Ministers voted on on the third reading of the agricultural bill in parliament yesterday, voting down amendments that would protect the UK’s high food standards by law. International trade secretary Liz Truss wants to offer the US reduced trade tariffs which could allow an influx of food produced to lower standards than is currently permitted under EU rules.
Current UK food standards during Brexit transition are a copy of the EU standards, widely regarded as some of the highest in the world. As Brexit unfolds, the UK becomes a new player in the global trade market, giving freedom to negotiate deals independetly with countries such as the US and Australia.
At the same time, DEFRA is working to ensure UK food standards are maintained in trade deals, to protect UK farmers and producers and support a high-quality food supply for the population. Wednesday’s reading featured an amendment by Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which would prevent the ratification of a trade agreement that allows the importation of agricultural or food products which have not been produced to equivalent standards.
Such an amendment would ensure that trade deals respect the food standards in the UK, however, ministers voted it down.
Dan Crossley of the Food Ethics Council commented:
“Today was a golden opportunity missed by MPs to improve the Agriculture Bill. We’re disappointed key amendments got voted down. It’s not enough for govt ministers to say ‘trust us, we want to keep high standards’. If the government really cares about food & farming – and it should – it must not let the sector become a sacrificial lamb. Workers’ rights, animal welfare standards, environmental protection and food safety must not be allowed to become pawns in a game of ‘trade deal chess’”
Animal welfare standards define the cost of the end product. Allowing trade partners to import food which has been produced to a lower standard than UK regulations would undermine the British agriculture sector and threaten livelinhoods.
Both George Eustice and former DEFRA Minister Michael Gove objected to the proposals by Liz Truss, arguing that the UK needs to maintain a ‘level playing field’ on food standards and animal welfare.