1st Jun


TFA Blog #08 – MPs Fail to Deliver Safeguards for Food Standards in Trade

This blog is the full (unedited) piece, written by George Dunn, TFA Chief Executive, for The Cumberland News and Westmorland Gazette, published on 26 May 2020.


I have spent nearly 30 years lobbying Governments of various political persuasions on behalf of the farming community.  You get used to the effort and sheer grind of having to work continually at landing arguments so that they are understood by policymakers in the hope that it produces change in legislation, regulation or practice.  Down the years it has been great when others who share the same concerns, outlook and solutions have been happy to lobby jointly, increasing the chances of seeing things changed for the better. Through all those years I have never seen as great a coming together as was achieved in January when over 60 organisations wrote to the Prime Minister to call for primary legislation that would protect our high standards of food production against low quality imports produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK.

The letter brought together the NFU with the Badger Trust; The League Against Cruel Sports with the Country Land and Business Association; The Tenant Farmers Association and Rewilding Britain; Compassion in World Farming and the British Poultry Council along with a host of other unlikely bedfellows to make the single and powerful point that the Government must provide legislative certainty to protect our high animal welfare, environmental and food safety regulations in our trading relationships with the rest of the world.  When a coalition of that breadth, magnitude and strength comes together behind a single issue surely, it is time for the Government to take note.

Fast forward then to 13 May when MPs voted on a carefully crafted amendment to the Agriculture Bill, at its Report Stage in the House of Commons.  The amendment would have provided the safeguards on standards being sought.  Every one of the 62 organisations which signed the letter to the Prime Minister supported the amendment.  The amendment was led by Neil Parish MP, the Conservative Chair of the House of Commons Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and was backed by all of the cross-party members of that Committee.  Despite all of that, the Government used its majority to vote down the amendment with only 22 Conservative MPs voting in favour (including an inadvertent Chancellor of the Exchequer who got confused with the remote voting technology).

Knock backs and defeats are part of the territory in lobbying.  You have got to roll with the punches, get back on your feet, dust yourself down and be ready, once more, to fight for what you believe to be right.  However, what is so galling about this particular defeat is that the amendment being pursued was entirely in line with Government policy.  The amendment was not seeking to convince the Government to change its policy, it was just providing Government with the mechanism to implement it.  Without a convincing statutory basis for protecting our standards we have no chance in arguing our case in the context of membership of the World Trade Organisation.  We have left the door open to allowing the moral failure of supporting practices which we find repugnant at home to perpetuate abroad by allowing the resultant outputs to be made available on our supermarket shelves.

There is no doubt that last Wednesday’s defeat was a significant knockback.  However, we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and get ready for the battle to continue as the Agriculture Bill proceeds to the House of Lords.  There is every likelihood that Peers will amend the Bill as required at which point MPs will have to answer the question – if our standards mean anything why do they not deserve legislative protection in trade?

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