With more than one million people backing food standards by signing the NFU petition to protect them in law, we may yet force the Government’s hand on this issue, says Tim Farron, agriculture spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
The UK has some of the highest animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards in the world.
But there is a huge danger that the Government will sacrifice these high standards in its desperation to sign a trade deal with the USA, or in fact any other country.
From my regular conversations with the National Farmers’ Union, the prospect of the market being flooded with cheap imported food produced to much lower standards is a great source of worry to them and their members.
Warm words and vague assurances from Ministers will not cut the mustard with anyone.
The NFU’s petition, calling on the Government to put into law rules to prevent food being imported to the UK which is produced in ways that would be illegal here, has now exceeded a very impressive one million signatures.
However, getting the Government to actually set up a Food Standards Commission to protect British farmers from being undercut will not be an easy task.
When the current Defra Secretary George Eustice was on the backbenches in 2019, he tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to try to protect the UK’s high animal welfare and food hygiene standards by banning the sale of lower standard foods such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef.
However, now that he is subject to the iron will of the Prime Minister and his chief adviser, he marshalled Tory backbenchers to vote down this crucial amendment to the Agriculture Bill.
To their credit, 22 Tory backbenchers respected their manifesto commitment and voted with opposition MPs for security for higher UK food standards.
Despite this major disappointment, it may well be second time lucky with the Trade Bill returning to the House for its third reading soon.
We will have to work our socks off to convince enough Tory backbenchers that they must fulfil the promise in their manifesto to maintain and protect the high standards of animal welfare and food hygiene which British farmers have attained.
But I believe with a million-strong (and growing) army of people lobbying their MPs, we could still succeed in passing amendments which would force the Government’s hand to protect British farmers and British standards in any future trade negotiation.
Tim can be found tweeting at @timfarron