The US is stepping up plans to send us hormone-fed beef and chlorinated chicken, and our Ministers are not doing anything to stop it, says Kerry McCarthy, Bristol East MP and member of the Efra Select Committee.
With the Brexit countdown clock ticking away at an alarming pace, the Agriculture Bill has been placed well and truly in the long-grass, with suggestions that we will not see it again until September.
The delay was compounded last week by the resignation of George Eustice, the long-serving and well-intentioned Farming Minister.
In the void, the US has stepped up its attempts to lower standards in any future trade deal with the UK by publishing its negotiation objectives.
The objectives underlined what many of us feared, that the moment trade negotiations start there will be pressure to see produce currently banned, such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-pumped beef, allowed into Britain.
We have heard repeatedly from the Government that it does not want to lower standards after Brexit, but the proof is in the pudding, and as it stands, almost 1,000 days since the referendum, there is no assurance in legislation.
Simply put, the rhetoric has not been turned into reality. It is not good enough.
That is why when the Bill returns to Parliament, I will be pushing my new clause – and also one from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee – which would prevent the Government from entering into trade agreements that allow food imports which do not meet the UK’s environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.
Without the vital safeguard this clause provides, we risk exporting our environmental footprint abroad, while sparking a race to the bottom in food production and safety to compete on price at home.
Either by accident or design, the Government is in real danger of leaving consumers and farmers unprotected against the damaging impacts of poor-quality imports, produced to low or non-existent standards that are illegal on UK soil.
All of this should be set against the reality of Brexit on the ground now in farm yards across Britain.
At a recent meeting in Parliament, I heard about the extent of fruit, vegetables and flowers rotting in the fields because there is not the seasonal labour to pick them. One supplier had lost over two million bunches of daffodils, worth £420,000, in January alone.
Next Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s deal will be put to MPs once again, followed by further votes on leaving with no deal and extending Article 50 should a no-deal scenario at the end of March be rejected.
If we are to leave the European Union, which I hope we do not, we have to see this as a once in a generation opportunity to design a sustainable, ethical and healthy food and farming system.
An opportunity to lead the world in importing and exporting the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.
To achieve that vision, I would suggest to the Government there is work to do.
Kerry can be found tweeting at @KerryMP