Britain’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove says the UK Government is preparing for a Green Brexit that will place protection of ‘natural capital’ at the heart of future food and farming policy.

In a major speech at the Oxford Farming Conference today, Gove said that Britain’s food and farming sectors would need to “embrace change” and break with unsustainable practices that had led to “significant and destructive” environmental damage.

Part of the change for British farmers would be the severance from long-standing European Union CAP  subsidies. Gove said that despite improvements the Common Agricultural Policy remained “fundamentally flawed”.

He told a packed conference room: “Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes. It gives the most from the public purse to those who have the most private wealth. It bids up the price of land, distorting the market, creating a barrier to entry for innovative new farmers and entrenching lower productivity.”

“Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes”

Brexit, said the pro-Leave Environment Secretary, would create “(an opportunity) to say how we shape change and how we meet the challenges ahead”.

Gove said that conserving ‘natural capital’ – “the sum of land, soil, ecosystems, species and minerals; our freshwater, air and seas” – would be placed at the heart of future food and farming policy.

Developing this theme, he said: “Our global environment is affected as never before by the population growth I’ve referred to, and the consequent growth in demand for nutritious food, safe drinking water, comfortable housing, reliable energy and new consumer goods. Without action we face the progressive loss of the natural capital on which all growth – natural, human and economic – ultimately depends. So the imperative to husband, indeed wherever possible, enhance our natural capital has to be at the heart of any plan for our country and our world.”

Gove told an audience of over 600 farmers and food producers that “reform starts at home”. He noted that many of Britain’s fastest growing brands were those associated with quality, provenance and high animal welfare. As well as name-checking particular brands and regional food specialities, Gove singled out organic milk as a British food and farming success story.

“As well as thinking about how our interventions to support food production affect the environment, we also have to consider the impact on the nation’s health”

Health would also be a major influencer of the future direction of food policy, said Britain’s Environment Secretary: “As well as thinking about how our interventions to support food production affect the environment, we also have to consider the impact on the nation’s health.

“Ours is the first generation where more people succumb to non-communicable conditions than to infectious diseases. The risk to public health from contagious conditions is diminishing, the rising dangers are obesity, diabetes, coronary failure, cancer and deteriorating mental health. And diet plays a part in all these conditions.”