Open letter to Michael Gove

28th February 2019

Helen Browning, Chef Executive of the Soil Association, has written an open letter to Michael Gove highlighting the negative impact already being caused to UK organic exporting businesses by current Brexit uncertainty.

The risk of a no-deal Brexit could harm long term prospects for more sustainable agriculture in the UK.

As revealed in our latest organic market report this month, the organic market is in its eighth consecutive year of growth (further 5.3% in 2018). This is now at risk, and it undermines the confidence of UK organic farmers at the forefront of delivering the transformation to sustainable agriculture.

 

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Seacole Building
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DF

20 February 2019

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing to you with a specific and urgent concern about the negative impact already being caused to UK organic exporting businesses by the current Brexit impasse. This is turn could harm the long term prospects for more sustainable agriculture in the UK.

As you confirmed to the NFU Conference, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, recognition of UK organic certification by the EU is anticipated to cease overnight. This prospect is already having a serious impact on UK exporters as customers are looking to source supplies elsewhere to guarantee continuity. In the event of no-deal, there is the real prospect of a prolonged period during which organic exports to the EU could become impossible. It will be hard to win back the lost custom, and some UK businesses are already incurring costs as they take mitigating measures such as stockpiling materials.

Not only does this represent a serious financial challenge for the businesses concerned, it could significantly dent a significant and growing export sector and the potential for the UK to become an exemplar exporting nation based on the highest standards. You will have seen the great news last week about growth in the UK organic sector – growth that is now put at risk.

Furthermore, this situation undermines the confidence of UK organic farmers and producers who are at the forefront of delivering the transformation to sustainable agriculture which you have so compelling articulated. It compounds the uncertainty the entire farming sector is currently facing over their ability to export from April onwards, and the new tariff regime they will have to contend with.

The suggestion that has been made that a solution to the situation might be to market these premium and sustainable products as conventionally produced (and priced) is frankly unacceptable and counterproductive to the long term shift you are seeking to make. I am therefore asking you to make the following commitments:

Firstly, to explore every avenue to ensure that there is no break in the ability of our organic producers and suppliers to export their products as they do now into the EU and world markets.

Secondly, because this crisis is politically driven and cannot reasonable be regarded as a normal business challenge, to give reassurance that funding will be ringfenced to deal with the fallout and that compensation mechanisms will be developed to enable otherwise viable businesses to bridge to the time when this issue is resolved.

Thirdly, to ensure that agri-environment applications and claims are expedited to ensure the cash flow impacts for organic farmers of a no deal is minimised, and if necessary review rates in order that those farmers are being properly rewarded for the public goods they provide. This will provide a degree of short-term cushioning from the economic impacts of an export crisis.

Considering the implications of this issue for business and for our future trading relationships I am copying this letter to the Secretaries of State for Business and International Trade; and in light of the urgency of this issue for the businesses involved I am making this letter public. I would welcome the opportunity to meet you or your Ministers to discuss how this issue can be resolved or ameliorated and would be pleased to be accompanied by affected producers or suppliers should this be helpful.

There is a serious risk that the ambitions you have set out for a sustainable regeneration of our food and farming sectors will be seriously undermined and I urge you to provide commitments on these issues immediately.

With all best wishes,

Helen Browning Signature

Helen Browning

Chief Executive, Soil Association

CC: Greg Clark (Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy),
Liam Fox (Secretary of State for International Trade)

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