3rd Nov


TFA Blog #21 – Further Fireworks Expected on Trade Standards Amendments to the Agriculture Bill


This blog is the full (unedited) piece, written by George Dunn, TFA Chief Executive, for The East Anglia Daily Times, published on 31 October 2020.

Despite its many critics, the House of Lords is surely proving its usefulness as an amending Chamber in its current scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill.  Their Lordships have certainly taken on board the unique unity of message from the over 60 farming, environmental, animal welfare and public health bodies who came together earlier to require the Government to provide legislative protection against lower standards in imported food and other agricultural products.  They also heard loud and clear the views of the over 1 million citizens who signed a petition to the same end.  However, probably more importantly, they have identified a flaw in the Government’s approach which needs to be mended.

The Government says it agrees with the House of Lords that our current high standards must not be undermined in future trading agreements, but can offer no assurance that this can be delivered in practice.  Indeed, it has been pointed out to the Government that outside the special arrangements for customs unions and regional free-trade areas within the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, under which we have been operating as members of the EU, our ability to discriminate without clear legislative rules is limited.

Whilst the debate has been focused on issues such as chlorine washed chicken and hormone treated beef, the reality of the circumstances we face is much more pernicious.  For example, why is it we claim to be protecting our bees by banning the use of neonicotinoid plant protection products whilst exposing bees in other countries to that risk by importing product that has been grown using what we have banned at home?  How can we justify protecting our own watercourses from slurry pollution if we import dairy products from countries that have inadequate controls in place?  Why is it right to regulate tree felling in the UK whilst importing beef from parts of the world that have been grazed on recently deforested land?

Not only would such double standards represent crass hypocrisy, they would threaten to undermine the sustainability of domestic producers who are following the higher cost requirements at home and having to compete against raw and processed food products produced more cheaply to lower standards.  If our environmental, animal welfare and public health standards are important to us, and I believe they are, then our concern for them should not stop at our international borders.

The Prime Minister took to social media shortly after his recent meeting with Minette Batters to say “I will always support our fantastic farmers, who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to keep our country fed.  Outside the EU we now have the chance to get a better, fairer deal for Britain’s food and farming sector”.  This must start by getting the right legislative framework under which we will be operating from day one.

So, for the second time, the House of Lords is asking the House of Commons to think again on this important issue by insisting that it reconsiders two amendments that it has made to the Agriculture Bill.  Sadly, on the last occasion the House of Lords pressed its concerns, MPs were denied the ability even to debate one of the amendments due to a dubious ruling on procedural irregularity.  This must not re-occur when the House of Commons has another chance to look at these amendments on the eve of bonfire night.  If the Government refuses either to accept the amendments or to come forward with its own solution, standby for the fireworks that will follow.

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