|Andrew R.T. Davies AC|
|Jenny Rathbone AC|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Llyr Gruffydd AC|
|Mike Hedges AC|
|Neil Hamilton AC|
|Christopher Stopes||Ffermwyr a Thyfwyr Organig|
|Organic Farmers and Growers|
|Haydn Evans||Welsh Organic Forum|
|Welsh Organic Forum|
|Roger Kerr||Ffermwyr a Thyfwyr Organig|
|Organic Farmers and Growers|
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Katie Wyatt||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Memorandwm Cydsyniad Deddfwriaethol mewn perthynas â Bil Amaethyddiaeth y DU - sesiwn dystiolaeth 1||2. Legislative Consent Memorandum in relation to the UK Agriculture Bill - evidence session 1|
|3. Papur(au) i'w nodi||3. Paper(s) to note|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.
The meeting began at 09:31.
Can I welcome Members to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee this morning? Do Members have any interests to declare? No.
We're looking at the LCM in relation to the UK Agriculture Bill, which was laid on 12 February. It's my pleasure to welcome to the meeting: Haydn Evans, chair of the Welsh Organic Forum; Roger Kerr, chief executive, Organic Farmers and Growers; and Christopher Stopes, policy adviser, Organic Farmers and Growers. So, croeso—welcome. Are you ready to move straight into questions?
What are your general views on the provisions in the Bill relating to organic products? Do you have any particular concerns?
Good morning, everybody, again. Yes, we've got some concerns, in that we think there is a lack of systems understanding in the Bill. So, when they're referring to public goods, it's in terms of a scorecard approach, sort of individual public goods, rather than looking at delivery of goods on the whole. There is a risk around the integrity of organic in terms of trade negotiations and quite how that would look in future trade negotiations. I think there's a failure to recognise a lot of the work that's already been done on agroecology. So, there is reference to agroecology, but it's in terms of understanding that more; we're saying, 'Well, we already understand quite a lot about it', and in particular organic, which is a practical and recognised agroecological approach. There's no recognition in the Bill as we see it of the link between agricultural policy and human health, which I think is something that should be recognised.
However, we would say the fact that organic is there in sections 36 and 37 is a very positive development. It's also very positive that the positive impact on public goods, as identified in 36, is a really positive thing regarding organic specifically. And particularly, I think, where it's relating to the promotion of organic and also innovation and research, it's a very positive development. Although, as things stand, we haven't seen actually any evidence of that, but we will wait and see.
I've got Haydn as well.
You go ahead.
Yes, okay. From my point of view, I think that some of the intricacies of the question you've asked come up later on in the supplementary questions I had last night, on trade and its effects, and also how the equivalence or compliance on the new rules with Europe, come 1 January, will impact on the organic regulations and the effects at farm gate and with processors. So, I think there's a concern, and to be specific—I'm sure Christopher will be more erudite than I am on this point—the new regulations of Europe come in on 1 January; that's 848. That really asks the question, then, that we could be with a redundant set of regulations that we are adhering to at present, and how that fits into trade deals. My concern there is that the overall effect could mean that the whole of the supply chain would need recertification.
I would echo those comments. I don't think it's necessary to make any further comments. I would emphasise there's difficulty over 848 coming in and no opportunity to mould or contribute to further regulations that may emerge over time. We will be out of the picture.
Thank you. You touched on not being part of that discussion and developing future standards and that kind of thing, but have you had any involvement or have you been involved or consulted with in relation to the Bill that's been tabled at Westminster? Because clearly it introduces a whole raft of regulations.
Yes, it's been an interesting development, but the quick answer is 'no'. [Laughter.]
Which is the one I anticipated, but I'd like to hear how you—[Inaudible.]
As Haydn and Christopher have both alluded to, there is an issue around the implementation of 848 on 1 January 2021. That's the European standard, and we're now not part of Europe. Certainly, DEFRA have indicated that they're not minded to adopt 848 as written at this stage. So, they are talking about taking the best of 848 and the best of 834 and also adding some UK-specific elements to that, which we can talk about. Haydn's raised some issues around that, and we can talk about that today.
But in terms of the agricultural Bill in its previous form, before it fell, there was talk within DEFRA of how they could give the Secretary of State powers to adopt 848 without having to go to Parliament to do that. From what we understand, that was quite problematic, because that opens up a whole raft of other things that the Secretary of State could adopt without any oversight. So, that was causing a lot of problems. They were quite relieved, from what I understand, when the agricultural Bill fell when Parliament was prorogued last year.
So, the appearance of this framework in the new Bill was a positive thing. Having said that, we haven't been involved with that, but it is very much primary legislation. So, there is a whole lot of secondary legislation that needs to come in, and at that point we would expect, and I think we certainly anticipate, that we would be more involved with that. But from that point of view, and whilst we weren't consulted, I have to say that the view is that, actually, 36 and 37 are actually quite well drafted in terms of the overall position, given that it is primary legislation.
So, you haven't necessarily been pursuing any amendments to the Bill at committee Stage.
Not at that Stage, no.
With the first Bill—we are members of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, a London-based organisation—the amendments that they were putting forward, we were part of that. Specifically, I mentioned, for agroecology, for example, we said it should be there. It's good that there is a mention but, despite what we just said, the mention is cursory and refers to better understanding; we know about agroecology, we know that organic is the best working example of agroecology, with half a million hectares in the UK and 3,000 farmers. It's there.
And that comes back to this first point that Roger made, about the lack of any acknowledgement of a system basis for farming. It's something that you will have seen in our submission, and it's quite an important point to us, because there [correction: because organic] is a farming system that can work rather well, covering multiple public goods, which are now recognised in paragraph 36, and that's really promising. But of course, a lot of the questions will come in terms of the trade relations subsequently made, which could then compromise the integrity or the principles referred to in clause 36. If we end up having—. This is where we'll come on to the subsequent question: that's where the important relationship is.
But in terms of have we put any amendments in—and there's a question as to whether there's any value in putting any amendments in at the moment—there isn't anything specifically that we have looked at in terms of 36 and 37 to say—
Because much of it will come in regulations and in secondary legislation.
Yes, it's in secondary legislation. Because it's really about the implementation of that. At this stage, it's just setting out a set of principles, I suppose.
I'd just endorse what they both said. I don't think I can add on that.
Can I just pursue the agroecology aspect slightly? Because clearly there's a worry, I think, isn't there, that we end up with some sort of duplication? That agroecology becomes a thing and organics is a different thing. That's the concern, just for me to understand. Could we potentially end up with two hares running in this race, or do you see that there are?
There are two hares running, and agroecology—ill-defined and not regulated—is sort of running ahead. It would be good if agroecology included the words 'including organic farming', because it's [correction: because organic is] a leading example of agroecology that is both regulated and has a market in consumer understanding and citizen engagement, whereas agroecology could mean anything from integrated pest management or even the red tractor, right through to something beyond organic, and it's that failure of any clear definition that is a problem. 'Organic' is a definition, not that there aren't other opportunities, but to suggest that we're going to legislate and make a standard for agroecology seems to be not credible.
