Post-Brexit UK to be an 'exemplar' for animal health and welfare standards - Leadsom
4th Oct 2016 / By Alistair Driver
Defra Ministers have outlined their desire to make high food safety and animal health and welfare standards a unique selling point of UK livestock in the post-Brexit world.
Speaking at an NFU fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom said she wanted the UK livestock industry to be an ‘exemplar’ to the rest of the world.
“Our unique selling point both at home and abroad should be the highest standards of animal welfare, the highest standards of animal welfare and the highest standards of food traceability,” she said.
“Those are the things we really want to focus on in order to ensure we can expand, grow and compete more, innovate more and export more, which will be incredibly important going forward.”
However, Mrs Leadsom and Farming Minister George Eustice were asked to explain how the UK Government intends to protect UK producers and consumers from cheaper, lower standard imports as the UK forges new low tariff, trade deals with the likes of the USA, Canada and Brazil.
This has been a point frequently raised by NPA since the Brexit vote and, at the fringe meeting, NFU president Meurig Raymond called on Mrs Leadsom to ensure the food and farming sector was not ‘sacrificed for the City of London and other sectors’ in this way.
Mrs Leadsom sought to reassure farmers in the audience, saying it was ‘exactly right that what we don’t want to do is go around the world looking for cheaper food that undercuts our own British farming sector’.
She highlighted the UK’s ‘second-to-none’ standards in animal welfare, food safety and traceability and suggested this could be used to promote ‘great British food’ in export markets.
Farming Minister George Eustice shed more light on this issue and on his plans to push up animal health and welfare standards in livestock production as he made his way around the conference fringes.
He said mutual standards would be negotiated into new trade deals but appeared to acknowledge it will be unrealistic to expect lower standard imports to be entirely kept at bay.
“This Government has got a manifesto commitment to reflect animal welfare standards in any future trade agreements and that will be the case that when we talk about free trade agreements,” he said.
If, however, equivalent standards could not be agreed, quotas can be set on the amount of non-tariff imports allowed in, he added.
But he is adamant raising UK standards will provide leverage for UK farmers in the market place, at home and abroad.
He insisted this was not about setting additional requirements and new standards on all farmers, but was about incentivising them through a new support policy.
This could be done by linking payments to membership of existing schemes like RSPCA Assured or creating new welfare schemes that reward farmers, for example, for outdoor production or possibly higher welfare indoor production.
He suggested there could also be incentives for farmers to improve animal health and reduce antibiotic usage.
The NPA’s Lizzie Wilson, who attended the meeting, said: “We note the Defra Ministers’ comments on exports and imports but what we heard in Birmingham has done little to reassure us about the potential post-Brexit threat of low standard imports.
“We were also interested to hear Mr Eustice’s plans to incentivise high standards. While this could have obvious benefits our concern here is that higher standards across the board, outside of the niche premium schemes, have not historically fed back to producers in terms of higher price.
“We will also continue to press for support under a new farm policy, alongside tax incentives, to encourage and allow farmers to invest in new buildings and equipment to improve animal health and welfare and reduce reliance on antibiotics.”