The Government yesterday published its long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy, setting out its plans and priorities for moving the UK to a low-carbon economy over the coming years. Unfortunately, the UK Government is still failing to reach its emissions reductions targets, in breach of the Climate Change Act. As ClientEarth have pointed out, “We need a firm commitment to say how the UK will decarbonise. Good intentions are no longer good enough”. However, the Strategy does make a number of promising statements and commitments on the future of farming and land use, many of which reflect core priorities for the Soil Association.
Chief among these is the Government’s stated intention to design a new farming system “with a strong focus on delivering better environmental outcomes, including tackling climate change”. In the UK, farming accounts for 10% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, making it the third highest emitting sector after transport and energy. Globally, the food system accounts for around a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. It is abundantly clear that we stand no hope of successfully tackling climate change without a revolutionary change to the way we farm.
We at the Soil Association also welcome the Government’s recognition of the vital role of trees in storing carbon and enhancing and protecting the natural environment. England has fallen desperately behind its target to plant 11 million trees by 2020, and this Clean Growth Strategy commits to accelerating the rate of tree planting over the coming years. We particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to introduce incentives to encourage farmers to plant trees on farms, a practice known as agroforestry. Throughout 2017, the Soil Association and others have been working hard to raise the profile of agroforestry, and we are pleased to see that the Government is taking note.
The Strategy rightly recognised the valuable role of healthy soils and the need to tackle emissions from nitrogen fertiliser. It sets out ambitions to protect and restore vulnerable, carbon-rich peat soils, to develop low carbon fertilisers, and to “overcome the decline in soil quality in the UK”.
Radical changes in the approach to farming, food and the way we manage land are needed. As part of this Strategy, the Government should put farmers themselves at the heart of their approach to innovation. The Innovative Farmers programme is leading the way in field-based, farmer-led research, and the Soil Association is calling on the Government to invest in a dedicated farmer-led innovation fund. We are also urging the Government to accept the Committee on Climate Change advice for new farm policies to 2030 to move beyond the current voluntary approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
We now want to see the Government recognise and reward the major contribution that organic farming can make to achieve the goals on climate change set out in the Strategy. Organic farmers and growers up and down the country are practicing methods of farming which are known to help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. A report published earlier this year by IFOAM EU sets out comprehensively the considerable benefits of organic farming for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
While the Strategy does make some positive noises about the direction that farming, the supply side, needs to move in, it ignores demand – the need to change what people eat, both for the sake of human health, and so that we can farm in ways which will achieve the Government’s new objectives. However, there is much to feel heartened by in the Clean Growth Strategy and we at the Soil Association will now focus our efforts on ensuring that these priorities and policies are implemented – and improved where necessary too. The forthcoming Agriculture Bill will be a big test to determine whether or not the Government remain true to its word on addressing the climate impacts of farming and food. We will also be pushing for a much greater emphasis on supporting and incentivising truly sustainable, low impact farming methods, such as organic farming. The commitments made in this Strategy represent an encouraging step forward, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that these laudable plans become a reality.
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Six game-changing ideas for the future of UK farming policy ()
Today, Monday 20 March, we have launched a new report, setting out six proposals for domestic agricultural policy after the UK leaves the EU. These are game-changing ideas that have the potential to transform farming and land use at the scale and pace required to meet multiple challenges – from tackling climate change and nature degradation to supporting rural livelihoods and improving public health. Every farming practice we talk about here already happens on the ground in the UK, but is currently the exception rather than the norm.
Our proposals are:
a national agroforestry strategy
investing in soil
a tipping point for organic
a good life for farm animals
support for farmer innovation
making the most of public procurement
There is a growing consensus on some of the key principles that should underlie new policy:
We need to maintain high environmental and farm animal welfare standards.
Public money should pay for public goods such as clean water, farmland wildlife, carbon storage and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Government should maintain the overall annual farm payment budget of around £3.2 billion.
We need a joined up approach that looks at land in the round – farming, forestry, water, wilderness – taking account of public health, food poverty and international development.
