NPA joins calls for legal safeguards on imports standards to be added to Agriculture Bill
13th May 2020 / By Alistair Driver
The NPA has given its backing to calls by a large coalition of farming, environmental and animal welfare organisations for legal safeguards on imports standards to be added to the Agriculture Bill.
The Bill, which will result in the biggest reform and transformation of British agriculture and food production since 1945, returns for its final Report stages today before heading to the House of Lords.
The NFU has convened the coalition to write to all 650 MPs urging them to ensure it includes vital safeguards specifying that the food we import in any potential trade deals meet the same high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection as is expected of UK food producers.
The letter states: “We are urging you to take this last opportunity to ensure that the Bill secures vital safeguards for the high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection that the British public value so highly.
“The Bill should ensure that agri-food imports are produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare, and food safety standards as those required of producers in the UK.
“We are all agreed that a trade policy that undermines our farmers will mean a common goal of a more prosperous, sustainable and nature-friendly food and farming sector will be made much harder to achieve. And the UK will have missed an opportunity to set out its stall as being serious about tackling its global footprint.”
The letter notes that there are a number of amendments being brought forward which we believe the House should support.
“Amending the Bill to enshrine the importance of food trade, but only where high standards of production are met, will allow the UK to be a standard bearer for sustainable production and climate-friendly farming across the world.”
The NPA has been vocal in its demands for legislation to be included in the Agriculture Bill that will prevent producers being undercut by cheaper imports produced to standards outlawed in the UK, under post-Brexit trade deals.
You can read more in our Agriculture Bill briefing, which was circulated to MPs ahead of the debate.
It states: “The Bill must make it clearer that our food standards will be maintained and protected.
“The UK pig industry is at risk of a bad trade deal with another country that could seek to export pig products to the UK, produced to standards that fall far below those expected within the UK and even the EU.
“The United States, Canada and Mexico, all permit the use of sow stalls (banned in the UK in 1999), have far fewer controls over how antibiotics are sold and administered and allow the use of the β-agonist growth promoter ractopamine, as a feed additive, also banned in the EU.
“Such production systems represent a much lower cost of production model, and could seriously affect the UK market if permitted as imports. The Bill must be clearer that such food products will never reach UK shelves.”
Food security update
The NPA has also published and circulated among peers a briefing on Food supply and security in the UK in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ahead a of debate in the House of Lords tomorrow.
NPA senior policy adviser Ed Barker pointed out that the Government has not updated the food security chapter in the Bill since the COVID-19 epidemic started. "We believe the outbreak should bring about a reappraisal of the importance of ensuring domestic supplies keep moving at all times and want to see thos reflected in the Bill," he said.
Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, has called on MPs to back his amendment providing this protection in law.
Mr Parish said much of the Bill is welcome. “Absent, however, is any legal commitment to maintain our high environmental, food and animal welfare standards for imports under new trade deals,” he wrote in an article for the Conservative Home website.
But he wants to go further by enshrining these promises in law. “We have promised not to reduce our high domestic standards. So we should not undermine them through trade deals,” he added.
“There is no point having world-leading standards in the UK if we do not expect trade partners to reciprocate.
He has previously tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, New Clause 2, that 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.
“These issues should be front and centre,” he said, urging MPs to back his amendment, which already has the support of the EFRA Committee and a growing number of backbenchers, too.
He responded to an article by former Trade Minister Liam Fox, which suggested that this sort of amendment would prevent imports under any trade agreement if UK standards on animal welfare were not applied in the country of origin.
Pointing out that a minimum of equivalence, does not mean ‘the same’, Mr Parish said this was an ‘unfortunate conflation’.