RERG: UK land use strategy

Rural Economy Research Group

Tuesday 28th October saw the fourth meeting of the Rural Economy Research Group (RERG), which meets once a year in the Palace of Westminster to discuss rural economics and development. The initiative, historically chaired by Lord Wade of Chorlton, is now chaired by Professor the Lord Trees of the Ross and is generously sponsored by the University of Liverpool until 2015.

In 2013 the group discussed ‘mega-farms’ (‘Too big to ignore – are mega farms the future?’) and one of the conclusions was that although valid demands for UK land use were numerous, there was no obvious nationwide planning strategy to clarify planning decisions. Following on from this, the subject for discussion in 2014 was ‘How do we resolve competing demands for UK land use?’

How do we resolve competing demands for UK land use?

The speakers this year were:

  • Oliver Letwin MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office
  • Professor Ian Hodge, Land Economist at the University of Cambridge
  • Andrew Montague-Fuller, Consultant to the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership
  • Alistair Cargill, Director of Cargill Farms Ltd, Norfolk

Professor Hodge opened the discussion by summarising the growing demands on land in the face of a decline in productivity increases. Describing the complex systems governing the use of land it became clear that local and national planning; energy policy, forestry policy, agricultural policy and other policies; UK legislation and EU legislation all impact upon land use decision-making. Integration across all these different groups and within the many different Government departments involved is key to a coherent strategy for land use and all its facets.

Mr Montague-Fuller spoke on the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership Report, ‘The Best use of UK agricultural land’. The report used a supply and demand analysis based on population estimates and concluded that by 2030 there will be a shortfall on all demands made on land (Figure 2: Rising demands on UK land). He concluded that a clearer vision on land use would be beneficial and highlighted that Scotland already have a land use decisions framework that might be useful. A joint Government and industry group might be a good first step to advise on a UK framework.

DemandUKland
Figure 2: Rising demands for UK land (A.Montague-Fuller, University of Cambridge).

Oliver Letwin MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, said that land use had only recently made it onto the agenda due to events in the East. He asserted that he believes there is no short to mid-term crisis in the UK, but admitted that the long term might prove to be more problematic. He used the meeting to address frequently vocalised concerns that all UK land is being turned over to housing and suggested that if we built 200,000 houses a year it would take 100 years before we used up 1% of UK land.

The Minister argued that the term food security relates to ‘food strategy’ in the UK because the people of Britain have the security of enough food. He related this to cross Government ‘resilience reviews’ – if there was a shut down of UK ports, could we feed ourselves? The reviews concluded that whilst there may be an avocado shortage, there would still be plenty of fruit and in the short term the UK could feed itself. However, if we could not import energy we would face very considerable difficulties as a country. He concluded that food security issue in the UK is largely an economic one rather than a threat of starvation. It would be helpful if different administrations did not change the direction of this sort of policy – it needs to be a long-term cross-Governmental strategy.

Mr Cargill was the final speaker and aimed to present a boots on the ground view of land use in the UK. He regarded his land as a business asset for housing, food production, environment and energy and conducts a biannual review on the best use of this asset. Farmers have had to look at the costs of production and innovate and have done studies on the use of GPS and intensive sustainability. Cargill Farms are on Grade 1 & 2 land that yields well and thus they can survive, but in the west of the UK it is unlikely that this would be the case without the single farm payment. They have solar farms on Grade 2 land, but Mr Cargill questioned whether it should only be allowed on Grade 3 or 4 land and higher grades set aside for food. In summary, he said that farmers will grow for price, but supermarkets racing to the bottom are making this increasingly difficult. He argued that the nation is not prepared to pay for British food when it can be imported from abroad for less money.

In conclusion, the group found the Government resilience studies reassuring, but felt that they failed to address the lack of strategy. The main points that came up in the initial discussion were re-capped: (1) this is a growing problem that will not go away; (2) a cross-Government strategy for land use would greatly aid decision making and forward planning; (3) it is impossible to food production from energy production; and (4) that food production strategy or an absence of one will impact upon a number of other important areas, not least health. The event was followed by dinner and further discussion around the role of the supermarkets, public health, food waste and innovations such as GM-foods. Currently, there isn’t an answer to how we resolve competing demands for UK land use, but a food security strategy would be a great complement to the energy strategy. We will look forward to the forthcoming Government Natural Environment White Paper on national ecosystems, which has been due to follow in the footsteps of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and Report of 2011,  and hope that it sheds some light on the situation.