It is a very broad church—agroecology.
Good morning, all. The Bill provides powers to the Secretary of State and to the Welsh Ministers where it is within legislative competence. Is the delineation of powers clear to the organic sector? What is your understanding of the post-Brexit policy intent of the UK and Welsh Government for organics?
Right, okay, it's a big question.
Yes. Do you want to—?
Yes. It is a very good question. For my part, when I've looked at the Bill and looked at it from the Welsh perspective—farming in Wales—there are some ambiguities that I can't quite get clarification on, particularly, just to name an example, when I looked at Schedule 5, where Welsh Ministers have a power to intervene in relation to exceptional conditions; the same clauses are 18, 19 and 20 for England. I'm not convinced that there's, at this stage, clarification or joined-up thinking as to how much power each has and the effects that it could have on any market distortion. I'm not sure that it's clearly defined. It is a recommendation rather than a 'must do', and I'm not sure that, if Welsh Ministers did intervene, the English Ministers would intervene at the same time. Would it be joined up, or would it create problems?
So, I'm sorry, the only answer I can give you on that one is that I fear that it does give Welsh Ministers the power to intervene in exceptional market conditions, but those conditions aren't clear. In fact, some of them are missing. It's almost similar to—. The biggest one now, as of today—I was sucking a cough sweet earlier—is the example of an epochal event, which isn't in there, and coronavirus would be an absolute example of it, and a break in supply chains, but it's not covered.
So, your recommendations are to take those on board. But the other part of the question is: are there any potentially conflicting views or positions that could be expressed in regulations?
I think there's a concern within the organic sector that there is a divergence of standards between the devolved nations, and I think we would see that as being a difficult position if that was taken, simply because it's going to add complexity to the operators as to which standard are they actually adhering to. If you've got an operator in Scotland who's selling stuff to England, do they certify to the English standard or the Scottish standard? Similarly in Wales, where English operators are exporting into Wales, to which standard do they refer to? So, I think it creates a level of complexity.
So, from our perspective, we would want to see a UK organic standard principally, which operates across all areas. As we understand it, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have indicated that there is a four-nations group that they're looking to establish to try and create some sort of standard UK organic regulation. I think that's something we would certainly be very supportive of. In terms of a broader support for organic, then I think there's an opportunity for the devolved nations to take a view on to what extent and how they choose to support organic. Clearly, from our perspective, we would want you to embrace organic as much as you can.
Yes, I think the regulation must remain uniform. The promotion, or the emphasis in terms of delivery of public goods, could be different in Wales and Scotland to England. My suspicion is that it could be much better in Wales than in England, and that's really positive. So, we wouldn't deny the opportunity that Wales could do better. We just regret the fact, being Englishmen, that England is doing so poorly. I would have said that your invitation to us to give evidence to this committee now on the Agriculture Bill from an organic point of view is a positive sign of a greater degree of engagement from Wales than from England. As the earlier question already pointed out, there has been no consultation with the organic sector, as far as we are aware. The Bill has been drafted with no reference, [correction: reference to organic organisations,] which seems to me to be very strange.
Sorry, can I just—? Sorry, I do apologise. I think the other thing is—because you also ramped up the views on post-Brexit policy—the issues to do with trade we see as particularly important. Obviously, in our submission, in section 2, paragraph 14, we specifically go through some of the trade-related issues, where the possible risks of negotiations for trade purposes will end up compromising on the integrity and principles of organic farming, clearly mentioned in clause 36. So, there's a real risk there, as far as we can see, that organic could get caught up in trade negotiations in a way that is really inappropriate.
And I think, sorry, just on the standards point when you have complexity, if we end up with an Australia deal with the European Union, the only way that UK operators will continue to be able to export to Europe will be via individual organic control bodies applying for recognition as equivalent to the European standard. What that means is that we will have to adopt 848, and we will have to be compliant.
There was some confusion as to compliance and equivalence. Compliance means: it is as read. Equivalence means: we think we're both similar, therefore—. So, from that point of view, we will have to be compliant. If that's the case, then a large proportion of the supply chain will have to be certified to 848, but effectively as a private standard. So, we could be in a situation where we have 848 as a private standard in the UK, plus the UK regulation. We also have the fact that Northern Ireland will have to be certified to 848 because it's part of the customs union still.
So, there is already a level of complexity there. If we then start to granulate again and say, 'Well, actually, now we want a Welsh regulation and a Scottish regulation', then than just creates huge amounts of confusion and concern. So, I think that's where we would be advising that, if we can, we want to try and keep certainly the UK regulation conformed across all devolved nations.
I might have misunderstood, but I think that the impression that was given by Haydn was that there could potentially be four separate organic schemes in the UK if, obviously, there isn't that cross working. You said there's a group—I think it was indicated that there's a group.
So we believe.
So you believe. So, it hasn't been confirmed that there's such a group being formed.
Well, the DEFRA organic unit have said that they are looking to establish a four-nations group. I'm not aware of where they are. They may well have set it up. They may well have not. They're just saying that's what they intend to do.
But ultimately, won't the market determine what the standards will be, on the basis that consumers are choosing to spend their money to buy organic produce as a lifestyle choice that they are making? I agree with you it would be helpful to have cross standards across the whole of the United Kingdom, but are you aware of where there has been any dialogue with the retailers, with the catering trade and the hospitality trade to try and bring this standardisation in? You're clearly indicating there hasn't been with your good selves, but someone somewhere has had to inform these discussions, haven't they?
The situation is, until now—and we're still in that situation—there has been standard regulation across the whole of the European Union. So, there has been consistency. Organic regulation was built on a set of principles, so there is a commercial aspect to it, but there is a clear sense of principles. So, whilst the consumer may or may not want something, at the end of the day, there is a set of principles to organic. Not everybody wants to buy into those principles, and that's freedom of choice, but I think there is a need for diversity at this stage in terms of agricultural systems. We believe there's some value to organic, and there is a proportion of the population that values organic, and that's because of the principles that it sets. I think we have to be careful that we don't allow commercial interests to over-ride some of the principles of what we're endeavouring to do.
So, I think, from that point of view, we need to set a framework, and whilst the four-nations group talks around a regulation in terms of application and enforcement, there is also a need for a group—an organic trade and standards commission, if you want to call it that—that will actually set a UK regulation. How does that evolve? How do we move that process forward? Until now, as is the case with so many things, we've allowed Brussels and all our other partners, if we want to call them that, to help develop an organic regulation. We're not in that situation. So, the UK needs to take that on board. It needs to develop and evolve, absolutely, I think we recognise that.
The structure on which we do that, we don't know. DEFRA have indicated that they are looking to set up an expert group. We don't know the shape of that. As the United Kingdom organic certifiers group chair, we have put a paper in to DEFRA, setting out where we think the framework should be in terms of how the organic—rather than regulation, the enforcement framework. How do we evolve the regulation, and how does that work? They've taken that internally, but as yet we haven't had anything back, other then they're saying, 'Well, we need to set up an expert group.' But as I say, we don't know the nature of that, who'll sit on that, how many people will be on that, et cetera, et cetera.
