SIR, – In what has been a turbulent year for everyone facing the ongoing uncertainty of coronavirus and its impacts on our freedoms, personal health and the risk it poses to our most vulnerable in society, it has given us all time to consider what is important to us and allows us to live a more simple life whilst under travel and lifestyle restrictions.

For agriculture, we appeared to have turned a corner when the height of the March and April lockdown restrictions kicked in and suddenly an awareness of the supply chains of food production was highlighted by the panic buying from supermarket shelves.

We live in a time when the consumer demands instant shopping list fulfilment and seasonality appears to be a meal planning thing of the past. It’s an amazing reality check to have empty shelves at the fingertips of UK shoppers, it certainly focuses the attention on the supply chain as prices across the board strengthened for homegrown produce.

While demand for the catering sector cuts ground to a halt, mince and the perceived easier to cook cuts of beef became the product of choice. The old adage that ‘An army marches on its stomach’ could never have been more applicable to modern day society.

As we all face the real threat of an extended period of local, or national lockdown in the fight to suppress the seemingly relentless march of Covid-19, it shines a light on the necessities in life – water and food.

Wars have been fought over clean fresh water and plentiful food supplies for centuries. Understandably so, as these staples of survival are the lynch pins we must cling to in our hour of need. Yet we, the agricultural industry, currently face a battle of our own, one that just a few years ago I would never have believed we could be facing.

The ‘battle’ is the finer detail of the Agricultural Bill in which our industry's fate hangs in the balance. As food producers, we have marched to the tune of producing to ‘world leading’ high food and animal welfare standards, while protecting water quality, biodiversity and health and safety of our industries workforce.

Yet we have elected members of Parliament that recently voted by a majority of 53 to not include an amendment in the Agricultural Bill that ensured any future food imports must meet the standards UK food producers produce to, making it non-negotiable in future trade negotiations.

As an industry, we need the reassurance in writing that our future will not be undermined and traded away in trade negotiations. Too many times the manifesto promises of the individuals and parties that wish to rule have been quickly brushed aside once the ballots have been counted.

This insight into how politics works and the backtracking, sidestepping and apparent amnesia that appears once the election dust has settled makes me very cynical that a ‘reassurance’ is really worth the ink unless its dried in the Agricultural Bill.

Perhaps the issue is that our elected politicians don’t understand the issues this uncertainty has for UK Agriculture? I see the threat of lower standards as a threat to every link in the UK food supply chain. If we open our borders to the lowest bidder, then we should expect to be overwhelmed by cheap imports.

This puts all involved in agriculture in a very rare position, as the outcome of the vote would affect us all. A quite unifying opportunity, but how do we all pull together to make it clear the importance of a fair future?

So, a thought: It’s amazing how much easier it is to get someone to listen to your views when what you offer is the thing they need. Has the time come for empty shelves and open frank discussions?

Robert Fleming

Castle Sinniness,