The Scottish Government should be required to take independent advice ahead of making spending decisions on agriculture, environmental campaigners have said.
The Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill will establish a new system of payments to farmers and crofters. The Scottish Government says that helping farmers reduce their climate emissions and restore nature is a key objective.
But environmental campaigners are concerned that the new system will not do enough to encourage changes in food production in time to meet crucial climate and nature targets.
In evidence submitted to a Scottish Parliament committee, the coalition Scottish Environment LINK is calling on Ministers to be required to take independent advice before setting their five year rural support plan.
The duty to seek advice would echo a similar duty in the Climate Change Act, which sees climate policy subject to independent oversight from the Climate Change Committee.
Currently, agriculture is the second highest source of carbon emissions in Scotland, having risen in recent years. Some farming practices are also major factors in declines in wildlife and biodiversity.
The Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign, coordinated by Scottish Environment LINK, says that at least three quarters of public spending on farming should support methods that restore nature and tackle climate change.
The campaign group is also calling for the Bill to include the adoption of legal targets to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact, through, for example, reduced pesticide use.
Pete Ritchie, Director of Nourish Scotland and Convener of the Scottish Environment LINK Food and Farming Group, said:
“Farming is vital to Scotland’s future, and we must support farmers and crofters to become more sustainable.
“The introduction of new Scottish agriculture legislation is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a better system.
“Government policy should be evidence-based and informed by the best independent advice.
“We know that agriculture will be central to reducing climate emissions and protecting nature – it is essential that the new farm funding system measures up to the changes we need.”