Defra Secretary Michael Gove was told farmers required assurances food imports would not undermine and undercut British food, but refused to be drawn on whether the Government would be able to legislate for this protection.
NFU president Minette Batters said with just 90 days to go until Brexit, British food producers needed certainty about the future trading environment they would be operating in.
Addressing the Secretary of State at the Oxford Farming Conference today (January 3), she said there had been ‘enough warm words and comfort’, and now was the time for concrete commitments.
“If you believe it, write it down,” she said, calling for new laws to protect food standards.
“It is not about chlorinated chicken. It is about food standards and making sure what comes onto our marketplace is produced to the same standards our food is here.”
Mrs Batters also highlighted the threat of importing cheap ingredients and adding value by selling products under the union flag.
"We have had commitment from various ministers saying that we would not want a trade deal that brought food in produced to lower standards, but the real challenge is how," she said.
Last month the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill which stipulated food imports should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare or the environment.
Mr Gove said the Government had ‘no intention’ of lowering standards, adding it would ‘use all the tools available when deciding what the best protection should be’.
Asked by journalists if the Government was reluctant to legislate because it may hinder a trade deal with the US, he said concerns about chlorine washed chicken and hormone treated beef flowing into the UK from the US had been raised during discussions over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and were ‘not new’.
Mr Gove added: “I have been clear we do not intend to lower our standards, as that would lead to uncertainty for the consumer and would undermine the strength of our domestic production and the reputation it enjoys."
He also recognised the need to maintain the UK’s own high environmental and animal welfare standards, adding ‘we must not barter them away in pursuit of a necessarily short-term trade-off’.
Shadow Environment Minister David Drew said Labour would legislate to ensure high food standards were protected. The MP for Stroud also committed to a multi annual framework written into the Agriculture Bill to deliver long term funding for agriculture.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “Ensuring that any future trade deals maintain and promote UK standards as we exit the EU is vital.
"It is time for UK Government and the Secretary of State to move beyond warm words and commit to legislating for this protection.”