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Farm groups express fury at Government plans to accept US food safety standards

Farm groups have expressed their fury after reports suggested the Government is preparing to break away from EU food safety rules at an upcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit.

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Farm groups express fury at Government plans to accept US food safety standards

According to City AM, Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s permanent representative to the WTO, is due to make a ‘clear statement about future intentions’ on areas such as beef hormones, gene editing, genetic modification and the use of peracetic acid to wash poultry at a future meeting on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.

 

The move comes just days after several leading farm groups, including the NFU, National Sheep Association, Livestock Auctioneers Association, TFA, NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru and the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) told Farmers Guardian they wanted new Defra Secretary George Eustice to make the protection of standards in trade deals a key priority.

 

At the Oxford Farming Conference in January, former Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers said the Government would not compromise the UK’s high food, environmental or animal welfare standards, and the Conservative manifesto promised the same, but Ministers have so far refused to write any safeguards into domestic legislation.


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Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of food and farming alliance Sustain, said: “If this is true, it is an outrageous betrayal of the British people and deeply worrying for our farmers.

 

“The PM himself promised our food standards would not be lowered to secure trade deals.

 

“Consumers have repeatedly said they do not want hormone-injected, chlorine-rinsed, antibiotic-intensive food. These processes often mask terrible animal welfare conditions.

 

“The UK should be leading the way in high-quality, high-welfare food, not bending over backwards to please the United States.”

 

Echoed

 

FUW president Glyn Roberts echoed these concerns.

 

“We truly hope the UK Government does not go down a road which is reckless in terms of our trading relationship with the EU, protecting human health, environmental and animal health and welfare standards,” he said.

 

“There would be a significant backlash from consumers and farmers alike if that were to happen.”

 

If Mr Braithwaite makes the statement as reported, it would allow the Government to sidestep normal processes of scrutiny in Parliament, where MPs are overwhelmingly opposed to any change in standards.

 

Block

 

Earlier this month, the Labour Party voted to block the passage of the Agriculture Bill because it did not include any legal protections for food production standards.

 

Though the attempt to vote down the legislation failed due to the large Conservative majority in the House of Commons, one Tory MP, Simon Hoare, warned the Government should ‘expect trouble’ from its own side if guarantees to protect standards were not introduced during committee stage.

 

TFA chief executive George Dunn said: “There is now a worrying pattern of the Government rowing back on promises it has made.

 

“This is against the unprecedented unison of opinion that we must protect our standards, and why we have to insist we nail into legislation a requirement that our standards are protected in trade”.

 

Difficulties

 

NFU president Minette Batters has previously spoken of the difficulties the union has had in engaging with the Department for International Trade, which is known to be at loggerheads with Defra on the standards issue.

 

Speaking to FG late last year, she said: “We have been trying to get a meeting with Liz Truss ever since she has been in office,” she said.

 

“I was due to meet her, but then they went into purdah [the pre-election period] and they cancelled the meeting.

 

“We are getting Boris Johnson talking about higher standards, but the Department for International Trade is silent in this area.”

 

A Government spokesperson for the Department for International Trade said: "We simply do not recognise these spurious claims.

 

"We remain firmly committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety standards outside the EU.

 

"The Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure our future trade deals live up to the values of farmers and consumers across the UK."

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