It’s still one of the most important decisions facing the country.
What’s for lunch?
And while the UK’s future relationships with the EU and the wider world remain uncertain, there’s a growing public desire for a modern food system, one that’s more sustainable, delicious and fair. How might that system look in a post-Brexit future?
Travelling from fork back to the farm, the UK government is focusing on the foundations of food production like soil, air and water. This month’s new Agriculture Bill will replace the EU's contentious Common Agricultural Policy. As part of this Bill, British farmers will get financial incentives for taking measures to tackle climate change and providing ‘public goods’ for society like clean air, clean water, flood protection and habitats for wildlife. There’s more emphasis on protecting the soil as part of an aim to safeguard food security.
The Bill was welcome news to the National Farmers’ Union, which recently set its own ambition to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040. Its goal would include improving farming’s productive efficiency; improving land management and changing land use to capture more carbon; and boosting renewable energy and the wider bioeconomy.
But what’s to be said about the state of trust in the industry, when the Edelman 2019 Trust Barometer found that 65% agree large-scale food and beverage production has lowered nutritional standards and harmed the environment? Trust in agribusiness was neutral, at 59%, showing there’s still considerable work to be done in the sector. And who better to show leadership in that regard than CEOs, whom 76% of people say should be leading on change instead of waiting for government to impose it?
Some companies are already taking charge amid a booming technology revolution. ‘AgriTech’ startups innovating all along the food and agriculture supply chain raised $16.9 billion in 2018. These are rethinking the sustainability of the global system that provides food for all using the likes of animal science, aquaculture, plant science and much more. The world’s largest food tech event, London Food Tech Week by YFood, last summer showcased the latest innovations in production. We’re now seeing vertical farms from Infarm, protein-based biocontrol solutions with Biotalys and food ‘made from air’ with Solar Foods. Sensonomic creates computer simulations of agricultural systems while Agrimetrics uses big data and Microsoft Azure-powered AI and cloud to modernise the agrifood sector.
Brexit could be a major catalyst in this space. Labour shortages and a need to boost productivity may trigger more applications of agricultural automation including autonomous tractors, smart farming robots and even fitness trackers for cows. Companies in the automation business have the ability to impact the food chain faster than incumbents – however, they more than most need to demonstrate a strong mission statement.
In 2020 and beyond, Brexit will prompt more organisations to start doing things differently. Those players with a stake in the global system of food, agriculture and technology must double down on their efforts to develop technology innovations, show their leadership, and underscore to the public their contribution towards a more sustainable future.