Policies must work for farmers and growers, and help them move towards sustainable business models.
We need a renewed focus on supply chains to improve resilience, farmer incomes, and environmental sustainability.
Public participation in debate and decisions on the future of farming is critical.
What we really need now are some game-changing ideas – ideas that have the potential to transform the UK’s farming and land use on the scale and pace required.
Our report proposes six such ideas:
Proposal 1: a national agroforestry strategy
Agroforestry brings trees into fields. They can be in neat rows through crops, dotted through pasture like parkland, or planted closer together to provide cover for plants or animals.
Agroforestry is game-changing because it can increase yields and farm profitability, boost resilience through diversity, and deliver big environmental benefits at the same time. At scale, it would dramatically help mitigate soil erosion, nitrogen leaching, and biodiversity loss while increasing carbon sequestration.
To deliver these benefits, the government should work with the agricultural, forestry and land use sectors to develop a national agroforestry strategy. This should include:
A target of agroforestry on 50% of all farms by 2030.
Clear ownership and accountability within government.
Capital grants and maintenance payments.
Fiscal measures and procurement policies to grow the domestic market.
Incentives for longer term farm tenancies.
Investment in research, knowledge exchange and advice.
Proposal 2: investing in soil
The fundamental importance of soil health to farm productivity, food security, climate change and public health has been neglected by government for far too long. Recent statements from UK ministers on soil health are welcome, but have not been matched by action.
The government’s existing soil health commitments provide a starting point for a new UK policy framework: the global 4 per 1000 soil carbon initiative, aiming to increase soil organic carbon by 0.4% each year; and the aim for all English soils to be managed sustainably and degradation threats tackled successfully by 2030.
Strong policies to restore and protect soil health in the UK’s post-CAP agricultural framework should include:
Soil stewardship payments to incentivise farmers to increase the organic matter in the soil – including through existing farm assurance schemes such as organic and LEAF.
Regular soil organic matter monitoring and reporting by farmers to form a well-maintained national database, alongside investment in soil health research, data collection and monitoring.
Encouraging soil health improvement by making it a requirement of tenancies that soil health is not degraded during their term.
A nitrogen budget for each nation of the UK – following Scotland’s lead.
Modelling and piloting of new mechanisms to lower nitrogen, such as fiscal measures.
Proposal 3: a tipping point for organic
The public benefits delivered by organic farming have been well documented by independent research over decades. They include more wildlife and biodiversity, healthier soils and carbon storage, flood protection, clean water, lower pesticide and antibiotic use, more jobs and healthier food.
While only 3% of farmland in the UK is organic, British consumers are demanding more organic produce, with the UK organic food and drink market seeing four years of successive growth. With organic farmland more or less stable, much of this growth is being met by imports, particularly of raw materials for animal feed.
In some other countries, organic farming accounts for up to a fifth of production, and sets new norms for policy, business and the public. Reaching such a tipping point would be transformative. We propose an organic strategy for England, developed by government in partnership with the organic sector, which includes:
An expansion of organic promotion and marketing – including opportunities for export.
Maintaining, improving and expanding the organic conversion and maintenance payments, as currently operating under Countryside Stewardship for England.
A particular focus on increasing production of home-grown organic fruit and veg and animal feed, to meet demand and reduce the high reliance on imports.
Better procurement policies (see also Proposal 6).
Assessing the expansion of organic and other certification systems as a gateway to automatic eligibility for farmers to receive payments.
Research, innovation, knowledge sharing through ‘field labs’ and farming advisory services.
Encouraging agricultural colleges to offer more courses in organic and agroecological farming practices alongside new organic apprenticeships.
Maintaining the legal base for organic standards, ensuring alignment with the EU organic regulation.
Proposal 4: a good life for farm animals
Insisting on a good life for all farm animals as a core part of post-Brexit agricultural policy would be game-changing. It would mean switching to better farming systems, not just making tweaks, also brings benefits to public health through dietary changes.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council defines three levels of welfare: a life not worth living, a life worth living, and a good life. A good life involves more than simply being free from pain or disease. It means ensuring animals have the choice to feel the sun on their backs and to follow their urges to care, graze, root and play.