 

Dogs Trust Reception

On Tuesday 28th the VPRF was present alongside numerous MPs and Lords for the annual Dogs Trust Parliamentary Reception.

neil_parish_dogs_trust_oct_14
The Rt. Hon. Neil Parish MP climbed into the Dogs Trust Chip Van to serve up some free microchips.

During the reception the Minister Lord De Mauley announced that the new regulations on dog microchipping, due to come into force in 2016, would be laid before Parliament the very same day. You can read the draft legislation on the legislation.gov.uk website: The Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2014.

In addition to the news regarding the new legislation, it was announced that Camilla Baldwin OBE, who first joined Dogs Trust in 1974, will be stepping down as CEO to be replaced by Adrian Burder.

Autumn in Parliament

I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that it is already the 20th of October – it only seems like yesterday that we were finishing up the summer session at the end of July. Autumn always seems a busy time for veterinary organisations, businesses and institutions. There are a number of conferences, seminars and receptions coming up and animal welfare has recently been suggested as a potential vote winner for those campaigning in the General Election. It is looking like we will have plenty to keep us busy in the year ahead.

Puppies in a puppy farm
From the Mirror website: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/puppy-farm-raid-rspca-police-3118851

Currently we are working to pick up the threads of research that were left dangling when the House of Lords wound up for the summer recess and keeping one eye on the Committee stages of the Deregulation bill, which suggests removal of some stipulations on information keeping that currently exist for Dog Breeding Licences. Whilst the Deregulation bill aims to streamline legislation and cut down on red tape, there hasn’t been any clarification about what information will be mandatory when compulsory dog microchipping  comes in in 2016 and it may make life easier for puppy farmers. Consequently, we aren’t yet convinced that this is a good idea, particularly in the light of the Government’s wish to clamp down on puppy farming and the illegal import of companion animals.

Non-stun slaughter Fact File

Declaration of interest: This authors of this document declare they would wish to see all animals stunned before slaughter.

Statement of intention: This document is intended for the public, politicians and professionals and aims to present an unbiased, factual and up-to-date account of the current information available on non-stun slaughter.

Please download a copy of the latest VPRF Animal Welfare and Non-Stun Slaughter Factfile using the link below:

Non stun slaughter fact file updated October 2016

Record of Edits
July 2014 – Initial document published
November 2015 – Updated to include new legislation (WATOK (England) 2015) and new estimates for numbers of animals slaughtered using stun and non-stun methods.
June 2016 – Further updates to include reference to result of EU referendum.
October 2016 – Update to include results of a survey of UK Islamic scholars on perception and acceptability of stunning

Weds 4th June 2014

State Opening of Parliament

Her Majesty the Queen came to Westminster today for the State Opening of Parliament. I was lucky enough to be able to watch from the Royal Gallery (between the Robing Room and the Princes’ Chamber) and saw the procession into and out of the Lords’ Chamber. Whilst the speech was good, it was also rather vague and left plenty of leeway for interpretation as the Government sees fit. Highlights of the morning were the Officers of Arms who look jolly smart dressed as coats of arms and hold what can only be described as wands (I am sure they have an official name & use), and the Cap of Maintenance, which shall now and forever be known as the Sorting hat. The Houses of Parliament seem more and more like Hogwarts.

Weds 26th March 2014

APPG for Antibiotics

Anti-microbial Resistance (AMR): Animal use and selection of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Lord Trees and I attended the All-party Parliamentary Group on Antibiotics (APPG-A) discussion around the use of antimicrobials in animals. There were two speakers:

  • Mr Peter Harlech-Jones BVSc MRCVS: Past-President of the British Veterinary Association.
  • Mr Christopher Teale: AHVLA

Mr Harlech-Jones spoke about concerns around metaphylactic use of antimicrobials by vets and whether or not using antimicrobials in this way contributes to resistance in man. He re-iterated that in the RCVS code of conduct, which vets must abide by, it states that a veterinary surgeon who prescribes, supplies and administers medications must do so responsibly. He also made a strong case for better recording of antibiotic use (and adverse drug reaction data) and reporting in both humans and animals.

