So far, our trucks are getting across the Channel (albeit with a lot of additional paperwork); unlike friends in fisheries, our produce has not yet rotted in a lorry. I am relieved that my predictions of total post-Brexit chaos have not materialised.
An upside to Brexit could be better farming, food and environmental policy, but early signs are not encouraging. Within a month, our government has rejected attempts to ensure that food imports will meet the environmental, safety and animal welfare standards required in the UK; they have initiated a rushed consultation on gene editing, which has all the hallmarks of white-washing a predetermined position; and they have overturned the ban of a bee-threatening neonicotinoid insecticide to treat sugar beet seeds.
My blood boiled when I found that the NFU had been secretly encouraging farmers to lobby for the insecticide, while in the same letter asking them to ‘refrain from making the letter public‘.
Publicly pretending to be responsible (in this case, to care for the environment), while privately lobbying to resist any restriction that will impact profits, is just what the oil, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries did so effectively for 50 years. I had hoped we had moved beyond such self-serving subterfuge, and am ashamed to find my own industry perpetuating it.
For a balanced and more uplifting view of recent UK farming history, I highly recommend the Cumbrian sheep farmer James Rebanks’ very human, pragmatic and thoughtful book English Pastoral, currently being read on BBC Radio Four and available to listen online.
To add to that bit of Brexit gloom, after nine months when Covid-related absences at Riverford have mercifully been minimal, a good few co-owners have needed to self-isolate in the last two weeks. As I write (in late January), we have had to temporarily close our website to any further orders, and restrict the range in our deliveries – changes that I know will have caused disruption to many customers. Overall, we have been lucky; we are just waiting for our isolating co-owners to safely return to the farm, and then we should start getting back to normal.