The scale of indoor, intensive farms is increasing, pushing out smaller family farms to make way for industrial systems that affect local communities and the environment as well as the animals themselves.
We propose that the UK sets the ambition that all farm animals should have a ‘good life’ within ten years. Hand-in-hand with stronger regulation, this will require public investment to help farmers adjust their infrastructure and businesses. This will require:
Defining a good life by urgently supporting the development of a rigorous framework that can score farms, supply chains and assurance schemes against the tiers set out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council.
Mandatory method of production labelling to empower consumers, level the playing field and allow more farmers to shift from volume to quality production.
Banning the routine, preventative use of antibiotics in livestock farming and strict targets to reduce farm antibiotic use 50% by 2020, and 80% by 2050.
Incentives and funding to make the transition to extensive, high welfare farming systems, ensuring such systems are the most attractive option for farmers and investors.
Proposal 5: back farmer innovation
The success of UK agriculture post-Brexit will depend on innovation by farmers. Policies should recognise and support this.
The starting point is that thousands of UK farmers already investigate, experiment, design and develop. Helping them share the risk and increase the rigour of this would benefit all of agriculture, at relatively low cost.
The UK spends around £450 million a year on agricultural research and innovation. Only a fraction of this, perhaps as little as 1%, goes to practical projects led by farmers. We propose:
A dedicated farmer innovation fund with a budget of at least 10% of the UK’s public agricultural research and development budget.
Innovation support services to help farmers apply and make the most of new funds, building on experience from other countries of doing this through the European Innovation Partnership (EIP-Agri), and of home-grown initiatives such as Innovative Farmers.
Rewarding practical research by incentivising individual researchers and institutions to pay more attention to the impact of their research, for example, through awards schemes for researchers working on farmer-led projects; training; and involvement of farmers and practitioners in reviewing research grant applications.
Proposal 6: making the most of public procurement
Making the most of public procurement could have a transformative impact. The UK public sector serves some 3.5 million meals each weekday across settings as varied as schools, nurseries, care homes, hospitals and prisons. In total, the public sector spends £2.4 billion each year procuring food and catering services across the UK.
While the cost of sourcing higher quality ingredients is perceived as a barrier, this can be counterbalanced by re-formulating menus. 71% of public sector institutions meeting Food for Life Served Here criteria report the implementation was cost neutral and 29% report overall cost savings. Research by the New Economics Foundation demonstrated £3 in social return for every £1 invested in Food for Life, with most of the benefit experienced by local businesses and local employers.
The UK could improve the health and food habits of the next generation by further upping ambitions for school food. It could also help drive demand for food that meets the highest standards, helping to achieve economies of scale in processing and lowering consumer prices. Government should help make this happen by:
Implementing the Balanced Scorecard approach across the whole public sector – not just central government.
Requiring public procurement decisions to place a weighting of at least 60% on quality, with price not to exceed a 40% weighting.
Comparing the cost-effectiveness of delivering public benefits through direct agri-environment payments to farmers compared with growing the demand for assured products such as organic through public procurement – with a view to topping up public catering budgets where cost is a genuine barrier.
Using schemes such as Food for Life Served Here for independent verification, to increase the uptake of assurance schemes and grow the market for more sustainable farming and food.
The world’s largest ever field trial demonstrates widely used insecticides harm both honeybees and wild bees, increasing calls for a ban
Widely used insecticides damage the survival of honeybee colonies, the world’s largest ever field trial has shown for the first time, as well as harming wild bees.
The farm-based research, along with a second new study, also suggests widespread contamination of entire landscapes and a toxic “cocktail effect” from multiple pesticides.
The landmark work provides the most important evidence yet for regulators around the world considering action against neonicotinoids, including in the EU where a total ban is poised to be implemented this autumn. The insecticides are currently banned on flowering crops in the EU.
