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From the editor: Battle for farm standards comes at a crucial time for many

In a choice between gold plating farm standards or leaving the door ajar to foreign trade deals, a majority of MPs came down on the side of the latter this week.

For many farmers it felt like a betrayal; a symbolic vote which, if you listen to some emotive arguments, leaves the UK open to an influx of chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and the demise of the family farm.

 

The reality, however, could be far more nuanced and somewhat prosaic, with the failure to amend the Agriculture Bill tapping into a deeper paradox which rests at the heart of the Brexit debate and the UK’s future standing in the world.

 

While on the one hand many within agriculture are drawn to the call of global trade, at the same time there seems to be a latent desire for protectionist legislation which would cause trade deals with the likes of the US to collapse before they have even begun.

 

The challenge now is to ensure that the legislation which will govern trade is enough to protect British farmers from being undermined by food produced to potentially lower standards.

The Government has claimed it will safeguard our world leading standards and while a vote in favour of amending the Agriculture Bill would have made that job easier, the challenge will be to hold Ministers’ feet to the fire within the current legislative framework; something which may require a change of tack from the unions and other representative bodies.

 

And while the vote does not spell the end for the traditional British farm, what it certainly could do is make things tougher in the coming years to find ready buyers for UK produce.

 

With Covid-19 set to send unemployment spiralling and consumer behaviour and ethics likely to be reshaped, there could be a convergence of factors to challenge British agriculture.

 

After all, if there is less consumer confidence and greater demand for lower priced food, will this week’s vote simply send retailers and foodservice firms scampering after overseas suppliers over domestic ones, especially at the lower end of the market?

 

This week might prove to be the latest skirmish in what could become a drawn out battle for British farming standards.

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