And how it might relate to this four-nations trading standards commission, or something.
Yes, we don't know how that sits either. So, that's where we are: there is still a level of uncertainty. But I think, in terms of the complexities of it, what the sector and, equally, what the consumers want is some certainty around: what does it actually mean, what am I buying into, where does it stand?
I'm just wondering, just give us a sense of how this fluidity in the regulatory environment is practically affecting the sector, because clearly there's a timescale that we have in relation to the end of this year. Do you foresee that this can be sorted out within that time frame, because it seems to be a big ask?
That's a good question.
I think it—. Do I practically—? Again, the simple answer is 'probably not'. No, I don't think we will have everything nailed down by the end of this year.
I think there are a number of aspects that we need to be mindful of. So, obviously, if the negotiation with the EU means that we end up with an Australia-type deal, then, to some extent, a lot of this discussion will be supplemented by the fact that we will simply have to certify to 848 as written, because that's the only way we're going to be able to continue to export to Europe. Whilst, in time, we can find other markets, at this stage, they're 60 per cent of our exports, and we're also quite reliant on them for imports as well.
But whilst much of what we're discussing is to be left to regulation and secondary legislation, as we've mentioned earlier, is it not true that much could be firmed up in primary legislation? Because I think you point to an inconsistency in the written evidence, in that in one part of the Bill it talks about enforcing standards relating to organic products equivalent to those applicable in the United Kingdom for other third countries, and then later on it says, I quote the Bill,
'imported organic products comply with conditions specified in an international trade agreement',
which could be totally different. It could be exactly the same, which I hope it would be, but there's this ambiguity or inconsistency in primary legislation, which doesn't give you the assurance you need.
It is a concern and, as things stand at the moment, the only conversation we've had is via the DEFRA organic unit, and the DEFRA organic unit have indicated to us—and this was last week, Haydn was at the same meeting—that they are not minded to accept 848, but they are looking to take the best of 834 and the best of 848 and a bit of UK as well. To me, that sounds quite a job: to get consensus and agreement as to what would people consider to be the best of 848 and the best of 834 and what do we want as a UK context. I think that's quite a significant piece of work. As things stand, we're at the end of February, we've no timescale as yet from DEFRA as to how that process is actually going to take place.
I just wanted to add, I think the implication of your question was: what is the impact on the sector at the moment, going forward with this uncertainty?
It leaves us in a very difficult position, because we're relating to existing organic farmers, 'Should they continue?', and we're relating to potentially new organic farmers, 'Is it worth getting into this at all?' There are two parts to why this will be a problem. One is: regulation is important, and it seems, from this conversation, one might expect some sort of consistency throughout the UK as a result of the development of the Bill into an Act. The other thing that's uncertain and is unlikely to be sorted very quickly is: the support regime that would be enabled through, for example, the environmental land management scheme. Even referring to the document that was published yesterday, it seems to me to be very vague. And I've been quite closely involved in seeing that document through its various iterations, through the stakeholder engagement development.
Unless we're clear about how public goods are going to be paid for, then farmers will be even more reluctant. So, you're going to compound an uncertainty regarding regulatory uniformity and the possible crucifixion of organic on the trade negotiations with the uncertainty over the way in which organic may be supported, because ELMS doesn't mention organics in tier 1, tier 2 or tier 3. It's not clear where organic fits. So, the risk of damaging the sector's future development, and indeed current security, is quite high, as far as I can see.
But yesterday's announcement was in relation to England as well, which reiterates the same point, really, doesn't it? We will be developing a different system here in Wales.
Sorry, I was just thinking while Chris was talking then, where we stand at the moment, we have 834. So, DEFRA could quite simply say, 'As of 31 December, we will just accept 834 as the default UK organic regulations', in which case, there would be no change. Actually, from an operator perspective, then there's no provision, because we've been dealing with this thing for the last 10 years. So, actually, there's less concern.
And what we also know is that they have already secured, as far as we're aware, equivalency agreements with many of the countries, which they currently already have—so, letters that align with the US and others—which are based on 834. So, as things stand at the moment, there is a letter sitting there, as I understand it, on George Eustice's desk that says, 'When the time comes, we sign a letter, we exchange that with the USDA, the current equivalency arrangement continues, as is the case now, based on the current regulation'. Again, I haven't any timescales, this is only my thoughts and, as yet, we haven't heard anything from DEFRA to substantiate that position or not. But certainly, what we were told is that they're looking to take the best.
You said that 834 is now what operates, but you've also said that the EU are going to adopt 848. So, if you carried on under the operation of 834 for continuity, does that give you a problem because 848 has been adopted? I just wanted some clarity.
Yes, it does. If we're in a situation where there isn't a mutual recognition agreement within a broader trade agreement with the EU, then that will mean that all the organic control bodies will individually have to apply to the European Commission, and in fact that process is ongoing now. We will apply for recognition and we will have to adopt 848. So, what we will find ourselves with in that scenario is a UK regulation as written based on 834, whilst a very large percentage of the UK supply chain will have to be certified to 848. There will be some operators who supply local markets and who are used to 834 who will say, 'Actually, I'm happy to be certified to the UK, because my product is never going to go any further than the UK.'
But those who are supplying larger businesses, with the potential of export, may well find that they'll have to be certified to 848. So, that is something that we would clearly prefer not to happen.
Okay, further clarity in this very uncertain landscape: so, we have the current regulations that we're compliant with, which are 834, and the EU plans to introduce strengthened regulations, which are the 848 regulations, and that is aimed to eliminate people who claim they're organic when they're not.
Well—no. There are some changes within 848, some of which are positive changes, some of which we would argue are maybe not so, but generally, they have—.
I'm thinking now, you're probably better placed than I am, but it's got to be nearly five years ago they made the decision that they needed to make 834 compliant with Lisbon, so therefore, they needed to review the standards, and rather than taking 834, which in principle is largely doing the job it needs to do—there are some elements of it that could be improved, and there are some contradictions within it that do cause us some challenges, but principally, it's a good piece of legislation. It works very well. They could have taken that. I don't know, 834+ and we could have moved on. What they did decide to do, however, was to go back to square one and to rewrite 848. [Interruption.] 834, and we went through four, five years, of considerable angst and aggravation. We tried to convince—[Interruption.] Yes. The initial proposal was devastating, and so, therefore, we finally by hook or by crook managed to come up with 848, and actually, it's not a bad piece of legislation. Again, it's similar. There are some differences.
Okay, all right. But it's the standard. So what is it that DEFRA is not minded to accept within that 848?
I think they're minded to, from what I understand, and I'm not privy to these things, but my understanding is that sovereignty overrides regulation and therefore, they want a UK regulation, and they're not minded to accept EU regulation as written.
