The UK Government has so far shown it does not care about protecting our standards, but Ministers can fix their betrayal of farmers by banning low-standard imports in the Trade Bill, says Deidre Brock, SNP food and rural affairs spokesperson.
I’ve got more than a suspicion that the current UK Government doesn’t care much about food standards.
The recent refusal to accept an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to put food standards and food safety on the face of the legislation was a case in point.
I know, we all know, that US negotiators on any trade deal will want access to our markets – unfettered access, access for all kinds of horrors the US food industry foists on the American people.
We wouldn’t accept a restaurant here allowing food to go bad, maybe kicking it across the floor and giving it a quick dip in bleach before serving it up, so why would we accept poor standards from food producers?
Why would we accept chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-riddled beef or ractopamine-bloated pork?
Why would we allow anything into our food chain which has low welfare and production standards and might actually be a threat to us?
There are about 150 countries (maybe more) which have banned ractopamine in pig production because of the potential harm to humans.
It’s a beta-agonist, a range of drugs that was developed to treat asthma in humans and fed to animals when it was discovered it boosted growth rates.
None of us have any idea what might be tried next, what horrors might be piled into industrialised food production, and if we have no standards to protect us it will be shovelled straight down our throats as well.
We may be about to experience an abrupt descent from high EU standards to none at all.
The US will want no labelling rules cutting across the bows of low-quality products, they’ll be looking for geographical protections to be ditched, and they’ll be looking for free, easy and open access to the shelves in our shops.
That threatens the quality of the food which goes on our plates, it threatens the livelihood of food producers at all stages in the chain, and it threatens the continued good stewardship of the land by farmers who care about it.
I won’t expect a single supermarket to hold back the flood of sub-standard food when there are profits to be made from it.
I don’t think there are enough high-quality High Street butchers to make up the difference – even if we could persuade shoppers.
I do think the double whammy of losing EU markets for our high-quality produce and losing the domestic market to low-quality imports could render massive damage to our agriculture, and I do think it will cause huge damage to the quality of the food available to consumers.
There is still a chance for the UK Government to make amends, though, a chance for it to be forgiven for some of its sins.
The Trade Bill is coming up and amendments have been laid which will force the same standards on imported food which our farmers must adhere to.
That seems sensible to me, and I look forward with confidence to UK Ministers seeing the error of their ways and supporting those amendments.
I look forward to it, but I won’t try to hold my breath that long.
Deidre can be found tweeting at @DeidreBrock