MPs have tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill calling on Government to enshrine its commitments to upholding food standards in future trade deals in law.
The amendment has been tabled by members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affair (EFRA) Committee, following a hearing this week with representatives from the agriculture, animal welfare and trade sectors.
During the hearing, MPs took evidence on how the UK can ensure that imports under new trade agreements are produced to the high animal welfare and environmental standards expected by the public.
The amendment, reiterating the points made in a 2018 EFRA Committee report on the Agriculture Bill, would ensure that food products imported as part of any future trade deal meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment.
EFRA chair Neil Parish said: “British consumers rightfully expect that the food we eat is produced to very high standards.
“The evidence the Committee heard this week highlighted that the negotiation of new free trade deals present exciting opportunities to uphold and even boost our high production standards, but the Government must ensure that consumer preferences for environmentally-friendly and humanely produced foods are respected.
“Lowering food production standards should not be a bargaining chip to be used in future trade deals- allowing imports to be produced in ways that are illegal here would severely undercut British farmers.
“For these reasons, we are calling on the Government to uphold its commitments by amending the Agriculture Bill.”
See Neil Parish explain why EFRA has tabled the amendment:
The Committee has proposed an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to enshrine Government commitments to protect UK food production and animal welfare standards in new trade deals https://t.co/FqzuI2XZkf
— EFRA Committee (@CommonsEFRA) March 12, 2020
The Agriculture Bill is currently going through the Commons, before moving onto the Lords. While it is questionable whether the amendment will be accepted in the Commons, NFU president Minette Batters is confident the amendment will be tabled again in the Lords and will stick.
At February’s NFU conference, she told Defra Secretary George Eustice the Government must retain the amendment when the Bill returns to the Commons.
“This will test the moral compass of the Government,” she said. “That amendment has to stay in and, if it is taken out, we will know the road we are on. My worry is that we are talking a lot about raising the bar for UK farmers when we have no assurances on the standard of food imports. That does one thing – it puts these guys out of business.”
While much of the focus has been on chlorine-washed chicken from the US, Mrs Batters stressed that the issue went way beyond that.
She highlighted the gulf between UK standards and those in various other countries, for example, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in Japan, Australia, China, Canada, Brazil, Malaysia and India and the lack of controls in the US and elsewhere ‘on what are deemed in the UK to be fundamental welfare requirements’.
Mr Eustice said he would ‘have discussions’ with other departments about maintaining our standards in trade deals.
He insisted the ‘issues around animal welfare and food standards’ could be addressed in future trade deals, pointing out that the US has insisted in negotiations on market access for British beef that its abattoir methodologies are used. It would, therefore, ‘not be extraordinary’ for the UK to do the same and insist on our conditions for US market access, he said.
Petition on import standards
More than 15,000 people have now signed an NFU petition calling on the Government to commit in law to introducing a ban under future trade deals on food imports that would be illegal for British farmers to produce.
The petition, which you can sign here, was launched at the NFU Conference in February and will continue to run over the coming weeks, as the UK kicks off trade negotiations with the EU and US.