Farm groups and a cross-party coalition of politicians are joining forces to press for a legal commitment to protect UK food production standards in post-Brexit trade deals.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove and Trade Secretary Liam Fox have both made verbal promises not to lower standards in the pursuit of future agreements, but there are no current proposals to enshrine those pledges in law.
The plans to force the Government’s hand were revealed as the Agriculture Bill was given its second reading in the House of Commons this week.
The NFU has been briefing MPs on the need for the Bill to contain a clause which protects UK production standards, while food and farming alliance Sustain is working on drawing up such an amendment.
Stuart Roberts, NFU vice president, said: “We are hearing great words, but unless we see something in legislation, those words could very quickly be traded away.”
Conservative peer and ex-MP Anne McIntosh told Farmers Guardian there would be pushback from the House of Lords on the issue.
“We have a cross-party group in the House of Lords which wants to make sure our farmers do not have to face unfair competition from across the world,” she said.
“We have asked our farmers to produce to the highest animal health, welfare and hygiene standards and they should not be undermined.
“A lot of the work will be done in the Commons, but we will have the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill, and the Implementation Bill [to implement any withdrawal agreement], so there will be more than one opportunity for change.”
Mr Roberts agreed.
He said: “If I was an MP or a Minister, I might well say the Agriculture Bill is not the place to do this, but the Trade Bill absolutely is.
“I do not care which bit of legislation they end up putting it in as long as we move from personal commitments to legislation.
“That is what is has to be, because today’s politicians are potentially not here tomorrow, whereas legislation potentially lasts forever.”