The Government is facing a defeat in parliament when it comes to a vote on allowing low standard food imports into the UK, says Kerry McCarthy, Bristol East MP and member of the Efra Select Committee.
I voted Remain in 2016, voted against triggering Article 50 in 2017, and continue to believe staying in the European Union is the right thing for our country and my constituents.
There is, however, one positive that could come from Brexit: the opportunity for the UK to leave the Common Agricultural Policy.
I have broadly supported the Agriculture Bill and its ‘public money for public goods’ approach to future farm subsidies.
It is somewhat frustrating that the Bill seems to have stalled, with still no date for report stage, the final consideration in the Commons.
That leaves even less time for the Bill to pass through the Lords before ‘exit day’ on March 29.
I am supporting several amendments to the Bill, including one tabled by Neil Parish, the Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, calling for a multiannual financial framework, so as to give farmers more certainty over what payments they will receive during the agricultural transition period.
Both Neil Parish and I have also tabled amendments seeking to ensure there will be no lowering of standards under any post-Brexit trade deals.
If passed, these amendments would prevent the Government from entering into agreements that allow food imports which do not meet the UK’s environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.
It is increasingly apparent that the moment trade negotiations start there will be pressure to see produce currently banned, such as chlorinated chicken from the United States, allowed into Britain.
With the incidence of food poisoning in the US around 10 times higher than in the UK, and the use of antibiotics on farms five times higher, importing such products would represent a serious public health risk to British consumers.
The reforms in the Agriculture Bill will count for little if we allow such imports into the UK, with cheaper food (because of the lower standards) undercutting our farmers.
We also risk exporting our environmental footprint abroad, while sparking a race to the bottom in food production.
As a result, the Efra Committee, has called on the Government to ‘put its money where its mouth is’ in relation to future trade deals.
This viewpoint echoed by organisations as varied as the National Farmers Union, Soil Association, RSPCA, and Friends of the Earth.
Report stage is very different to the Bill Committee stage, as the amendments are debated on the floor of the Commons and all MPs can vote.
There is cross-party support for the amendments mentioned above, and the Government has indicated it will move on the trade deals issue, for fear of losing the vote – if not in the Commons, in the Lords.
It is worth getting in touch with your own MP to see if they will be supporting these measures.
Kerry can be found tweeting at @KerryMP