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Government should back British farming standards in global market, says Welby

22 November 2021

Much ignorance in UK about rural life, Archbishop argues


Cows graze in North Gare, County Durham, in front of an old steelworks site

Cows graze in North Gare, County Durham, in front of an old steelworks site

THE Government must work with farmers to encourage good trade deals that preserve UK export standards, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Archbishop Welby was delivering the annual Henry Plumb Lecture to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) on Monday night. The NFU represents 48,000 farming businesses around the country.

“In a post-Brexit era, a time of such globalisation, our farming communities can lead the way on food standards, animal welfare, trade and exports that make people’s lives better and more prosperous around the world,” he said.

Since Britain had left the European Union and its trade deals, the farming community had a unique opportunity to be at the heart of building and rebuilding relationships abroad. “Making the most of the overseas market post-Brexit is crucial. We need to get our trade deals right to protect the world-class British standards of farming — bad deals risk exporting environmental and animal-welfare harms and destroying farmers’ livelihoods.

“Government needs to partner with farmers to build global ambition and increase the British food brand identity across the world to grow global markets.”

He continued: “The new Agriculture Act means there is an opportunity for British farming to become a global leader in sustainable, climate-friendly, high-standard food production.”

Farmers, like the clergy and churchpeople, were also well-placed to bridge the gap between rural and urban communities at home, Archbishop Welby said. There was much ignorance in the UK about the realities of farming and rural life, particularly within urban communities — which, he said, need “to understand better the value rural Britain offers”, the challenges it faces, and what is behind the food on people’s plates. (At the start of the lecture, he admitted to learning much about the difficulties of farming life from the Jeremy Clarkson series on Amazon.)

The pandemic, the Archbishop said, had meant that village shows and livestock markets had been cancelled. Thus relationships in rural communities were also in need of support. Here, again, the Church — of which two-thirds of parishes were rural — and its chaplains were well-placed.

“The local church is there for everyone in the parish, whether they are a churchgoer or not, and is intimately bound up in the community. This is a challenge to and for the Church: how we ensure churches in rural areas flourish and support local communities. We need to change, to reclaim the vision of being not only the Church of England, but also the Church for England — every part, rural and urban. It cannot be achieved only by spreading clergy more thinly.

“When we are unable to be face to face, rural communities need proper communications infrastructure to enable them to be connected for business and social interaction.”

The pandemic had raised economic injustices, such as a lack of affordable housing, which the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing had recently reported (News, 21 February). It had also highlighted the disparity between urban and rural areas of education centres, schools, and broadband.

Food had value, and that value mattered and should not be exploited, the Archbishop said, raising the intertwining issues of food, labour, and climate justice in the food and farming industries. (The NFU has a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.)

Archbishop Welby concluded: “We can put down firm roots in values and communities, and those roots enable us to be resilient and flexible when any storms come. They are what will help us — the country, our farming communities, and the Church — to be ambitious and innovative as things change.

“That way, we can ensure we fulfil our potential and flourish together, as the farming industry cares for our well-being, our environment, and our economy for many years to come.”

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