You can understand the discourse at the moment is that we're an independent nation, and therefore we've got to have our own regulations, but in practical terms, the consumer wants to know whether this organic object is compliant with the regulations, whether they're buying it in France or Britain. So, I can see the reluctance of the UK Parliament to put in a clause that says we will be compliant with 848, because that's why we've had this three and half years of getting out of the European Union, to assert our so-called independence, but I think in terms of the practicalities and the consumer, what needs to be in the Bill to strengthen the certainty that if I buy something organic, it is what it says on the tin?
The thing is, unless the UK keeps up with the existing regulatory framework in the European Union, then the equivalence in trade both ways, importing and exporting, will be damaged, and there will be confusion in the marketplace. Unless there's a very clear signal from Westminster, that regardless of the need as a sovereign state to make up our own rules, we must ensure compliance with rules that allow us to trade both ways, and organic is just one of many examples, I suspect. We're not alone in having this challenge to our future security in this regard.
So it's more a matter not of the specific provisions, but rather the general principles, because as soon as we start to divert, we will never be able to get back unless we constantly—.[correction: constantly update the regulations.] Now if there were provisions in the Bill to make it clear that we must retain regulatory equivalence with our closest trading partner, and that was to be the subject of any future trade negotiations, we'd feel much more positive about it. The fact that there isn't, and we know that Westminster is minded to be relatively unconciliatory in this regard, is potentially a real risk as we see it.
I just wanted to raise a point about what was said that if you were looking to export into the European Union, you would have to meet the A48 [correction 848] standards. If you weren't, then—and A34 [correction: 834]. There are so many As and numbers flying around here, so forgive me if I get them wrong and I'll quite happily—. You would subscribe to that level for maybe the domestic market, assuming that that was taken as a standard. But didn't this go to the crux of what people voted for in 2016? Because many businesses don't choose to export into the European Union, and they have the additional cost of—. Because there was a universal sign-up, it was. Under proposals that will be put forward, if you are a business, then you will be able to sign up to the 848 to export into the market. You won't be precluded, but you'll have to meet those standards. That, to me, seems quite fair, to be honest with you.
It is, insomuch as—. Yes. Let's be clear, there are 80-odd organic regulations worldwide, so let's not think that the only regulation is the European one. We have got USDA and various others as well. And we also need to be mindful of the US as well. There is a trade agreement there, and we export quite a lot of organic product to the US. So, we need to be mindful of that as well. So, I think Europe is an important market, but as is the US potentially, and the US, at the end of the day, is the largest organic market in the world. So, we need to be mindful of that as well. And therefore, you could argue if a processor wants to supply into Europe, then they would have to be compliant to 848. In the event that there isn't a trade agreement, and one would hope that there is, in which case we have one regulation, a UK regulation that stands alone, that's where we are, and that's recognised as equivalent by the EU and the US, et cetera, et cetera, that's fine; if that isn't the case, then they will have to comply to 848. The issue then is that their whole supply chain will also have to be certified to 848. So, regardless of whether the particular producer wants to be certified to 848, the reality is they will have to be, because their ultimate customer—
Well, their customer will want them to do that.
And that will be their choice to sell their produce to that particular processor.
Indeed. But it does leave us in a situation where we have two regulations, potentially, on the go. That's the issue. I may disagree with Christopher on this, but from my perspective, I have no issue with a UK regulation—absolutely, we're an independent sovereign state, we need a UK regulation—however, I have some concerns about how that is developed and evolved and how that moves forward, but I have no issue with—. I think the issue for us is in terms of the complexity and the cost in terms of effectively having two regulations out there. And you may be in a situation where a particular customer or a particular farmer may have to be certified to both the UK regulation and the European regulation because of the particular customers that they have. It's a cost and a complexity issue.
I was just going to raise the point—it's coming from the angle that Andrew has raised. I think it's worth noting as well that in, I believe it's 2025, all bilateral trade agreements done under the old regulations come to an end anyway. So, they will actually have to go through a very similar process to what I see that we are now debating because those bilateral trade agreements are finished.
Just a very brief practical point in response to that. Farmers don't only export or only import. In one year, they may choose to do different things. So, to have something that almost consigns you only to being a domestic supplier potentially places the farm at risk of future income security in not being able to be an exporter. So, we're potentially placing a divisive wedge on the calls of making up our own regulations because we would lead to division between 834 followers and 848 followers. So, I think it wouldn't be acceptable.
The EU doesn't require anybody else in the world as third countries to accept EU regulations. The element of extraterritoriality, which is involved here, applies not just to 848 as it is now, but to any future changes to 848 that the EU might, in due course, decide to make. And you've just had five years of angst in the development of 848 itself. No country that is an independent country could possibly accept that some extraterritorial jurisdiction should have unfettered powers to legislate for itself in the future, and this doesn't happen anywhere else in the world.
In paragraph 5 of your submission in the trade issues section, you say:
'the ideal scenario would be that the current organic trade arrangements are maintained via bilateral mutual recognition'
and then you list a series of countries where this has proved perfectly easy, so—
It is—. The crux of this is around the trade agreement. If we have a comprehensive trade agreement, and in that trade agreement there is a recognition of equivalence, then everybody's fine with that.
It is playing hardball, but it is also—
They, of course, put their own producers at risk if there is no agreement, because if we haven't got an equivalency agreement, then they have to accept our regulations. If our regulation is more stringent—you say you can improve on 848—then that's going to produce reciprocal problems.
I don't particularly want to get drawn into the whys and wherefores of the negotiation, as such. I think the reality is that under—how do we step back a step? One of the criticisms of organic has been, over many years, 'Their organic standard is better than our organic standard and not everybody is the same, and, therefore, you can bring stuff in from Chile, and they're allowed to do stuff that we're not allowed to do.' So, there is a school of thought that says we need to find a consistent, that everybody is consistent, so regardless of where it comes from, it's all the same. With due respect to the EU, under 848, they are trying to create that level playing field by simply saying that you have to be compliant with 848.
Now, as Haydn's clearly said, from 2025, all current equivalence agreements are going to be ripped up, and, therefore, the EU are going to have to sit down with the US, and they're going to say to the US, 'Oh, by the way, guys, you're going to have be compliant to our standard—'
I think that's going to be an interesting conversation to be had, and we will see how that plays out. But that, again, is also going to play into the UK position in time, as to how that finally shapes up. But that is the EU's intention, and that started the real fun, not this year, but last year, in a meeting between the EU and the US. It was all very cordial and everyone there was fine, and they all went, 'Yes, but that ain't going to happen.' So, there's going to be some discussion, and no doubt those discussions have already started to happen. So, there is that aspect going on.
The issue for us, fundamentally, is, in the event that there isn't a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU, then that creates a level of complexity for operators in the UK. That's our point, really.
Right, I wanted to go into your concerns about the way in which the Bill is drafted in relation to organics, but, first of all, I just want to establish in my mind if I buy an organic carrot in the United States, is that the same as an organic carrot anywhere in Europe in terms of whether it's been adulterated in any way?
