Pow on Woman’s Hour


This was a cracking interview of Rebecca Pow, DEFRA minister, by Emma Barnett on Woman’s Hour on Thursday. We moved through plastic bags, plastic waste exports to Turkey, tree-planting v HS2, road building, coal mines, trade deals with Australia and where to go on holiday. It was robust, tough but pretty fair, and went to several very good points. But, Ms Pow didn’t do too badly either, although her own and the government’s weaknesses were exposed. It’s a good interview by a strong journalist. When was the last time you heard informed environmental questions being asked, and re-asked, and intelligently asked for over 18 minutes! We should see more of this on TV and hear more of this on the radio. Well done Woman’s Hour and Emma Barnett for leading the way.

A few thoughts from me on that Australian trade deal.

Why didn’t the farming community oppose Brexit? They should have seen this coming, and future deals with the USA, and opposed Brexit. Now they are left trying to Remain-der a Brexit done deal. There is a bit of an assumption in the Barnett/Pow interview, and in all coverage I’ve noticed, that UK farmers all need cosseting from the sub-standard produce of the tough Australian farmers – I’m not sure it’s really like that. I haven’t actually seen the evidence that there is anything wrong with Australian beef, for example, other than it might come from New South Wales rather than South Wales and that it is cheap, which consumers generally consider to be a plus point. In all the gushing media concern for our wonderful farmers there is precious little mention of the rest of us, consumers. What’s wrong with importing cheaper food if we can get it and it has a broadly comparable environmental and safety record (just tell me if it doesn’t – because no-one has so far)? Didn’t the country vote Brexit partly for exactly this type of outcome? Flogging our stuff abroad and bringing in all that cheaper food and those cheaper goods from all over the world? Now, I didn’t vote Brexit, and I haven’t changed my mind on that subject since 2016, but what’s done is done, so if George Eustice is going to start refocusing the Habitats Regulations to our environmental detriment than it’s only fair that those who want to eat beef can gorge themselves on the finest cheap beef the world can provide – or isn’t it?

If you are signed up to my monthly newsletter then you will have received my thoughts on George Eustice’s speech this week. If not, you have missed them – unless you sign up to the newsletter this weekend in which case I’ll send you a copy on Sunday or early on Monday. You can sign up to my monthly free newsblast through clicking here.


10 Replies to “Pow on Woman’s Hour”

  1. Aus trade debate. Shades of “Dobbins” blinkers methinks
    Starter- Try your fav prog: FT 20/5/21 10 min in
    Cows have hormones anyway what’s the fuss?
    Compassion in world farming apparently has a few fusses too

    I guess low staff nos to lots of cows out ranging in the paddock, doing their own thing: including getting lame, sick? till roundup is the ultimate rewilding compared to our cosseted cows.
    Not quite the same “finest beef”

    From RSPCA reported in the papers:
    Animal-welfare organisations are horrified by the prospect of a deal because Australia has much lower legal standards on animal welfare than the UK, including:
    · mulesing – cutting off sheep rear ends, including skin and flesh, often without anaesthetic (thisis a sliver of skin To prevent fly stirke we cut the fleece and or spray.)
    · barren battery cages for hens
    · chlorinated chicken
    · sow stalls – extreme confinement for pregnant pigs
    · growth hormone treatment for beef
    · journey times of up to 48 hours without rest and live exports

    Oh well. I did wonder that the issues were myself. Onward to the US.

  2. Cheap Aussie beef? How cheap is cheap? If we are talking in purely monetary terms then their economies of scale will have a great advantage over our farmers and they are a bit closer to a cheap supplier of soy. It will also be an advantage to your Cottage pie maker or your local burger restaurant.
    It will of course be a lot more expensive for the planet.
    We are happy to protest third runways, HS2 and more road building on behalf of the planet, why not food miles?

    1. “why not food miles?”

      Because Life Cycle Analysis always shows the CO2e per unit to be better than locally produced food because of economies of scale. The boundaries of the analysis are set so that the desired result is always in favour of whatever is required to be proved. Whatever Your preference is, doesn’t matter.

