Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Fresh Produce Consortium (AB69)

1. The Fresh Produce Consortium is the UK’s trade association representing the complete spectrum of the fresh fruit, vegetable and cut flower industry: from growers, importers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors, packers, food service organisations and other allied organisations.

2. We recognise the UK Government’s intent to evolve policy to meet changing environmental priorities and changing social and economic circumstances, reduce the bureaucracy of farm support and regulation and to enable the government to respond to the outcomes of EU withdrawal negotiations.

3. Whilst the proposed Agriculture Bill applies to England, it is important for our industry that any changes are coordinated across the devolved nations.

4. According to Lantra, the production horticulture industry consists of 7,700 businesses, with 95,000 people and is worth an estimated £3 billion. Home production of fresh fruit and vegetables accounts for around 3 million tonnes (worth £1.9 billion at import/wholesale/farm gate values.

UK market

5. The UK horticulture top fruit, soft fruit and vegetable sectors are heavily reliant on imports of live plant propagation materials (seedlings, plants and trees) exported from nurseries in the European Union. The British soft fruit sector imports 95% of its plants annually; around 100 million plants a year. Only 8-10% of UK grown cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are produced using UK propagated materials.

6. Whilst the industry is working to increase UK propagation, there is currently a lack of available glasshouse/permanent tunnel sites in the UK and the restrictions imposed by the UK planning process to build new sites means that UK horticulture will have to continue importing propagating materials from the EU.

7. We are seeking assurances that UK Government funding will be in place to maintain and develop competitiveness for UK horticulture. FPC recognises that there will be much greater scrutiny in the future for funding. It is essential that horticulture is supported, for example, in funding R&D to maintain and develop a range of crop protection products and techniques.

8. FPC believes that provision for aid (for fruit and vegetable producer organisations) should be extended so that those businesses which are not part of a producer organisation may apply for funding.

9. FPC believes that the UK Government can do more to support UK growers to increase production of indigenous crops and to encourage growers who are developing the production of ‘novel’ products, not previously grown here in the UK. The UK Government should set aside the cumbersome requirements for application and registration of natural products as ‘novel foods’, as is currently applied under the EU Novel Foods Regulations.

10. There is capacity to increase the UK’s currently modest level of exports of fresh produce. The UK Government must maintain support for UK growers and exporters in terms of favourable trade agreements, an efficient and cost effective regulatory service, and in investment in research and development.

Market Intervention under exceptional market conditions

11. We welcome Part 4 of the Bill which will enable the UK Government to reshape future interventions which can be made in the market in exceptional circumstances.

12. UK horticulture operates in a global market and consequently UK growers can be impacted by changes in the EU market and elsewhere which have an impact on the UK home market. The ban by Russia on certain fresh produce imports was a recent case where, although the UK did not trade directly with Russia, there was a knock-on effect on the European market, leading to oversupplies and reduction in prices. The EU put in place measures to compensate growers to protect their businesses.

Marketing Standards

13. The EU Marketing Standards were introduced in July 2009 and aimed to harmonise, consolidate, simplify and deregulate the European Commission’s Marketing Standards. The regulation reduced the number of products with specific marketing standards to ten, selected as the top ten produced fruit and vegetables in the European Union.

14. FPC believes that the detailed Specific Marketing Standards which remain in place should be removed. There exists the UN-ECE Standards, towards which the EU has been gradually aligning its standards, but the industry already has to meet customer requirements which go far beyond any regulatory standards.

Schools Fruit and Vegetable Scheme

15. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) is a government programme that entitles every child aged 4-6 in fully state-funded schools to a piece of fruit or vegetable each school day, this equates to approximately 2.3m children in approximately 16,600 schools across England. The scheme was introduced after the NHS Plan, launched in 2000, included a commitment to implement a national fruit and vegetable scheme by 2004. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme is funded by central Government.

16. The fresh produce industry has a pivotal role in helping Government to encourage healthy eating and we believe that it is essential to focus on developing good eating habits at an early age. Several UK fresh produce businesses are involved in the UK Schools Fruit and Vegetable Scheme.

17. Previously Defra has identified the need to increase production of indigenous fresh produce. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme is fundamental to help achieving objectives of increased production and healthy eating with, for example, around 64 million English apples go into the Scheme every year.

18. National support must be maintained for the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme which has proved its worth in delivering value for money and achieving its objectives, for around the cost of 10 pence a day.

Public Sector Purchasing

19. Government departments can make a significant impact to combat poor diets and rising obesity levels by having a cohesive policy for public sector food procurement which encourages greater consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, regardless of their origin.

15 November 2018

 

Prepared 20th November 2018