Not necessarily, no.
Well, the US allow hydroponics, so if we take—
That is an issue. In terms of dairy, at the current equivalency, NOP doesn't allow the use of antibiotics—
Sorry, the USDA national organic program. That doesn't allow the use of antibiotics. So, in the UK standard, they are allowed. Now, there is a debate as to whether that's higher or lower. From the EU perspective, or from the UK perspective—I'm still learning—we would suggest that if an animal can be treated, it should be treated, if we have the mechanism. Now, in organic systems, we endeavour to use other systems before we revert to antibiotic, but, ultimately, if an antibiotic is available and the animal is suffering, then it should be treated. In the US system, they don't allow that. So, there's a moral piece to that, but the reality is that that exists. In the equivalency agreement we have with the US, anything that we export to the US has to be produced without the use of antibiotics. So, even while it's an equivalence, it's equivalence with a little bit of extra added in.
Just clarifying on the antibiotic use in dairy, the point that the cow in America can be treated with antibiotics, but it can no longer form part of the organic herd. So, one has a situation, basically, of parallel production, which is replicated here for those producers supplying into American markets. So, one has an antibiotic-treated herd, which can be certified under 834, and a non-treated herd, which has a separate collection, and that seems to be working perfectly—
Yes, but in the US, they are no longer organic. In the UK, they are still organic, but they're just organic to the EU regulations.
So, there are some subtle—. Sorry, on the US side, you have to use organic straw for bedding, which we don't demand within the EU regulations. So, I think we have to be careful that saying that the EU—sorry, UK regulation is the highest. There are aspects to it, and that's where there are differences. Sorry.
Okay. Clearly, we've no idea what the outcome of the trade negotiations is going to be, so in terms of the concerns that you have raised, on the one hand the forum have suggested that the recent US executive order around trade deals and so-called 'science' means that that would take precedence over any disagreement about things like hydroponics, access to pasture and GM labelling. Could you try and just explain how that might be addressed in the Bill?
At the moment, it's not addressed in the Bill, and that's the concern, in that the trade agreements override the—
Okay. But you can see that the UK Government doesn't want to tie its hands in these negotiations, if it's already tied into law to not permit certain things.
We've been in conversation with DEFRA on this particular issue, and what we are recommending is that organic is actually taken out and treated as a separate aspect within the trade agreement, so that we can look at some of the issues around regulation and where there are differences, and how we address them. That would be a way of how we address it, and to be honest with you, that tends to have been, to date, how organic trade arrangements have been produced, because of the complexity, because there's additional complexity around regulation.
Okay, I acknowledge that. But how, then, would you resolve the difference of approach towards hydroponics? Because in the United States, hydroponics are considered part of the organic package, is that right? Whereas in this—. I mean, what is it that the producers think is a concern around organic hydroponics? Could you just explain to us?
It was raised within the forum, and particularly, for example, at the moment we are operating in the organic sector to a threshold on GM. It's a nominal threshold of GM pollution. America operates to a higher threshold, so therefore there is the 'opportunity' to bring in products that, at the moment, would conform to organic regulations within the States and would probably come on the shelf in UK supermarkets possibly cheaper than the existing home produced, because the regulation is different. In terms of hydroponics, I suppose basically the problem has always been that the philosophy of organics is to grow within a live soil a diversity within soil life, whereas hydroponics is feeding singular nutrients in order to produce a carrot grown to the maximum size at the quickest point it can be. So, there's always been that clash. So, again, they would come in with an organic brand on them, possibly cheaper, because they're grown in a different way.
Okay. So, the view of organic farmers in this country, in the UK, is that hydroponics, although a useful way of growing things, is not deemed organic.
It doesn't sit with the principles of organic, and I think that's where we have a level of complexity with organic—there is a set of principles underlying what we're endeavouring to do. So, from that perspective, there are some key elements. We talked about access to pasture. It's about animals being able to exhibit natural behaviours et cetera. These are the fundamental principles of organic—so, being grown in the soil, hence the Soil Association is called the Soil Association, because organic is fundamentally about the soil, and it's from the soil that, again, you get the health of the plant, the health of the animal, the health of the human being. So, soil is a fundamental aspect. So, growing it out of the soil just doesn't fit with organic principles.
That's not to say that hydroponics couldn't well be a very beneficial way in terms of feeding the population. It just doesn't happen to fit with the principles of organic, and I think that—
I know that Christopher wants to come in on this, and I know Andrew also wants to come in on this point.
If I can just finish on this first of all. The other thing you mentioned as an area of concern was GM labelling and content.
Again, GM just doesn't sit with organic principles. That's the issue.
And where you have, as Haydn indicated, a regulation elsewhere in the world where they allow a higher level of GM, if consumers are buying organic presumably because they're actively trying to avoid GM, and some do and some don't, but those that want the choice to avoid GM will gravitate towards organic, and therefore, in that position, they're being told that this is the situation, and we're then finding that product coming from elsewhere in the world has a higher GM content and that will undermine consumer confidence.
Are you arguing, therefore, that the Bill needs to not remain silent on these points?
It would be better if it didn't. It would be more clear because it would set down the market. However, it would compromise the Government's opportunity to be fleet of foot and make compromises. The only point that I wanted to add to that is that, since, in 36(3), there is a clear recognition that organic is contributing to the public good of healthy soil, and that indeed is on the face of the Bill at the outset, it seems to me that in allowing hydroponics, one would be contradicting that public good. So, it would suddenly make the Bill a bit inconsistent if we allowed hydroponics, which has no relation to the soil—not only does that contradict the fundamental principle, which is shared throughout Europe and many other countries too, in allowing hydroponics, that would be an additional reason as to why we would see it as inappropriate.
All right, and then I'll come back, because I've still got one more point.
I just wanted a clarification—you had the exchange with Jenny just now, saying that it already happens—about American produce coming into the UK market, and that it has a higher tolerance with hydroponics and the GM threshold, or did I misunderstand that?
No, you misunderstood—
I'm sorry. That's why I wanted to check. So, it doesn't come into the UK market, it doesn't.
No. Hydroponic produce would not be permitted here in the UK, arising from America, even with an organic label.
Yes, I think the chairman of the forum makes an important point about—there's no mention of who inspects the certification bodies, because if the certification bodies are simply going to be rubber-stamping, then they—
Do you mean accreditation of certification—?
[Inaudible.]—the United Kingdom Accreditation Service will continue to have that role in the accreditation of the performance of the certification body, or not—?
It was raised in the forum as a query, but it wasn't in the Bill. I haven't seen it.
Because it's important to make sure that the certification bodies are meeting certain standards, and who would be responsible for ensuring that that was the case at the moment?
Currently UKAS accredit all certifiers.
Okay. So, why would you assume that that's not going to go on happening?
Because it isn't on the face of the Bill. One would expect it to be part of other legislative measures that would cover the accreditation and certification of any number of things, from organic farming to the widgets a manufacturer may make. So, accreditation of certification bodies apply to all areas of the economy.