Mr Teale gave a broader overview of the problems raised by looming anti-microbial resistance and highlighted that some infections in man are unrelated to those in animals. He discussed swine dysentery and 5 untreatable incidences where farmers had to depopulate – sterilise – wait – and repopulate from a non-infected source. He also made clear that the situation in the UK will not be replicated in other countries and it was important for the UK to balance free trade with the risk of importing resistant infections.

Before the meeting was rather abruptly adjourned there were lots of questions to be asked.  Unfortunately, due to a last minute change of room there was limited time for questions. There will be a recap session on Tuesday the 24th June with more opportunity for discussion.

Of the few questions that were asked, it seemed that squabbling between medical and veterinary professions about who uses antimicrobials most responsibly and who has evidence of a reduction in their use might not be the most productive way forward for this discussion. We shall look forward to further discussion on the 24th June.

APPG-A

RUMA

Re-Act

 

Weds 2nd April 2014

Foundation for Science and Technology

Policy choices for the reduction of bovine tuberculosis

Last week, the Foundation for Science and Technology met at the Royal Society to discuss bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in the UK and what policy choices might be available to the Government. Bovine TB strategy in the UK hinges primarily on cattle controls, but it is generally agreed that there is a need to address the sylvatic reservoir of disease in badgers. Unfortunately, the Report of the Independent Expert Panel on Pilot Badger Culls (IEP Report) was due to be released by the time the meeting was convened, but it was not released until two days later (04/04/14).

The speakers were as follows:

  • Adam Quinney: Farmer and former Vice-President, NFU
  • Professor Rosie Woodroffe: Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London
  • Dr Miles Parker OBE FSB: Senior Research Associate, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

We were also due to hear from Professor Ian Boyd, Government Chief Scientific Adviser at DEFRA, but due to the impending release of the IEP Report he was unable to attend.

Mr Quinney summarised the history of bTB controls in the UK and highlighted the distrust between the farming community and DEFRA. Professor Woodroffe gave a talk to explain how infections spread, what factors affect the reproductive rate of an infection and her thoughts on vaccination as a strategy for badgers. Dr Parker came third with a talk about trends in the incidence and prevalence of bTB since the FMD outbreak in 2001/02. He outlined methods for managing bTB and re-iterated the point that vaccination alone is not wholly effective; a comprehensive strategy is necessary.

In summary it was agreed that whilst there is much polarisation over some aspects of bTB control, there is widespread consensus on others. It is important to build a strategy upon those latter aspects. It would also be great to hear a projection for cattle vaccine introduction that isn’t perpetually ‘about 10 years away’.

Foundation for Science and Technology

APGAW: Humane Slaughter

Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW)

Humane Slaughter

After a long Easter recess that caused the previous date to be postponed, Lord Trees participated in a much anticipated meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) on Tuesday 6th May. The meeting was due to follow the publication of a report by the European Commission on whether consumers want to see stunning or slaughter method information on meat labels. Unfortunately, the release date of the report was pushed back and the meeting had to go ahead without this update. The meeting was well attended and there was a robust exchange of ideas around the question:

“What Is Humane Slaughter and How Do We Ensure Welfare Standards Are Met?”

The Panel, chaired by the Rt. Hon. Neil Parish MP, was as follows:

  • Kenneth Clarke BSc, BVSc MRCVS-Veterinary Consultant (formerly oversaw Public Health and
    Food Safety)
  • Robin Hargreaves BVSc MRCVS – President of the British Veterinary Association
  • Russell Fielding – Retired slaughterman.
  • Rizvan Khalid – Euro Quality Lambs Ltd
  • Shimon Cohen – Shechita UK
  • Leon Pein – Biblical Foods Limited

Outcomes are yet to follow.