The Government has been forced to reiterate its promise that health and animal welfare standards will not be dropped post-Brexit after reports suggested Australia will demand Britain accept hormone-treated beef as part of any future trade deal.
The hormones in question promote rapid growth in livestock and cut the time it takes to send animals to the food chain, but the EU has banned them on human health grounds – a move repeatedly challenged by the USA, with some success, at the World Trade Organisation.
Despite Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s insistence standards will be maintained after Brexit, some fear intense political pressure to secure new trade deals with countries which allow cattle to be treated with hormones could force the UK to lift the ban.
One of those countries, identified by Trade Secretary Liam Fox as a ‘top priority’ to sign a trade agreement with, is Australia. A bilateral working group was set up to discuss a deal as early as September 2016.
Farmers Union of Wales’ (FUW) president Glyn Roberts said it would be ‘an outrage’ if British supermarket shelves were flooded with produce which does not meet the UK’s high standards.
“Yes, we need trade deals, but they should not compromise the quality of food available in this country”, he added.
“The EU previously banned hormone-treated beef from the US, protecting our markets, so to accept it in this country now would not sit well with consumers or producers.”
NFU chief livestock adviser John Royle also pointed to the UK’s high standards and called on the Government to ensure a level playing field for British farmers as it negotiates new deals.
“New markets for British food across the globe could further farming’s contribution to the economy, but we do not believe the British public would want our own farmers to be put at a competitive disadvantage by allowing the import of food produced to different standards and using methods which are not allowed in Britain”, he added.
A Department for International Trade spokesman told Farmers Guardian the Government was committed to a ‘mutually beneficial’ trading arrangement with Australia, but pointed out Ministers had been very clear the UK would maintain its high animal welfare and environmental standards.
It is estimated a third of the global population work in agriculture - making it the single largest employer in the world.
Check out Jobs in Agriculture for the latest vacancies from this vast and varied industry.