There is a question one could ask, just again, while you're asking the question: you could ask, who accredits UKAS? At the moment, the FVO accredit UKAS—
The Food and Veterinary Office—isn't it? They are a European organisation who then accredit all of the accreditation bodies across the EU, and that function, clearly, is no longer there. So, one could argue: is there a need for somebody to have oversight of UKAS in time?
Thank you. Just moving on, then, what are your views on the powers for the Secretary of State in relation to the import and export of organic products? In light of the conversation that we've just been having, do you feel they're appropriate and proportionate at this stage in the game?
If I may leap in, on the basis of the discussion we've just had, it would seem that there needs to be more on the face of the Bill to make it credible and to protect the integrity of organic alongside those principles and standards. Since there isn't, it seems that we perceive a significant risk to the future integrity and maintenance of those principles and those standards, because the two have to be linked. So, it's more that an absence of anything gives us little reassurance.
Okay. So, to take the example that you mentioned—you can have something that's being described as organic, but has actually been fed with GM corn.
Yes, we would see that as a risk for hydroponic lettuces or whatever.
So, we did talk about a trade and standards commission, arguably, and I know the National Farmers Union have been talking about a trading standards commission, in a general sense. But if there was such a thing in the organic—they could guide the Secretary of State then. They could certainly be tasked with giving that level of advice.
I'd like to ask what your views are on the enforcement powers that are in the Bill in clause 36—36(9) in particular—which envisages conferring powers of entry, inspection, search and seizure and use, and maintenance of information, keeping records, penalties, summary offences, et cetera? Do you think these are appropriate and proportionate? Haydn.
I think I'll leave it to Roger to answer that, on the basis that he's head of a certification body, and then I'll answer it from a farming perspective. [Laughter.]
So, from our perspective, those are the powers that are currently conferred on us. So, if we feel that there is—. And we have had a situation where we've had an egg producer who had been selling organic eggs and it was found that they weren't, and, actually, that particular individual ended up in prison because they were, effectively, breaking the law. But to enable us to secure the information and necessary evidence, we needed the power to access that unit and to search paperwork et cetera, et cetera. So, I think the powers that are bestowed on us are proportionate, in that a consumer is being asked to pay a premium for a product on the basis of a level of assurance around that, and we need to be able to go out and we need to be able to demonstrate to the consumer that that is there. There is a level of concern within the certification bodies—how do we actually enact that? Trading standards have had a lot of their staff removed, so the oversight, if we have an issue—
Well, the staff removed. So, in terms of—. In a lesser situation—
Staff—sorry, my pronunciation. The staff. So, in an event where it's a less critical issue, so somebody is labelling something—. There isn't a particular—. Then, we currently inform trading standards, and they are meant to then go and check the premises and find out whether they're breaking the law or not.
Because they aren't there, then then that is an issue, and that has some issues around, you know, ultimately, consumer confidence. But certainly, yes, on the face of it, I don't—. I mean, we don't run around in armoured cars and the like, but I think having the ability to do that in the right circumstances is valuable.
Haydn, as a person who might be sent to prison—[Laughter.] [Inaudible.]
Declaring my hand here as a dairy farmer—I don't have any issues with what's outlined at all. In fact, we don't live in a static world—it's moving on, Neil, at pace, and certification bodies are getting far better with their technologies, and if I go out on my tractor and put so many tonnes of manure, I can send it immediately, what I've done, down to the certification bodies. I genuinely think that, from my point of view, it's a different matter. I think earned recognition has a part to play in it. The people turning up annually asking the same questions can be tedious. However, just like when ear tags first came into cattle, where we saw certain farmers just tagging their cattle once a year, on an inspection it was a giveaway. I think that certification bodies and technology will move forward together, as I said. I'd like to see a little bit of common sense come out with earned recognition. But where there are clearly breaches, then they should be dealt with appropriately. I have no hesitation in that because it compromises the product.
Are there any gaps in the provisions that are put in the Bill at the minute, do you think?
In terms of powers?
Not that I've seen, no.
Thank you. On the provisions around the fertilisers, there's a provision to make changes to the Agriculture Act 1970 to reflect changes in the fertiliser industry—clause 31. That sounded really good, as if I'd read every word of it. [Laughter.] Have you any views on the provisions around the fertilisers? Because it's a critical part of, obviously, what you guys in the organic sector deal with.
The only, I think—. I have to put my hands up—we did say that if we're not an expert in this, then we'd raise our hands, and so I have to say that we are not, or I'm certainly not, an expert in this. One of the areas that, I guess, we would like to see is a clearer delineation between synthetic fertilisers and naturally occurring, would you say: manures, composts and so forth. At the moment, it appears that they are just lumped as one thing. Increasingly, there's evidence that ammonium nitrate has environmental impacts. Therefore, I think it's important that there is some delineation between that and other fertilisers. I appreciate there are also particular risks with the poor use of slurry and manures as well. So, we're not saying that they're perfect and that synthetic is bad, we're just saying that there needs to be a delineation between the two.
If I may just add on that? In terms of the impact of ammonium nitrate, for example, a substantial amount of energy and emissions arise in the manufacture, regardless of the use. We think that that issue has generally been inadequately considered, because if there's a large amount of nitrogen going in, which has a greenhouse gas emission consequence, you don't need to worry about recycling within the soil when you apply it. One should be initially concerned about the total amount of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted. This tends to be ignored when looking at the agricultural emissions. We think that means that the hazard or the risk of synthetic fertiliser use has been undervalued. With that large quantity of carbon dioxide emitted during manufacture not considered, it means it's not really thought about by the agricultural community—and I've been involved in nitrogen for 35 years.
That's a very fair point, but is it something that needs to be in this Bill—because, obviously, what we're looking at are the provisions within the Bill—or is that more of a policy position?
I think it's more about the delineation, it's just the definition of fertiliser. I think there needs to be some recognition that not all fertilisers are the same. Equally, I think that we also need to recognise that we're not—. Christopher made the point about carbon dioxide—badly composted material is also an emitter of nitrous oxide. So, it's more about a delineation of the different types of fertilisers, rather than at this stage it seems to be that everything is lumped in together.
So, for the fertiliser provisions within the Bill, you would like to see greater clarity around the delineation process in the fertiliser sector contained within the Bill.
And possibly thinking about the possibility of a nitrogen tax. That, obviously, is something that would not sit easily within there.
It wouldn't sit directly and easily within that, but without considering the relevance, possibly, of a nitrogen tax, in line with the greenhouse gas emissions consequent on the manufacture and the use of fertiliser—
I would suggest that we look at that point when we look at the Environmental Bill and the LCM. I believe we'll be looking at the LCM on the Environment Bill, will we?
I was just keen to mention that point in the context of this fertiliser clause because, although it isn't directly related, it has potential relevance in the future.
