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OPINION: We need our MPs to stand up for farming now more than ever

PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:29 13 October 2020

Jake Fiennes, head of conservation at the Holkham Estate, is urging MPs to support East Anglia's farmers in next week's crucial Commons vote on the Agriculture Bill. Picture: Carl Ellis

Jake Fiennes, head of conservation at the Holkham Estate, is urging MPs to support East Anglia's farmers in next week's crucial Commons vote on the Agriculture Bill. Picture: Carl Ellis

Carl Ellis

Ahead of next week’s crucial Commons debate on the future of agricultural policy, award-winning Norfolk farm conservationist JAKE FIENNES, from the Holkham Estate, explains why he is urging everyone to contact their MP to ensure East Anglian farmers are protected in post-Brexit trade negotiations.

Norfolk turkeys. Picture: Matthew UsherNorfolk turkeys. Picture: Matthew Usher

Farming holds a special place within the hearts of people in East Anglia. It is central to our communities, the beautiful landscapes many of us walk and enjoy, and is part of our rich rural history.

As I write, a landmark piece of farming legislation – the Agriculture Bill – is in the House of Commons for its final journey before becoming law. I need your help to make sure this bill supports our farmers, food and landscapes. Here’s why.

East Anglia is home to over 11,000 farming businesses who grow and rear wheat, potatoes, dairy, hens, and turkeys. Many of the local farms here in counties like Norfolk and Suffolk have been part of the fabric of our rural communities for generations. I have been lucky to be part of this community myself, so I would love to see our strong values upheld for years to come.

There has also been a revival in food culture in the UK. This is down to both the amazing work farmers do to produce great quality ingredients and the food businesses who have made our local food products some of the most envied in the world; like the famous Norfolk Black turkey or barley used in East Anglian beer. The prospect of our hard-working farmers struggling for business due to being undercut by cheaper exports from overseas, is a worrying possibility. We need to support them now more than ever.

Malting barley being harvested near Salhouse. Picture: Angela SharpeMalting barley being harvested near Salhouse. Picture: Angela Sharpe

The Agriculture Bill will return to the House of Commons in the coming days. It has just made its way through the House of Lords, where peers added an amendment that would ensure British family farms and British food standards are safeguarded in future international trade negotiations.

READ MORE: Farmers welcome Lords vote to protect post-Brexit food standards

These potential trade deals could undermine our farmers and lead to much more low quality food on supermarket shelves. We usually hear about chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef, but there are also issues around the use of pesticides that are banned in the UK and the overuse of antibiotics to make up for poorer animal welfare conditions.

These ways of producing food are banned in the UK because evidence suggests they pose human health concerns and are simply not a good life for these animals. According to the USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14.7pc of Americans fall sick due to food-related illnesses each year. That is a much greater percentage of the population when compared to only 1.5pc of Britons as estimated by the Food Standards Agency.

READ MORE: Post-Brexit trade deals will protect region’s farmers, minister pledges

As a nation, we should be proud of the high food and farming standards that our East Anglian farmers love to work to. Without them, we would not have the same breath-taking countryside, coupled with our world-beating food and produce. That is a good enough reason to ensure that safeguarding these standards is enshrined in law, so that farmers can continue to champion these values.

That is why I am calling on our Members of Parliament to support the amendment to the Agriculture Bill that will do just that. It is also in your hands; now is the time to tell your local MP that you support British farming, and they should too.

You can support this by visiting Sustain: The Alliance for Better Food and Farming’s website. From there you are just one click away from contacting your local MP and asking them to stand up in Parliament for our local farmers and countryside.

• Jake Fiennes is head of conservation at the Holkham Estate in north Norfolk, which manages more than 3,500 hectares of farmland and looks after some of the county’s most treasured nature sites. Last month, he was awarded the prestigious Sir Timothy Colman prize by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, in honour of his “sustained commitment to farming, wildlife and the environment”.


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