Backing British farming is a verb – not a day for passive praise or casual thanks. MPs must prove they back British farmers all year round, says Labour’s Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard.
Back British Farming Day, held on Wednesday this week (September 9), is an opportunity for Parliamentarians to celebrate the work of our country’s farmers and promote local produce.
This praise must be matched with action.
Farmers from the far south west of England to the tip of Scotland are rightly worried that their livelihoods will be put at risk by Ministers signing trade deals with Trump’s America – or any other country that could undercut British farmers with food produced more cheaply, but to lower standards.
US farm animal welfare regulations are generally substantially lower than ours, with no federal regulations at all on many areas where we have detailed laws.
I have no desire for artificial barriers to trade, nor to insulate British farmers from a global market – only a wish that all food sold in Britain must meet the same high standards.
Allowing food into Britain that would be illegal for a British farmer to produce not only makes no economic sense, it sells out Britain to the lowest bidder and risks reversing years of progress which led us to our current farming practices with their focus on sustainable farming, stewardship of the countryside and high levels of animal husbandry.
Labour’s view is simple: whether grown in Britain or imported into Britain, food sold here should meet our current high levels of environmental protection and meet our animal welfare standards.
Recent research by Which? shows 72 per cent of the British public do not want lower-standard products to be allowed on sale in the UK.
Quite rightly, because our current high food and farming standards have been decades in the making.
The improvements to farming practices have been hard, sometimes painful to implement, but they reflect the national priority of the people that the food we eat should not be produced at the expense of animal suffering or environmental damage.
Back British Farming Day is not a day for passive praise or casual thanks. It must be more than that.
Barring a considerable upset, the Lords will include in the Agriculture Bill legal protection for Britain’s high food and farming standards.
Labour, the other opposition parties, and many Conservatives back adding in a simple legal guarantee that agricultural goods imported under future trade deals have to meet animal health and welfare, environmental, plant health, food safety and other standards which are at least as high as those which apply to UK-produced agricultural goods.
The Conservatives should rightly be worried about this.
Having already voted down Labour’s amendment to protect our farmers before the summer, they risk being seen to betray farmers all over again with a second vote.
I do not want Ministers to have a freehand in undercutting British farmers.
Whatever the promises or vocal rhetoric of Ministers, there are few people in Parliament or in the countryside who believe the Government would not sell out British farmers for a trade deal with Donald Trump.
The NFU have collected one million names – a considerable army of support – on their petition to protect our high standards.
The Government responded with a temporary quick fix of a Trade and Agriculture Commission that, at best, will be an inconvenience to a trade deal with America, and at worst, is utterly pointless.
It was designed to show Ministers are doing something, but few in farming believe it protects our farmers.
Backing British farming must be a verb, an action delivered all year round, not just a slogan for a single day.
Labour wants to see farming become more sustainable, hitting net zero, working to prevent flooding and stopping harmful slurry and chemical run off into rivers.
That is a challenge for our farmers, but one that can be made easier by standing alongside them to protect their livelihoods.
If any politician said they were backing British farmers on Wednesday, they must do so by backing Labour’s amendments, tabled with cross-party support, to protect our food and farming standards.
That is the best way you can say you back British farmers on Back British Farming Day.
Luke can be found tweeting at @LukePollard