The eagerly anticipated National Food Strategy (NFS) for England has set out a number of formal recommendations for protecting food production standards in trade deals.
Part One of the plan, first commissioned by former Defra Secretary Michael Gove in 2018, said the Government should only agree to cut tariffs on products which meet the UK’s core standards – to be defined by the new Trade and Agriculture Commission.
These standards could cover food safety, public health, animal welfare and the prevention of severe environmental damage, such as the clearing of rainforest for beef grazing.
The strategy goes on to recommend verification programmes be established to allow foreign producers to prove they meet the UK’s requirements.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the strategy’s publication, Henry Dimbleby, who headed up the NFS team, said: “I have been very confident all along that the Government will find some way to ensure we do not just have high standards here and export animal harm and environmental damage abroad in the form of low standard imports.
“A, it was in their manifesto, and B, it is so important to people I just do not think it is politically viable to do anything else.”
The strategy also recommends the Government should have a statutory duty to commission an independent report on all proposed trade agreements, assessing their impact on economic productivity, food safety and public health, the environment and climate change, society and labour, human rights and animal welfare.
This assessment could be carried out by a new body, similar to those in Australia, Canada and the USA, or performed by independent consultants as in the EU.
It also calls for Government to have a legal duty to give Parliament the time to properly scrutinise any new trade deals, allowing for a debate and a ‘yes or no’ vote on the agreement – a measure recently rejected by MPs in the House of Commons during the passage of the Trade Bill.
Asked by Farmers Guardian how confident he was that the NFS recommendations would be accepted, Mr Dimbleby said: “It is clearly very politically fraught, but the Government should be confident as a newly sovereign nation to expose itself to the gold standard of scrutiny.
“I hope they welcome this recommendation in the positive way in which it is meant. All trade deals are, by definition, a series of compromises and all mature trading nations are quite explicit about the decisions they make.
“I think this Government should follow suit.”
Part Two of the strategy, which will include a comprehensive plan to transform the food system, will be published in 2021.