The news that MPs have voted to overturn a House of Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill, last night which had sought to protect UK food standards in future trade deals, by 332 votes to 279, a majority of 53, was met with dismay by the broad church of the UK agricultural industry.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “Once again the Commons has debated the Agriculture Bill without any binding commitments on how to safeguard our farmers’ high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection in our trade policy.
“While I was very heartened to hear many MPs express support for safeguarding our food standards, it was particularly disappointing that they were unable to vote on Lord Curry’s amendment that would strengthen the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and with it the role of Parliament to have proper scrutiny of new trade deals.
“The future of British food and farming is at stake. Without proper safeguards on future trade deals we risk seeing an increase in food imports that have been produced to standards that would be illegal here. I hope the Agriculture Bill returning to the House of Lords gives a new opportunity for the Lords to put forward an amendment that will give the Commission more teeth and enable MPs to have their say; one that can be heard by the House of Commons, with a final vote to see those safeguards put in place.”
NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “NFU Scotland has consistently argued that new trade agreements are a major opportunity for Scottish agriculture. We pride ourselves on provenance and quality: herein lies the opportunity.
“Farmers, crofters and growers in Scotland must be enabled by the current and future governments to reach a thriving export market in a manner which builds on our existing, world-leading standards of production.
“This ambition goes hand-in-glove with the UK Government’s own manifesto commitment not to compromise the UK’s standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. For this reason, NFU Scotland and the vast majority of our members are bitterly disappointed that the amendment was not supported. It is an ambition that has received unprecedented levels of public support and celebrity endorsement, which we welcome.
CLA President Mark Bridgeman said: “Time and again Ministers have promised to protect British farmers from a flood of cheap imports produced to animal welfare and environmental standards far below our own. They must now make good on that promise and show that such trust is well placed.
“Farmers across the country will be watching Government’s every move very closely from hereon in. The CLA will do all it can to support Government efforts to promote free trade – so long as their guarantee to uphold our standards and values is maintained permanently.”
Gareth Morgan, head of farming and land use policy at the Soil Association said; “We are very disappointed the House of Commons has rejected key amendments on import standards, climate change and pesticides in the Agriculture Bill, that has been proposed by the House of Lords.
“Putting these protections into law is vital to protect us against trade deals that could lower food production standards, threaten our environmental and climate change commitments, and undercut British farmers.
“We must go further to uphold the UK’s high standards for food and farming. We urge the House of Lords to hold their ground and send the amendments back to the Commons again to give MPs who voted against these changes a chance to rethink.”
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “This is a massive missed opportunity to provide the necessary legal protection and assurance from government that our sector needs. Vague promises about protecting standards are not enough.
“The US, for example, has made it clear that is not prepared to compromise in future trade deals on issues like the use of ractopamine in pigs and sow stalls, which are still widely used in US pig production, but were banned in the UK in 1999. There are also vast differences in areas like environmental protection, piglet castration and antibiotic use.
“The Government has given no clear indication of how, in the absence of legislation, it would prevent imports of significantly cheaper pork from the US and elsewhere produced using methods that are outlawed in the UK.
Many others also took to social media to express their concern. Joe Stanley, a farmer from Leicestershire pointed that many Conservative MPs pledged to wear the wheatsheaf and back British farming last month, calling it an empty and hollow gesture.
Conservative MP Neil Hudson pointed out on twitter, that he had voted for the amendment and that he was gutted that it was defeated. But, as an MP and vet he would carry on to ensure the government lived up to its manifesto pledge on food standards.