The referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union "cuts to the very heart of a wider debate over Government support for British farming and a science-led regulatory system", agreed an expert panel at the CPA annual convention on 12 May 2016.
Speaking at the debate Sir James Paice, Owen Paterson MP, NFU vice president Guy Smith and Professor Huw Jones of Aberystwyth University were invited to outline their personal views on whether the British farming sector will be stronger and if the regulatory system will be more supportive of British farming inside or outside of the European Union.
Paice argued that the small size of the UK agricultural sector means that it was unlikely to be a UK priority outside of the EU "where farming would be even less of a priority than it is within the EU...in what is basically an urban House of Commons, 80 per cent of our electorate live in cities, they're the people that carry more clout and we need to bear that in mind".
Additionally the potential benefits of Brexit, in terms of British sovereignty over British farming and environmental regulation were "illusory...because at the end of the day we will have to comply with whatever our customers, the countries we trade with, will want. If that's predominantly Europe, it remains European regulations. And that's the harsh reality".
Owen Paterson MP argued that "the reason the EU is so far behind is because it has become the museum of modern farming, because it is almost wholly opposed to modern technology and innovation... If we want to feed the world, then we need to embrace these technologies".
Smith said his view remained that British farmers were better off inside the European Union but that it was sensible to prepare for and consider both outcomes. Professor Huw Jones argued that in his personal view the regulatory system is not working for academics, small businesses, everyday consumers or for farmers and the agricultural industry but that leaving the European Union would do little to solve the issue due to the need to comply with European regulation as an export market.
Nick von Westenholz, chief executive officer of the Crop Protection Association said: "What this debate clearly illustrates is the complexity of the issues at stake. Regulatory reform that provides farmers with the technologies to grow safe and affordable food must be a key part of the debate. Business as usual is not an option.
"Those asking us to leave the European Union must set out how in practice they would build a regulatory system that incentivises farming innovation whilst maintaining close ties with one of our most important export markets. Similarly those campaigning to remain must set out how a vote to stay will translate into an appetite for reform.
"Whether in or out, UK farming would benefit from a regulatory environment that fosters innovation, incentivises the development and adoption of new technologies such as GM and advanced crop protection products, and promotes modern, productive farming. It is crucial that all sides of the referendum debate explain their vision for how this is achieved after June’s vote."
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