Farming Minister George Eustice has rejected a call for legal protection of food production standards in trade deals from MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.
Though Defra Secretary Michael Gove and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox have repeatedly said standards will not be lowered in the pursuit of any trade deal, their refusal to commit to legal protection has concerned industry bodies.
As a result, the Efra committee has tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill which stipulated that food imports should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare or the environment.
But when quizzed by committee chair Neil Parish about whether the Government would accept the amendment last week in parliament, Mr Eustice said: “Our view is the types of measure he has outlined would probably not be right, because it is sometimes possible to recognise equivalence and our standards do not have to be identical in drafting regulations.”
Vicki Hird, food and farming co-ordinator at Sustain, told Farmers Guardian the Efra committee’s amendment reflected the views of most political parties and the British public.
“As the Bill progresses, George Eustice will need to be much clearer on what he views as equivalence,” she said.
“One chicken leg may look very much like another, but if one is produced in a country which uses cheap, intensive farming methods and is reliant on the overuse of antibiotics, chlorine washes and dangerously low safety standards for workers, as they do in the United States, then that is not equivalent, in our view, and probably much of the public’s too.
“Equivalence must be about production, not just the product.”