      But the Owls are Not What they Seem. “Local” Pembrokeshire patooties have already been to Doncaster for washing and packing before being returned for sale in Tesco in Haverfordwest.

      It’s The Science, innit

  3. “Why didn’t the farming community oppose Brexit?”

    It is my recollection that the majority did. Even the least progressive faction in British farming, the NFU backed remain. If I recall rightly a vote of NFU members went 52% in favour of remain, although I think the closeness of the vote meant the NFU probably did not campaign as hard as it might for fear of losing Brexiteer members.

    What has become apparent in recent years is just how quiet the pro-Brexit farmers have gone. Not many of them voted leave in the expectation of having their direct payments incrementally phased out by 2027. It is hard to think of many better examples of turkeys voting for Christmas. I still think back to a couple of conversations I had with some pro-Brexit upland sheep farmers and their vacuous reasoning. Now that they can plot out with a fair degree of accuracy the huge reduction in farm business income over the next 6 years resulting in a huge red hole in their farm accounts, I wonder what are thinking now?

    The most cogent pro-Brexit arguments I heard from farmers were from those operating large intensive (400 cow+) dairy farms and large (1000 acre +) arable farms who reasoned that their economies of scale and lower unit costs would enable them to out -compete their smaller family-farmed counterparts, enabling them to rapidly expand and consolidate. Naked self-interest, but all the indications are that this group will be proved right.

    1. Leave/Remain was one of them Heart/Head dilemmas. My Heart said “Out” but my “Stay” Head won. As is Custom and Practice I voted for the losers.

      I expect we will pay upland farmers for not polluting water that was fairly clean before it fell out of the Sky and to stop producing food and start leaning on the gate sucking carbon through a straw while watching breathlessly excited young people burning trees to make biochar before burying it in little holes in the ground. The food they don’t produce will be replaced by imports because neocolonialism is OK now that it is disguised as Trade.

      But IIRC things are very very complicated in the actual wheeling dealing World and I wonder among many things what will happen to the supplies of upland store cattle to lowland finishers. Perhaps you have some insight into this aspect from your conversations in and around Ottle?

    2. Ernest, I agree with your summary but I think you will find that farmers voted for Brexit; broadly 60% for, 30% against, 10% undecided.

      1. Yes I agree. Various sources suggest a majority of farmers voted for Brexit e.g.:

        I appreciate that these links do not constitute proof of any voting ratio but I could not find anything that suggested a majority of remain voters amongst farmers across the country as a whole (when broken down by regions and by farming type I believe some sub groups did show a majority for remain).

  4. It looks as though having to fill out a few forms and comply with some basic environmental cross-compliance requirements in return for a wedge of cash might not have been such a bad deal for farmers after all. I have never understood why so many farmers apparently voted for Brexit.

  5. Thanks for the copy of George Eustice’s speech and the Rebecca Pow interview. However I am sorry to say I have no regard whatsoever as to what Defra says. They are so full of “weasel” words on Wildlife and our environment that what ever is announce from that Department means nothing or very little indeed. Take moorland burning for example now the ban to be applied only to peat bogs deeper than a certain amount and they don’t even know where such peat bogs are. Also moorland owners are to be paid for restoring the peat. So they have made money by trashing the peatlands and now they are to have money for restoring it. Not bad if you are a grouse moor owner ( it’s money for the boys) and you can carry on killing Hen harriers and other wildlife as long as you are not seen doing it.
    No, I am afraid Defra is “rotten to the core” and what they say is pretty well meaningless.
    The only consultation is that after the recent elections we have Governments in Scotland and Wales that are likely to protect our wildlife much more effectively than the meaningless drivel and lip service we receive from Defra.

  6. Yes, Emma Barnett has revitalised Woman’s Hour, a breath of fresh air. If only more BBC journalists would argue for the facts and truth we would be in a better place than we are now.

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