Could I just add to Andrew's point there? I welcome it, because fertiliser—. And I'm not talking specifically now about nitrogen fertiliser. Fertiliser, as a definition—. There are new products coming to the market all the time, and it is an opportune moment to decide what is an up-to-date list of fertilisers used, both organically and conventionally. So, I welcome it.
You welcome the provisions that sit within the Bill, as drafted.
I do, yes.
I just wondered if you'd like to tell us what you think about the food security aspect of the Bill. I know the organic forum welcomes this addition to the previous Bill, but you want a wider definition around this. So, I wondered if you could just expand on that.
In the forum's submission, firstly, it says DEFRA SOS should look at it every five years. We thought that this, against the backdrop of what's happening, was a little bit too far out; we'd like to see it, in the early years, as an annual review. The reason behind that is because, naturally, we are going into some very major insecurities through agricultural support and trade, which all could possibly impact. We don't know where the stone will fall. And I would add in there environmental regulations as well. So, we're in a very tricky period—I'm talking from a farming point of view here—and some people undoubtedly are going to leave. So, therefore, we'd like to see it on an annual basis.
I notice it was the global food availability and the supply of food, but what we were concerned about as a forum was two things, really. There's no obligation on the Minister to act on any adverse finding. So, the question is that it's a 'So what?' principle—if he's got it in front of him and there is insecurity. I think that, in terms of the wider concept, we were talking of events that are, for example, climate related, or dare I say various diseases, whether it's on the horticultural side, or on the animal side, or indeed on the human side, as we're currently in. So, there were no specific mentions of that.
Okay. So, would you want the Bill strengthened, instead of having 'may' to 'must'?
That's the short answer.
Sorry, just in terms of from our perspective as well, I think there are also elements that we need to be mindful of in terms of food security in terms of inputs as well. So, in a period of volatility, when we're talking about—. We've just talked about fertiliser now, but if we were to see spikes in fuel prices or if there was a complication in the middle east or whatever, that could have significant impacts. And if large percentages of the agricultural community are reliant on these inputs, that again could have an impact in terms of food security. So, I think we need to be looking at both the input aspect and in terms of the output aspect as well, in terms of food security.
One of the issues that's rarely talked about is soil erosion and the collapse of soil quality. So, is that something you'd like to see specifically flagged up?
You could say that the provisions are already there, right at the start of the Bill, in relation to the delivery of public goods by farming, and soil fertility is one of them. That, surely, must be predicated on the uncertainty over the quality of our soils and the fact that it has been declining substantially, along with biodiversity and all the other inter-related problems. So, it seems to me to be clear that the food security consequence of degrading the soils means action on improving soils. Regardless of any other possible conventional means of improving soils, organic clearly does it with knobs on, without any question. That's why it's a good idea to recognise it. It also does biodiversity with knobs on. It completely stops pollution from pesticides with knobs on. And it ensures high animal welfare. So, in a sense, for the key drivers that have led to the decline in long-term sustainability and food security, we see that organic, potentially, delivers with knobs on.
I wouldn't disagree with that, but the point is that here, traditionally, there's been insufficient attention paid to this matter on the grounds that, 'Oh, we can just put some more fertiliser on, and it'll continue to deliver.'
Indeed, or 'We can just import it from another country.'
But I think, in the face of food security, if those levers aren't available to farmers, given—arguably, in certain areas of the UK—the poor quality of soils, if those levers are unavailable, then that is going to have a significant impact on the productive capacity of agricultural land. And I think those are the areas that also need to be considered when we're talking about food security. Because we are—outside of organic, principally, because the purpose of organic is to avoid inputs—as a general principle, farming is very reliant upon external inputs.
Can I just make one other point about the supply of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds? Clearly, increasing the consumption of those is important from a health point of view, ensuring adequate supplies is important, and the reliance on imports is a risk. So, from that point of view, something really significant in Wales, or across the whole of the UK, which will massively increase fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds production, is an important part of future food security, and also ensures that there is a healthy diet. So, I think we need to identify clearly that fruit and veg is an important issue in the UK. We're underproducing, and we have no policies directly in support either of horticulture specifically, or of small producers. And organic, small vegetable and fruit producers, through box schemes and other direct supply arrangements, provide a measure of food security. Let's multiply that a hundredfold, even a thousandfold, and potentially deliver all those fruit and veg that we need so badly from the point of view of our daily food and our health.
Can I just point out there is huge pressure on land at the moment? Land is being turned into energy production, I can think of 500 acres at the moment that are under offer for solar farm development just a couple of miles from here; then, you've got the forestation programme of the Government as well, a significant investment in forestry expansion here in Wales; and then, you've got these competing demands between conventional agriculture and organic agriculture. But one thing we know is you need land to produce food, don't you? So, if you've got the food security argument, you need the principle of the land. Is there a simple equation that says how many acres of organic land you would need vis-à-vis an acre of conventional land to produce the same volume of food? Is there such a formula out there that would give us an idea? Because we see the footprint of land that is available for food production across the board shrinking across the United Kingdom.
Just before we answer that question, in terms of Jenny's question about food security, the other thing that we haven't talked about is water availability. It seems rather perverse right now, but if we're talking about increasing vegetable production in the UK, which is Christopher's point, again I think we need to be very mindful of it. The likelihood is that, in the face of what we're just dealing with now, do we then find ourselves in a particularly dry position later in the year? Nature does tend to balance itself up a bit. So, I think that's another thing that is worth thinking about when we're talking about food security, certainly in terms of external inputs, again. Sorry.
I was wanting to just have a thought on your really good and really important question. In a sense, the land requirement depends on the consumption, the dietary requirement. As things stand at the moment, with the large quantity of intensively-produced meat, particularly white meat, and the preponderance—. There's a preference, from the climate change point of view—mistaken, in my view—about the good things about non-ruminant meat, and failing to recognise the potentially good things about ruminant meat. There's a question about land availability and land utilisation in relation to the actual quantity of food that we need for a human population. An organic perspective would see that those intensive livestock products wouldn't exist if we were to be 100 per cent organic.
The thing is that you can't just look at the answer to the question, 'Would there be enough land?', or, 'Have we got enough production with the organic system?', without looking also at the point of consumption. Since we're not proposing that a 100 per cent of Britain should be organic—although we do believe that would lead to better diets and more sustainable production systems—then, at some smaller percentage than 100 per cent, let's say 10 per cent or even 20 per cent, we would have no impact on food security, because those organic eaters would be eating more in line with a sustainable diet and it wouldn't be a risk.
I do take that point, but just going back to my original question: do you, for every one acre of conventional-produced land, need two and a half acres, three acres, four acres of organic land?
No, because you would need to think about what diet you want. That's the point: you can't disassociate the productive capacity, the land area required, and the requirement for food to be eaten. Am I missing the point?
