Defra Secretary Michael Gove has hinted the Government could drop tariffs on food which is not produced in the UK to reduce prices for shoppers after Brexit.
The farming industry was alarmed earlier this week by Mr Gove’s comments on BBC Radio 4 that food will become cheaper as production standards are raised.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said at the time his remarks had posed ‘many very serious questions’, but Mr Gove offered clarification to Farmers Guardian at an event the union hosted in parliament for new MPs on Tuesday evening.
When asked how he planned to raise standards while reducing food prices, he said: “The price of food is a consequence of a huge variety of factors and actually, one of the things anyone would recognise is high environmental standards and high animal welfare standards are in no way inconsistent with making sure people can have competitively priced, good quality food. Quite the opposite – the two go naturally together.”
“We can also recognise there are some foodstuffs we do not produce in this country, which we can import from abroad”, he added.
“We can perhaps have an approach which will ensure some foodstuffs which we do not currently grow or develop in this country can come here at a cheaper price, while in no way compromising on quality or welfare.”
At the meeting, which was attended by over 90 MPs from all parties and all four Defra Ministers, Mr Gove promised to do more to support dairy farmers with fairer contracts and mandatory price reporting in response to a request from the NFU’s dairy board chairman, Michael Oakes.
He also pledged to improve food labelling post-Brexit and build on the work he had done as Education Secretary in encouraging children to learn about food.
The news came as the Queen’s Speech revealed Government plans to bring forward an Agriculture Bill in the next two years.
The Bill will ensure a system is in place to support farmers and protect the natural environment as the UK leaves the Common Agricultural Policy, but amendments could be tabled which push for wider change.
A Customs Bill to give the UK its own customs regime, Trade Bill to allow Britain to negotiate deals around the world and an Immigration Bill to control migration will also be relevant to farming.