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NPA welcomes interim review calls for simpler, risk-based regulation  

12th Jul 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has welcomed the interim findings of a Defra-commissioned review that recommends radical changes to how farms are inspected and regulated after we leave the EU.

Regulation review coverAn interim report by Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the Farm Inspection and Regulation Review (FIRR), recommends that a new single farm inspectorate should replace the current range of inspection bodies on farms.

It sets out a new more focused and risk-based approach to farm regulation and inspections, with simpler collection and sharing of data between agencies.

Commissioned by Defra Secretary Michael Gove in February, the interim report outlines the problems with the current system of farm regulation, largely borne out of the requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

It finds that farmers and regulators alike are exasperated by the demands of regulation, which are unduly precise and inflexible. As we leave the EU, there is an opportunity to rebuild trust between the regulating authority and the farmer, it says.

An estimated 150,000 farm inspections are carried out each year by multiple agencies such as the Rural Payments Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, Natural England and local authorities just to meet the strict criteria of the CAP.

The report discusses the opportunity to use a ‘single field force’ and a farm ratings system to conduct more meaningful farm inspections, as part of a more flexible, proportionate regulation. A simpler and more targeted regulatory system would be ‘an immensely powerful tool in achieving the government’s environmental objectives and supporting farmers to uphold standards’, it adds.

“The regulator needs the whole picture of what is happening on the farm and to be able to weigh it up, rather than sight of just one issue or aspect. Were we to adopt that approach, the government and the regulator could consider together the value of a farm ratings system,” ithe report says.

Without going into detail, the report suggests there would be ‘clear advantages in linking farm assurance schemes (and food producer schemes) to regulation in a consistent and coherent way’.

As we leave the EU, trade considerations will be ‘exceptionally important in future’, the report adds, a reference to the Government’s desire to forge new trade deals and the questions this raises about maintaining UK standards.

“The regulator will need to hone, nurture and adapt standards to best deliver the aims of regulation, with one of those aims being to facilitate agricultural trade. Upon leaving the European Union, the way we regulate needs to be flexible and adaptive, and entirely in tune with the market,” the report states.

The Review is due to complete its work by the end of this year and will publish a final report with recommendations.

Dame Glenys said: ““This interim report sets out a direction of travel for farming regulation. We do not suggest piecemeal adjustments. Instead we think more radical change is necessary, to make the most of the opportunity we have now, and to best enable farmers to produce and market food while also meeting the other expectations government has of farming.’

  Mr Gove said: “Dame Glenys makes a thorough and compelling case for fundamental changes to the existing inspection and regulation framework. The regulation on farmers under the CAP has imposed an extra bureaucratic headache on farmers, with no room to recognise innovation or good intent.”

NPA reaction

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We welcome the principles outlined in this report, particularly the desire for reduced inspections, cost savings, simpler collection and sharing of data between agencies and, generally, a more focused, risk-based approach to inspection and regulation. Much of this is what we have been calling for over the years to help reduce the unnecessary burdens on pig producers.

“The establishment of single inspection body could deliver benefits but we would want to be clear about who is paying for it.

“We also need to ensure that whatever is put in place that it doesn’t add another level of bureaucracy, but is practical and simplifies the process of inspection as well as targeting those farms that do pose the highest risk, including those that aren’t regularly assessed.”

“As the reports highlights, our standards will have to take account any new trade deals after we leave the EU. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that, as we seek to maintain our high standards, UK pig farmers are not undermined by imports produced to standards not permitted in the UK.” 

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