Neonicotinoids represent a quarter of the multi-billion dollar pesticide market but have been repeatedly linked to serious harm in bees in lab-based studies. Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline, in part due to loss of habitats and disease. But there had been few realistic field studies to date to address the role of the insecticides and only occasional evidence for colony-level harm in wild bees.
The new research took place at 33 large farmland sites spread across the UK, Germany and Hungary. Honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees living by insecticide-treated fields of oil seed rape were compared with those in fields where insecticides were not used in the year of the study.
The survival of honeybee colonies was reduced by exposure to the insecticides in the UK and Hungary, but not in Germany, where the bees foraged far less on oil seed rape and had lower levels of disease. The reproductive success of the wild bees was cut as the insecticide exposure increased in all three countries.
“We showed significant negative effects at critical life cycle stages,” said Prof Richard Pywell, from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and part of the research team. “If the bees are foraging a lot on oil seed rape, they are clearly at risk. This is a large and important piece of evidence, but it is not the only evidence regulators will look at.”
Scientists not involved in the research backed the conclusions. “Together, the two studies make strong contributions to the growing scientific consensus about the harms of neonicotinoid pesticides to bees,” said Prof James Nieh, at the University of California San Diego. Addressing the differences between countries, Prof Jeremy Kerr, at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said: “Neonicotinoid applications are a kind of reproductive roulette for bees. Depending on local environmental characteristics, they can materially reduce survival prospects.”
The $3m cost of the research was met by Syngenta and Bayer, the companies that sell the two neonicotinoids tested, as part of a voluntary commitment to increase the available field data. But the companies were not involved in the designing, conducting or reporting of the study.
It found that the bees in Germany got just 15% of their food from the oil seed rape fields, compared to 40-50% in the UK and Hungary. “Clearly the bees in Germany are feeding on other flower resources in the landscape and are less exposed to neonics,” said Pywell.
The scientists also discovered that the wild bees were exposed to a neonicotinoid that was not even used in the trial and concluded the harm caused may result from “persistent residues in arable systems due to their widespread and often very frequent use”.
However, both Bayer and Syngenta expressed doubt about the “simplistic” interpretation of complex and “inconsistent” results. “We do not share CEH’s interpretation and remain confident that neonicotinoids are safe when used responsibly” said Richard Schmuck, director of environmental safety at Bayer CropScience.
Peter Campbell, from Syngenta, said: “The negative and positive results reported by CEH could easily be random, ie not real.” He said even taking the results at face value “demonstrates that neonics can be used safely or even with benefit to bees under certain circumstances, such as reported in Germany.”
But CEH’s Pywell said: “We stand by our peer-reviewed paper. We undertook the statistical analysis and reported the findings as we saw them and those are underpinned by the data. We are absolutely independent.”
The second new study published in Science, carried out on corn farms in Canada, also found crops were not the main source of neonicotinoids to which bees were exposed. Instead, the contaminated pollen came from wildflowers, as has been shown recently in the UK.
“This indicates that neonicotinoids, which are water soluble, spill over from fields into the surrounding environment, where they are taken up by other plants that are very attractive to bees,” said Nadia Tsvetkov, at York University in Canada and who led the research.
“The detection of the potential long-term persistence of neonicotinoids in the soil by both studies raises the spectre of a reprise of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring,” said Prof Robert Paxton at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany.
The Canadian research also found that the presence of realistic levels of a fungicide made the neonicotinoids twice as toxic to bees. “The effect of neonicotinoids on honey bees quickly turns from bad to worse when you add the fungicide boscalid to the mix,” said Prof Valérie Fournier, at Laval University in Canada and also part of the team. Pesticides are not tested in combination by regulators and Kerr said: “This study shows that mixtures matter.”
For decades, Glyphosate, a toxic pesticide, has been sprayed on the fields where our fruit, vegetables and grains grow. Our parks and neighbourhoods are likely being sprayed with it, and almost every other European tested had this toxic poison in their urine.  Studies show that it is probably carcinogenic. 