No. I think if you were just saying, 'How productive is an acre of organic land versus how productive is an acre of non-organic land?', then you could argue that there is a yield penalty to producing organic, and that yield penalty depends, to some extent, on the topography of the land that you've got. So, yields are variable, but yields are variable anyway. You could argue that there is a yield penalty to it. It's certainly nothing—you're talking somewhere between 5 per cent and maybe 20 per cent, depending on the crop and the nature of the field it's on, and so forth. So, there is a yield penalty there. I think organic, generally, has had very little research and development spent on it in the last 70 years. So, if we were to have spent a similar amount of money on organic production as we have on non-organic production, I think the yield differences would be significant [correction: would not be so significant].
You have to remember that the crops, the varieties that organic farmers are having to use, have been bred for very intensive farming systems. So, you're taking a square peg and putting it in a round hole. If we had varieties—I'm thinking wheat, barley, et cetera—that had been bred specifically for a low-intensive system, then I think you'd find that those yield differentials would improve. I think what we have seen is, where organic land has been organic for a number of yields, the yield differences become quite marginal at times.
Yes. I think there is that. The other aspect to it is, in a period of climate—. If we had a position where we have a particular climate impact—so drought, floods or whatever—in those situations, organic land tends to perform better in non-ideal situations, principally because there's a lot of organic matter in the soil, so in a drought situation, the crop has water more available to it than it does in the degraded soils that we are talking about. So, in these situations where we're finding extremes in weather conditions, then we're finding that actual organic is far more resilient. So, again, in terms of how do you measure the capacity and the capability of organic, I'd argue that over a period of time, given where we are at the moment, organic is getting close to it, and if we could invest more in terms of developing particular varieties of crops that respond well to that system, then I think we'd find that yield bounty would be significantly better. So that's what I'm saying.
We're at the time we should be finishing. If we could perhaps go on for another few minutes, I know that both Joyce Watson and Llyr Gruffydd have got a question, so if you're happy, we'll just go on. Joyce Watson.
First of all, I have to take issue with Andrew, which is not a great surprise, and he mentioned conventional farming. Conventional farming was organic farming. That was where it started. I just wanted to put that on the table. I'm not letting you get away with that. Not at all. So having got that out in the air, I want to ask about transparency and fairness in the supply chain: clause 27. The Bill gives regulation-making powers to the Secretary of State to impose obligations on business purchasers and contracts with qualifying sellers. What are your views on the widening of the scope of those provisions since the previous Bill?
Okay, I'll take that one. From the forum position, we welcome it. It gives significant flexibility on the Secretary of State. I would, however, add a rider that the clause does not impose a duty to act. It is a discretionary power, which is bitterly disappointing from my point of view. The Commission: I have done some work with the Commission over the years on this, and they are, I believe, way ahead of us. It is absolutely critical that we have some form of fairness in the supply chain. Otherwise, I am very concerned as to the security of production. The Commission had given what they call 10 black unfair practices, and then there was some grey. Examples, just to quote you a few, are: payment later than 30 days for permissible agriculture; short-notice cancellations of perishable agri-foods; one that affects me in my contract at the moment is unilateral contract changes by the buyer; and of course, exclusivity. They're all there. They're all still a concern. The whole purpose of this, in my view, is to protect farmers and farmers' organisations and other weak suppliers against the manipulation of power of the buyers. So, generally, my comment to you is: I welcome it, with a 'but'. It has to have teeth.
So what would the impact of the new requirements be on qualifying sellers? Are there positives and negatives that you want to bring to the table now?
I have to admit that it's not something we're particularly experts in. We do know that Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, is focusing a lot on trade relations and fairness in the supply chain, and I think Haydn's given a more detailed response, but the duty—I think one thing that he didn't reiterate at the end is that these provisions should be a duty, not a maybe.
Thank you. Just two questions, predominantly to Haydn, actually, but I'd welcome comments from others. Just in the paper from the forum, under the section on the agricultural tenancies, Schedule 3, you highlight a very interesting point about the success of the arbiter for rent and the criteria that they'll use and the fact that the definition of good husbandry might actually run contrary to some of the public goods stuff that the Governments on both sides of the border will be trying to achieve over coming years. Could you tell us a little bit about those concerns?
With the agricultural land tribunal, generally it's when you get to dispute between landlord and tenant. Particularly, over the years, then, there is a set procedure where the landlord would look for the tribunal to grant a certificate of bad husbandry. The certificate of bad husbandry tends to come within certain parameters. Those parameters are quite strict, and at the moment I've seen, and we have had presentations—so, declaring my hand, I sit on the agricultural land tribunal as a lay farmer, and we have had various presentations on it for future guidance, but at the moment, there is no clarity wrapped around it.
Where I've seen difficulties, for example, is where very often a tenant will apply to expand off-farm income, whether it's with solar, whether it's with a conversion of a barn, and what tends to happen is that the landlord will grant consent only to be followed very, very sharply by a rent increase, which negates the investment. So I think my concern around that, and particularly going forward where we're looking at public payment for public goods, is that some of these are going to be long-term contracts—I'm sure Christopher can talk about DEFRA work—but I know Welsh Government are looking at it at the moment, so if you've got—. Bearing in mind we have to be very mindful the average tenancy agreement in Wales is two and a half years. In terms of the old Act, you were talking of a generational one, but in the new ones, under the new farm business tenancies, they can be anything you make them. In my particular case, we rent a farm and it's on a 15-year term. So if we're going to produce public goods we've got to make sure that the tenant doesn't then get paid for the public goods, which is viewed by the tribunal as bad husbandry. I think in my notes I give you the list of the criteria, which is particularly concerning because it's talking about being free of weeds, that the grass is cut twice a year, and an appropriate stocking rate, which of course under rural development plan 2 was the beginning of it, as we moved away to manage fertility down so that you had the flora and fauna. And it has clashed at the tribunal and put livelihoods at risk.
So that needs to be addressed, otherwise there's a fundamental flaw in the system in relation to tenant farmers.
Okay, thank you for that. I thought it was important that we got that, that we captured that.
I don't really want to say anything on the terms.
Okay. The other one—and again, it's a broader point really about identification and traceability of animals—I know there's provision in the Bill for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to develop their livestock information system or service, the LIS, disapplying some EU regulations, but of course Wales isn't subject to that, and I'm just wondering where does that leave our electronic identification in Wales, and are we aware of what Welsh Government plans might be around this.
Honestly, I wouldn't feel qualified to speak other than to say that, as you say, the sheep is an anomaly to England, and unless we get some conformity and some dialogue between the two, it's going to be a very tough job, and particularly, it's even worse on some farms that are straddling the border.
Can I thank you very much for your attendance? Apologies that we've gone eight minutes over the time that we told you, but I think it's been worthwhile. Thank you all very much for coming along and giving us your information and advice. Thank you.
Thank you very much. To echo Christopher's words at the beginning, we appreciate you taking the time to listen to what we have to say, and for your engagement. So, thank you very much.
Tell Westminster to listen, too.
Can I ask Members to note the paper listed as 3.1, correspondence from Nest operations manager providing additional information on the Nest scheme, requested by committee following the evidence session with Energy Saving Trust?
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
And can I move a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from item 5 of today's meeting? Thank you very much.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:54.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:54.