Decision day for 46.5m electors in the UK

Today, the more than 46.5 million electors registered to vote in a parliamentary election in the United Kingdom will cast their ballots.

Only around 15 per cent of voters live in the countryside.

The election takes place following a period of immense upheaval in agriculture, precipitated by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

It comes during a time of great financial uncertainty for many farmers, and follows the development of natural capital markets for carbon and peatland restoration and the introduction of biodiversity net gain.

The national poll follows a winter of extremely wet weather, where degraded soils contributed to long periods of flooding, and where the ongoing impact will be felt in low harvest yields.

Regularly high summer temperatures and warm, wet winters have highlighted the urgent need to establish greater land resilience through improved soil health, natural flood management and regenerative grazing.

Globally, food systems are under enormous pressure from the climate and nature crises, both of which are increasing the risk of hunger and water scarcity.

Nutritional instability is loading ever greater pressure onto the infrastructure of poorer nations, driving migration linked to famine and conflict. While in richer nations poor diets and ultra-processed foods have contributed to a health epidemic, placing enormous pressure on health services, work places and communities.

The war in Ukraine and conflict in the Suez Canal have created ongoing volatility in the cost of petrochemicals with knock-on impacts on staple foods and fragile global supply chains.

Policy-makers have continued to target ruminant agriculture. A distorting focus on greenhouse gases has influenced poor decisions, such as Denmark’s recently announced cow tax. These decisions risk undermining whole system approaches designed to restore natural systems, improve soil health, drawdown carbon, adapt to extreme weather and regenerate nature and farm livelihoods.

On a more positive note, agroecology has been lifted higher up the global agenda. Multilateral policy bodies, such as the United Nations, have increasingly recognised the critical importance of shorter supply chains, holistic farm systems and indigenous farmer knowledge.

With this background, at home and abroad, this election is more important than ever.

With Labour leading in the polls the party has promised to “make the UK the green finance capital of the world.”

Labour says it “recognises that food security is national security. That is why we will champion British farming whilst protecting the environment. We will set a target for half of all food purchased across the public sector to be locally produced or certified to higher environmental standards. We will introduce a land-use framework and make environment land management schemes work for farmers and nature.

The party says, “The climate crisis has accelerated the nature crisis. Labour will deliver for nature, taking action to meet our Environment Act targets, and will work in partnership with civil society, communities and business to restore and protect our natural world.

But, says Labour, “Preparing for the future not only means tackling the climate and nature emergencies, but also adapting to the changes they will bring to our environment. Without action, flooding and coastal erosion will pose greater risks to lives, livelihoods and people’s wellbeing. Labour will improve resilience and preparation across central government, local authorities, local communities, and emergency services. This includes formally working with all stakeholders in the Fire and Rescue services to inform policy and establish national standards.”

The Conservatives say that they will build on the food, farming and nature achievements of the last 14 years.

They say, “Our food and farming sectors generate over £120 billion for the UK economy every year. In the last Parliament, we maintained the farming budget to support our food security. In England, this has supported farmers with a range of options to choose what works best for them, from business advice to new equipment, soil and nutrient management and hedgerow planting.”

The manifesto says, “Conservatives are committed to nurturing a thriving rural economy. Rural areas already contribute over £250 billion to the economy. We will build on this, supporting jobs, growth and education in rural communities.”

The Conservatives say, “Our beautiful countryside, coastline, woods and rivers are a crucial part of what makes our country so special. We are committed to leaving the environment in a better state for future generations. We introduced our landmark Environment Act including ambitious targets to halt nature’s decline by 2030 and Biodiversity Net Gain, a world leading scheme to deliver greener new development.”

Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems have promised an extra £1 billion per year for farmers.

They say, “Farmers are key allies in tackling climate change and the nature crisis, caring for and restoring the countryside while producing high-quality food for our tables.

“Too many families simply can’t afford enough healthy, nutritious food. Ultra-processed foods, high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, are usually much cheaper than healthier foods – contributing to serious health problems, especially among poorer households.”

The Liberal Democrats say, “We support the move to public money for public goods, but many farmers are seeing their incomes threatened as old payments are cut and new payments are not fully rolled out or properly funded. Meanwhile, farmers have had to contend with increases in bills for energy, fertilisers and feed.”

They say that, “Protecting our precious natural environment lies at the heart of the Liberal Democrat approach. Everyone should be able to enjoy open green spaces, clean blue rivers and the beauty of Britain’s coast.” But, it says, “The UK is facing a nature crisis. One in six species are threatened with extinction from Britain.”

Green Party
The Greens say, “Our food system is failing” and would triple funding for farmers.

The Green Party says, “Our food system is failing us all. Poor diets are estimated to cost our NHS £6.5bn a year yet successive governments have failed to take on the unhealthy food lobby. Meanwhile, the way we produce our food is damaging our natural world and our climate. Our food system accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and is the greatest driver of nature loss and pollution in our rivers.

“Green MPs will work with farmers and other stakeholders to transform our food and farming system, so we are producing healthy, nutritious food at fair prices for consumers and with fair wages for growers. We will also aim to increase the amount of food grown and traded in the UK, and as locally as possible.”

They say that “Green MPs will fight for an economy that delivers security, wellbeing and a better quality of life for everyone, as well protecting our environment and enabling us to tackle the climate crisis with the ambition and speed it demands.”

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