Long term readers of this blog will know that although I am strongly opposed to the unfolding disaster that is Brexit, I have also been a consistent critic of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Through its complex and costly system of grants the CAP has effectively subsidised intensive farming, exacerbated global food inequality, and favoured large agri-businesses and landowners over small scale and organic farmers. It has also rewarded already very rich people simply for owning land.
So it was with much interest that I read the UK government’s newly published document, “The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024”, in which it sets out how the UK will support and develop farming practices after we leave the EU and the CAP.
There are things to welcome in “Path to Sustainable Farming”. In particular, its recognition of the need for better soil management and for more tree planting, and its stated intention to reward farmers who produce food in a way that is environmentally sustainable.
But there are also important things missing from the document. One of these is the protection of our current food standards after we leave the EU. Although the document refers to promoting high standards, the government has consistently failed to put those standards in law, and no such commitment appears in “Path to Sustainable Farming”.
And given that the document states that soil management and regeneration is essential for long term food security, it is astonishing that it refers to organic practices just twice (and very briefly), and does not include support for organic farmers in its long-term funding plans.
This is of course a government that is notoriously strong on rhetoric and weak on detail, and this document follows that familiar pattern. At best it is a mere skeleton of a plan, with the flesh to be put on its bones in due course. However, the document’s failure to defend food standards through legislation or to include financial support for organic farming must leave open to question the stated aim of transitioning to a more sustainable approach to farming.
As always, we consumers are key. If we take the time to check the provenance of the food we eat, and insist on buying only food that has been produced using sustainable practices, we can play a big role in forcing through the long overdue changes that are needed to make our farming sector truly sustainable.
This recipe, in which all the ingredients used are organic, is for a lovely, very easy side dish which would happily grace any festive dinner table.
Coating the parsnips in a polenta and sage mixture gives them a delicious flavour and a perfect crispness
parsnips with polenta and sage
500 g parsnips
50 g polenta
1½ tsp dried sage
½ tsp sea salt
20 ml maple syrup
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). Place the polenta, sea salt and sage in a bowl and mix to combine. Whisk the olive oil and maple syrup together.
2. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Peel and quarter the parsnips, removing the woody stems with a sharp knife, then place them in the pan of boiling water. Bring back to the boil and cook for three minutes. Drain the parsnips the, while they are still hot and steaming, roll them in the polenta and sage mixture until they are all fully coated.
3. Pour the olive oil and maple syrup mixture into a deep roasting dish. Place the coated parsnips in the tray and then roast in the oven for 35 minutes or until golden, turning them over around half way through. Serve immediately.