A show-of-hands poll carried out at Oxford Farming Conference revealed there was not a single audience member who trusted the Government to protect food production standards in trade deals.
The flash survey was taken after Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers rejected NFU president Minette Batters’ call for a commission to be set up to safeguard UK farming standards when trade agreements are being negotiated.
Asked why she had not honoured her predecessor, Michael Gove’s, pledge to set up the body, Ms Villiers said: “I can see this is potentially an effective means of ensuring we have appropriate working relationships between Government and farmers and experts on our trade discussions, but we continue to have a debate in Government about whether that is the mechanism we are going to adopt or not.
“There are a number of groups already established to engage between Government and business, including farming, on our trade negotiations, but I will take the message from Minette back to my colleagues in Government who decide whether a commission is the way to go or whether we should just continue to use the existing working groups.”
The Minister was grilled on the subject repeatedly by both conference delegates and other members of the panel, including Ms Batters, who asked how exactly the Government planned to protect standards.
Ms Villiers replied: “We put it in our manifesto.”
This was a line she repeated in a later press conference, when journalists quizzed her on how farmers could trust the Government to meet its commitments without legislation.
“We will just have to demonstrate to them during our trade negotiations that we are going to ensure our farmers are treated fairly and our high standards will not be diluted,” she said.
“Our British brand’s greatest strength is our high standards in food safety, in food security, on animal welfare and we are going to defend that in our trade negotiations.”