And we have the chance to take it off the market since EU countries will be coming together to discuss whether to allow or ban Glyphosate. However, it’s the most commonly used pesticide worldwide, and Monsanto is one of its biggest producers, earning millions from it yearly. So they are are lobbying hard to keep it on the market.
But today we’re launching our own offense, with a European Citizens’ Initiative. It is the most powerful tool we have as European citizens to address the European Commission. If we collect 1,000,000 signatures, the Commission is legally bound to listen to our demands. Without it, they could fall on deaf ears. To have real impact we need the signatures by this summer, when the most important discussions will start. That means collecting over 5,800 signatures every single day. Starting right now.
Last year, the European Commission was meant to relicense the use of glyphosate for 15 years, but it fell under huge pressure from hundreds of thousands of Europeans (WeMove community included)! Due to public pressure the Commission could only agree on a temporary measure extending the licence for 18 months. This is now the final stretch.
If we succeed, we will be opting for our health and the health of the generations to come. But not only. If we succeed, this can be the start of a revolutionary change to the way we do farming, that could have a positive impact on our planet for centuries. But Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer make their millions from the current way we do farming — toxic pesticides, GMOs, green deserts. We know they are doing everything in their power to protect their interests, so we are doing the same.
This is no regular petition, so we are partnering with a massive European coalition to launch the initiative and reach the required signatures.  We need all 1,000,000 signatures by this summer so we can impact the proposal the Commission adopts towards this toxic pesticide. But that requires every single one of us from the WeMove community to play our part if we want to be rid of this poison. Today is the first day of the campaign. Will you be part of a massive push to get the word out?
With your signature, we can demonstrate the public opposition to Glyphosate, and keep up the pressure on EU member states to vote against its re-authorisation this year.
Martin (Berlin/London), Jörg (Lübeck), Mika (Bordeaux), Olga (Bologne), David (Brussels) and the whole WeMove.EU team
PS – For a signature to count towards an European Citizens’ Initiative, you need to provide a bit more information than for a normal WeMove petition. The information fields required are not set by WeMove.EU, but are determined by which member state you are signing the ECI for. The extra information that is being asked of you is a legal requirement for your signature to be considered valid. WeMove will not store or use this extra information. Please sign!
 Circle of Organising Partners: Campact | Corporate Europe Observatory| The Danish Society for Nature Conservation | GLOBAL 2000 (Friends of the Earth Austria) | Greenpeace | Health and Environment Alliance | PAN Europe | Skiftet | WeMove.EU |
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18 months ago, Monsanto’s vast chemical-agricultural empire was rock solid.
Now, after over 2 million of us ran 20 campaigns, with millions of signatures, messages, phone calls, stunts, advocacy meetings and media stories… the future of the ‘Monsanto model’ is actually in question!!
The European Union just refused to grant Monsanto a new license for its flagship product – the pesticide glyphosate. This is massive – glyphosate accounts for up to a third of all Monsanto’s revenue!
“Looking to where we were in the beginning of this year and where we are now, Avaaz is indisputably the driving force of the fight for glyphosate discontinuance.” Pavel Poc, Vice-Chair of the EU Parliament’s Environment Committee, and key leader of the glyphosate fight
This is far from over. But it’s an utter game-changer for countries like Germany, France and Italy to challenge the basis of Monsanto’s entire business model.
Avaaz petition delivered to European Parliament
We haven’t been knee-jerk anti-pesticide. Our campaign calls for a suspension until independent science determines the safety of glyphosate. We’ll keep fighting, but if the EU allows 18 months for a new scientific process to weigh in, and we can ensure that process is truly independent, we could win this!!
We can also use the next 18 months to focus scrutiny on the global environmental impact of the Monsanto model, which is turning the surface of our planet into strange, toxic “biodeserts” where only one genetically modified Monsanto crop can grow.
Like with climate change and the Paris agreement, Avaaz has mobilised people on this issue at an unprecedented scale – we’ve taken the fight against Monsanto to a whole new level, and now it’s up to all of us, over the next 18 months, to win it.
