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Import quality standards dropped from UK agriculture bill

An amendment to guarantee that post-Brexit food imports meet the same standards required of British food producers has been dropped from the UK’s agriculture bill, to the dismay of several food, farming and nature organisations.

During the third reading of the bill in the House of Commons, Victoria Prentis (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) argued that “The supply of food would be significantly disrupted if goods that meet our current import standards were blocked” and suggested that trade negotiations are the most appropriate place to discuss import standards.

Prentis reiterated the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto commitment to protect farming standards. (Page 57 of the manifesto says “In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”)

At the time of writing, the Agriculture Bill has not yet been passed. The next step is a second reading in the House of Lords (read details of the bill here).

Reactions included:

  • Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City, University of Londonm said “So, dear Britain, we are warned. Here is a Govt MP & chair of @CommonsEFRA wanting it in the #AgricultureBill that UK doesn’t lower standards and it’s rejected. I don’t like this. Nor should anyone who wants all people well fed from high quality food.”
  • National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said “Our trade policy must reflect our moral responsibilities to the planet and the people and creatures that live on it – protecting our natural environment, caring for our farmed animals, and working toward a more sustainable, climate-friendly way of farming and food production. These are issues that cannot be wished away or presumed dealt with by brief pledges in a manifesto or verbal assurances in media interviews.”
  • Liz Bowles of the Soil Association said “As a farmer and a member of society I was really disappointed by the outcome of the vote on the agricultural bill last night…  For me as a farmer in the future that could mean that my production will be undermined by cheaper imports from countries where their production standards are lower than in the UK and that just doesn't feel right.” 
  • UK charity Sustain said “It was defeated but great that so many organisations worked together and people wrote to their MPs - many thanks. We have a huge battle still.”
  • In a letter to George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the National Beef Association said “We understand that the Bill is not a trade agreement but a document that concentrates on sustainable food production to feed our country for the future, on the basis of public money for public good. When we finally withdraw from the EU at the end of this year, existing EU law preventing food imports from inferior production processes and animal welfare is due to be incorporated into UK law. Can you please confirm this law will be fully adopted by the UK Government, effectively slamming the door to hormone-treated beef imports onto our shores.”

Read more here. See also the Foodsource building block What is food security? 

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