmers is definitely the way to go. Paying people for public goods is a much better way of optimising the environmental solutions than merely sticking with CAP. Henry Dimbleby will report in July. We look forward to a major conversation across the country about buying British, buying local and buying sustainable, and all other aspects of food production, until the Government’s response in December to his report. This has been a great debate, and I thank hon. Members for taking part.
I thank the Minister for her response, and hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions. It is good to see widespread support for British meat and dairy farmers, as well as the Government’s environmental goals. The debate has recognised the importance of our global, as well as local markets for our fantastic British produce. I am sure today’s debate has whetted our appetites, and we cannot wait to dash out and buy something British for our evening meal.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered British meat and dairy products.