Defra ministers responded to questions from MPs in the House of Commons this morning - we summarise the highlights.
Secretary of State Michael Gove repeated his earlier promises to enhance animal welfare standards after the UK leaves the EU.
He said: “It is in the nature of single market rules and the EU that some animal husbandry practices, which we would not tolerate in this country, apply to things we sometimes import.
“We must consider how we can improve animal welfare standards all round.”
He also told MPs an announcement would be made next week about how the Government would recognise animal sentience in future legislation.
Mr Gove was quick to shut down Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, who told him the food and farming sector was ‘terrified’ about Brexit.
Asked by Mr Sheerman whether he agreed the fact Defra had carried out no assessment of what would happen to farming post-Brexit was a ‘disgrace’, the Secretary of State responded with a curt ‘no’.
Mr Gove was equally swift to pull the plug on Shadow Farming Minister David Drew’s line of questioning about a US-UK trade deal.
Mr Drew asked: “Is there anyone, other than the Secretary of State and the Legatum Institute [a free-market think tank], who thinks a free trade deal with Trump’s America would be good for British farming and the UK food chain?”
Mr Gove replied with a one-word answer: “Yes.”
Quizzed by Henley MP John Howell on what Defra was doing to promote UK agriculture in future trade agreements, Mr Gove promised to ‘place the promotion of British food at the heart of our joint governmental endeavours’, pointing out he had spoken to the Trade Secretary on the subject just last night.
Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh questioned why the Secretary of State was planning to set up a new UK agency to regulate chemicals when the industry was ‘united’ in wanting to remain under EU rules.
Mr Gove told her the Government was ‘seeking to find the right regulatory framework’.
The Secretary of State re-affirmed his support for glyphosate, referring to it as a ‘valuable tool for ensuring we can move towards no-till or min-till agriculture’.
Protected food names
In response to a question from Dundee West MP Chris Law, the Secretary of State pledged to maintain geographical indicator schemes after Brexit to ensure food names continued to be protected from cheap imitation.
Asked if an assessment of Brexit’s effect on food prices had been carried out, Farming Minister George Eustice told MPs the impact of leaving the EU on retail food prices was ‘marginal’.
“In the 18 months leading up to the referendum, food prices fell by 7 per cent, and in the 18 months since they have risen by 4 per cent”, he said.
“Changes in food prices of plus or minus 5 per cent are fairly typical.
“The fact is, whether a country is inside or outside the EU, the key drivers of food prices – weather events, exchange rates and oil prices – remain the same.”
EU convergence uplift funding
Linlithgow and East Falkirk MP Martyn Day slammed the Secretary of State for failing to respond to farming organisations about convergence uplift cash after they wrote to him asking for a review of the situation in September.
“I absolutely recognise the issue of convergence uplifting is ripe for reassessment”, Mr Gove replied.
“I have discussed the issue not just with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary, but with farming union representatives, and I know it will be raised when we meet next week.”
Farming Minister George Eustice told Ceredigion MP Ben Lake the UK would be seeking an agreement with the EU on mutual recognition of veterinary qualifications.
It is hoped such an agreement will allow vets qualifying elsewhere in the EU to continue to work in the UK post-Brexit.