UKIP’s proposals on food and agriculture are, unsurprisingly, framed as requiring exit from the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP covers payments to farmers, and Rural Development – locally implemented activities promoting farm efficiency, environmental protection and wider rural economic development. Yet much of what is proposed does not require an EU exit to be implemented. In fact, some elements are already in operation.
To help consumers make food choices, UKIP would replace current food labelling rules, in particular requiring additional information on animal welfare. UKIP states that EU exit is required to “regain control” on the matter of animal health and welfare. This is misleading, because most of the measures it lists to improve animal welfare can be delivered from inside the EU.
UKIP supports scientific research into genetic modification (GM), and a free vote in parliament on its adoption. The EU is the main region globally opposing GM. So, if a post-exit EU-UK trade agreement included agriculture (which is not a given), and parliament voted to adopt GM, this could have a significant impact on agricultural exports to EU countries.
Saving or spending?
UKIP’s manifesto supports smaller farms, in several ways. They would strengthen the role of the Grocery Adjudicator, who oversees relationships between farmers and supermarkets. Although it is unfortunate that UKIP also refers to the Competition Commission: this body closed last year.
UKIP’s support for hill farmers continues current EU rural development policy, as does its support for agri-environmental farming via the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme. Removal of payments for land near wind turbines is consistent with their broader climate change scepticism.
UKIP wants to redistribute direct payments from large farms towards small farms. This will target payments towards farmers more in need of support, although history shows how difficult this would be to deliver. UKIP will also abolish some of the unpopular conditions currently placed on EU direct payments, such as cropping and rotation restrictions.
The big question is cost. The opening paragraph implies that it can be afforded, but there is no direct costing of the payment proposals. UKIP states that EU exit would deliver a £9 billion saving: the amount we pay into the EU budget each year. But this ignores the money we receive from the CAP. In the context of the manifesto as a whole, it is simply not clear how this money would be re-spent, on agriculture or elsewhere.