If the UK agriculture sector is to thrive in the years to come, it must cast off the backwards and lethargic mentality of the EU and embrace all of the opportunities of the modern world, argues Jayne Adye of Get Britain Out.

Throughout our membership of the European Union the British farming industry – and the agriculture sector as a whole – has been held back by the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and the excessive regulatory burden put on farmers through EU red tape. Yes, the protectionist policies of the CAP may well have helped protect British farmers from global competition, however, this lack of competition has resulted in a system where fresh innovation and outside-the-box thinking is stifled, with food costs kept artificially inflated for the British public.

Undoubtedly, key to bringing about this change in mentality within industry will be action from the Government to reduce red tape and the levels of bureaucracy which currently see some farmers spending more time completing paperwork, rather than tending to crops and livestock. First and foremost, this means finalising the 'UK Agriculture Act 2020', which is supposed to replace the CAP with a UK-specific model which reflects our own country's interests and priorities. At the moment, elements of the Bill – such as changes to crop rotation requirements – will be phased in over the next few years. However, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has still not made any progress towards the implementation of vital reforms to issues like awarding grants. Changes in this area could mean instead of rewarding strict adherence to detailed regulation, the Government could direct funding to those farmers who have been successful, and incentivise new techniques to improve UK farming for the long-haul.

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Another area where this backwards and protectionist mentality of the EU must be cast aside, is on the matter of Genetically Modified (GM) Crops. Currently, the UK has copied EU Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament into UK law. This regulation bans all forms of GM crops and agricultural genomics as a whole, with no scope for consideration on a case-by-case. This industry is estimated to be worth £17 billion a year to the UK economy and has the potential to drastically change the agriculture industry of this country, whilst also putting our world-leading science sector to good use, to give better agricultural yields and increase domestic food production, helping to secure our food supplies as a nation. However, any changes need to be examined very carefully – and yes, on a case-by-case basis. Allowing these products on a limited basis, after significant and detailed scientific analysis, could reduce the UK's food wastage, with fewer crops vulnerable to disease, as well as reducing our use of traditional chemicals and pesticides.

By no means am I advocating this ban to be unilaterally lifted, and we must make sure we maintain high levels of industrial standards by not allowing our foods to be filled with additives or dramatically altered as we see in the USA. By no means should Brexit ever result in a race to the bottom on standards, However, at a time when our population continues to grow, and the cost-of-living surges, we cannot afford to ignore such significant opportunities, because we are afraid to diverge from the EU status quo.

Another way we can reduce our food waste and reliance on chemicals and pesticides is by encouraging people to eat more locally grown produce as well as organic food (which does not utilise man made pesticides in any form). However, at present the stranglehold of Government regulation means many farmers simply cannot afford to grow organic food, with the levels of paperwork required even higher than normal. At a time when more people than ever want to know what goes into their food, this is something the Government can and must change as soon as possible! Not only would this free up time for farmers to do their actual jobs, it would help lower the cost of food in this country, while also benefiting millions of people living on the poverty line. In addition, if people on lower incomes can eat better food which doesn't contain endless preservatives and additives, they are less likely to be overweight and therefore reduce unnecessary strain on the NHS.

If we are to embrace 'Global Britain', it is only right we take brave steps to innovate and lead the world. If we can show new farming techniques are safe and effective, as well as profitable for farmers, these are ideas we can export and help make a difference not just to UK farmers and consumers, but to countries all around the world which are struggling to feed their populations. This kind of leadership is what Brexit was all about, so it is about time we brought our agriculture sector into the 21st century and gave our farmers the freedom to do their job.

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