Britain is a significant food producer. We produced more than half of the food we consumed last year (55%) and we’re also a big exporter of food. Most food we consume does not come from the EU – only about a quarter does (26%). The remainder is imported from the Rest of the World. (Source: DEFRA).
The EU used to pay farmers “set aside” which was a subsidy paid to farmers for leaving their fields fallow, farmers would have produced a larger percentage of our food today without the subsidy. The madness of EU farming policies means instead of having cheaper food they paid farmers to do nothing. Much of the ‘set aside’ has been replaced by environmental schemes which regulate such things as the width of uncultivated ground that must be left at the edge of waterways; or that ‘game cover’ strips which benefit wild birds are not sown commercially; or ‘beetle banks’ which are uncultivated strips running through the middle of a large arable field to give habitat from invertebrates and ground nesting birds. All this could be converted back into food production if necessary. The ‘set-aside’ policy was a typical ‘command and control economy’ failure in the sense that it regulated what farmers could or could not produce; interfered with (and skewed) the normal market mechanisms of price, supply and demand. Of such things are food mountains and famines made.
As the borders were closed to the EU yesterday due to the new Covid strain, #BuyBritish trended on Twitter and people, perhaps albeit momentarily, recognised that buying local produce – eating seasonal local produce – would be a positive way forward in a post-Brexit world.
So, how to change one’s behaviour and stimulate the home market for home produce?
First, take care to look at the labelling in supermarkets. Finding out where food has come from can be tricky. Always look out for the Union flag and the country of origin on the packaging. Be sure to look for the Red Tractor logo, as this guarantees that the food and drink that you are buying is traceable, safe and farmed with care. Combined with the British flag, it’s a sure way to know the produce can be traced back to British farms. The British Lion is the UK’s most successful food safety mark with nearly 90% of UK eggs now produced within the Lion scheme.
Second, like Her Majesty, eat seasonally. You can enjoy fresh, quality produce by buying seasonal food, and it’s a great way to back British farming. Thanks to modern growing and harvesting technology, and good storage conditions, some British crops, such as carrots, cauliflowers, potatoes and apples are available to eat all year. Others have shorter seasons. Buying British produce in season not only helps you to support the farmers who grow your food, but also reduces the environmental impact of food miles in your shopping basket. Fresh food in season often tastes better too! Here’s a handy seasonal guide to buying British foods all year round.
Third, support your local butchers shops and grocers. Butchers shops are known for their impressive display counters, but don’t forget to ask the butcher the origin of the meat they are selling. Most butchers will have good relationships with the farms they buy from and might have even visited the farms themselves. Be confident you are backing British farming and putting British meat and veg on your plate.
Fourth, pressure supermarkets, pubs, restaurants and shops to sell British. There are some good campaign groups out there. On some like the Made in Britain campaign you can list your farm or business. Social media is a valuable tool to push a Buy British campaign. Don’t be put off by Britain-hating resistance. These actions will help provide a boost to struggling British high streets and businesses.
Finally, search out British products using online searches. BuyBritish.com inspires the population to shop locally to support the British economy and protect the environment, promoting British brands that provide you with the best quality and value. There are Buy British Facebook groups and a British Product Directory which allows you to search locally for British products from cars to cardigans.
Boycotting produce from the EU seems as churlish as some of the Remainer comments over recent years. In any case there are plenty of Brits abroad who are producing foods they sell to the British market and they do not merit any kind of penalty. There is little point in being bitter or negative. As markets change and new opportunities emerge, there is certain positivity to switching one’s diet towards say British fish and home-grown lamb. Perhaps chomp on more fruit from the Commonwealth? Maybe a British-made car will do for a few years? There are plenty of wonderful British clothes manufacturers out there. British holidays can be awesome, as can holidays to British destinations abroad. Help create jobs and revive businesses which have been blighted by Covid.
Lobby your MP. Tell your family and friends. Spread the word. The British Government will now be able to assist the Buy British campaign both through advertisements and via subsidies. As well as lifting up producers from other lands, maybe it is time, fellow Britons, to get used to helping ourselves – to maximise and reap the benefits from our most green and pleasant land, whilst maintaining amicable relations with our neighbours.