Survey reveals strong support for British farming standards

An overwhelming majority of British consumers would like to see British farming standards upheld in the future by ensuring imports meet the same quality, environmental and animal-welfare criteria as homegrown food.

The British public overwhelmingly supports the high quality, environmental and animal welfare standards that are at the heart of British farming, according to a new survey.

Run by Comres for the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists (BGAJ), the poll found that 84% of respondents believe food imports should meet the same criteria as food produced in the UK. More than half would not buy food that compromises on animal welfare standard, even if it’s cheaper, and nearly two thirds favour financial support for British farmers to guarantee the security of food supply after Brexit.

It is proof, as BGAJ President Rosie Boycott says, that ‘the public values the high standards of British farming. With Brexit on the horizon we’re on the brink of potentially seeing lower quality food imports flooding into the country. The survey resoundingly shows there’s no appetite for it.’

The findings are particularly timely now that an independent review to develop a new national food strategy is underway, because they support the call, by National Farmers Union’s President Minette Batters, that ‘government, through this national food policy, has to ensure that British farming standards are not undercut by an ambition to open up British markets to food which would be illegal to produce here.’

Many farmers have welcomed the BGAJ findings, which they see as encouraging at a time when the industry has often been at the receiving end of sharp criticism. ‘To feel appreciated is a wonderful thing,’ says Richard Heady, who runs an arable, beef and sheep farm in Buckinghamshire. ‘Too often, we can’t hear the positive comments over the noise of discontent. It gives me great heart to see that the majority of people think that we and our rural communities are taking good care of the British countryside.’

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However, some remain concerned that consumers many not keep up with their good intentions when it comes to opening their purse. ‘My view is that the public are more inclined to say the “right” thing when they are being interviewed by a pollster but then to do the exact opposite thing,’ notes Norfolk arable and poultry farmer William Barber. ‘They might say they agree that imported food should have the same standards as UK produced food or say they are prepared to pay more for food produced to higher welfare standards; however, when they are alone with their trolley, they simply buy the cheapest.’

Rather than just relying on people’s goodwill, these farmers would rather see a combination of initiatives to ensure British agriculture doesn’t get undercut in the future. These range from ensuring food production standards are upheld in post-Brexit trade agreements to educating people in cities and towns about the benefits of farming.

Some are also keen for the industry to embrace change and improve its marketing efforts. ‘Our marketing needs to consist of more than just sticking a Union Jack on the packaging,’ cautions Cheshire goat farmer Tim Dobson. ‘The opportunities are there, we need to take them. Farmers need to be fleet of foot in the coming years. We must run profitable businesses, be prepared to change and not just do what we have always done.’

And with the BGAJ survey revealing that younger respondents are more inclined to sacrifice standards in favour of lower prices, Mrs Batters’ request for a food policy that ‘delivers for everyone whatever their income’ appears particularly important. ‘Safe, traceable and affordable food that is produced to high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection is a right for all of us and it makes absolute sense that British farmers are the number one supplier of this.’