First big oil, now Monsanto. We are taking on the dragons of our world. But if we stick together, and choose to believe and act, we can do anything.
With hope and determination,
Ricken, Alice, Bert, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team
PS – For more detail on all the tactics, meetings, and story of Avaaz’s glyphosate campaigning in the last year, here’s a summary.
Avaaz.org is a 44-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 18 countries on 6 continents and operates in 17 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
Glyphosate weedkillers like Roundup should be completely banned now that the WHO says the chemical is “probably carcinogenic”. But the European Commission still seems determined to put Monsanto’s interests before public health concerns.
In March, the Netherlands joined France, Sweden, and Italy to oppose a new 15-year licence for glyphosate. Undeterred, the European Commission has tweaked the glyphosate license proposal a little to win over the Netherlands. We need to come together now to make sure the Netherlands government stands up to the agrochemical lobby and the Commission.
Concerns about the harm of the world’s most popular weedkiller are reaching a breaking point. Which means that the vote will be a close one, and “swing vote” countries like the Netherlands have the power to effectively ban glyphosate in the EU.
Last month, MEPs backed a ban of glyphosate not only for hobby gardeners and in green spaces like parks and playgrounds, but also in agriculture, where crop diversification and mechanical means are sufficient for the necessary weed control. They also called for strict limits on pre-harvest applications – — proof that lawmakers are coming to understand the dangers of Monsanto’s favorite pesticide. Yet, the Commission is ploughing ahead regardless – while experts say we need an outright ban in order to protect against contamination of our food, water, and soil.
Greenpeace EU’s food policy director, Franziska Achterberg compared renewing the glyphosate licence without proof of its safety to “skydiving without checking your equipment first.” And two months ago, the Netherlands agreed and played a crucial role in delaying the vote pending further research.
In March, together we gathered over 240,000 signatures asking the European Parliament to ban the pesticide. And voices from Big Agrochemicals expressed how “upset” they were that politicians heard our concerns — which means we’re striking a nerve in a big way. Now, we need to target our pressure on the Netherlands and make sure they vote in the interest of the people they represent, not Monsanto.
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The EU is currently deciding whether to reissue the licence for the use of glyphosate. This is in spite of a report from the World Health Authority that it is potentially carcinogenic (see below). We need you to support our campaign for a ‘No’ vote when the EU Commission next meets.
An EU environment committee has already voted overwhelmingly against the relicensing. The decision now rests with the EU executive, who will discuss the matter in mid April.
To voice the concerns of Garden Organic and our supporters, we will be sending a letter to Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner, asking him to consider the vast amount of independent scientific evidence compiled in the recent report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), commissioned by the World Health Organisation. This report indicates that glyphosate alone, as well as in chemical formulations, causes genotoxicity in both humans and animals.
In the coming days we will be collecting as many signatures as possible to sit alongside ours and show the committee just how important this issue is. We would like to urge all our members and supporters to read and sign the letter, before 10am on Monday 4th April when we will be sending it off.
Support our campaign for a ‘no’ vote on the relicensing of glyphosate
Glyphosate key facts
Glyphosate is a toxic herbicide used to kill weeds. It is rarely used on its own, but as part of a chemical cocktail, for instance with the trade name Roundup. It is the most widely and heavily used chemical used by farmers, gardeners, growers and city councils worldwide.
In July 2015, The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), acting on behalf of the WHO, classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This is based on positive findings of carcinogenicity in regulatory animal studies, as well as limited evidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, particularly amongst farmers.
Makers of glyphosate claim that it is unlikely to pollute the water (ground or surface). However, researchers have found traces in wells and ground waters in countries as diverse as Holland, Spain and Canada. It has been found in the residues on the sides of UK reservoirs, and recently Guernsey Water Company found 19 of 20 samples contained glyphosate. Water contamination is probably as a result of drift from spraying, or from soil run off and erosion.
For information about this issue, including the sources of the information contained within this email, and advice on organic weed control methods, click here.