Jimmy Doherty has voiced his concerns British farmers will be ‘betrayed’ by Government’s future trade deals undermining food standards.
His concerns come after the vote against an Agriculture Bill amendment, which would have banned low standard food imports under future trade deals from entering the UK, sparking industry alarm.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has also urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to undermine food standards, and an NFU ‘food standards petition’ calling for Government to ensure all food imports are produced to the same high standards as British farmers has reached more than 976,000 signatures.
In an opinion piece printed in the Daily Mail, Mr Doherty said Britain’s farms will either lower standards to compete with future trade deals or go bust, destroying ‘farms that have existed for generations’ which are the ‘cornerstone of our civilisation.’
He wrote: “During times of strife, whether it was the Second World War or now the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers are on the front line, feeding the nation.
“They are key workers, like the NHS or the military. We must respect and protect them.”
But Mr Doherty warned the issue is about accountability, not sentimentality.
He said: “That [accountability] is what we are going to throw away if we let big American producers export their beef to Britain without ensuring that it meets the same field-to-fork standards as those upheld by our own farmers.
“We currently have one of the safest food systems in the world, yet we are in danger of giving it up.
“If the US gets its way in trade talks, Britain will be importing chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-pumped beef, pork from pigs fed growth-promoters, and grain treated with a plethora of pesticides and insecticides that are banned in the UK.
“This makes a mockery of everything British farmers have been trying to do for the past 20 years and will cost us yet more of our food sovereignty.”
Mr Doherty was quick to point out anecdotal differences in food production between the UK and the US, stating America offers ‘more, cheaper, and faster’.
He added: “We still want to trade with EU countries, but if we lower our production standards of beef, lamb, pork and poultry so that our farmers have a level playing field with those in America, then the EU would reject our produce.
“So, we would open ourselves up to an American market which we would struggle to get into, and close ourselves off from one we want to retain, in the EU.
“And, let us face it, the truth is that America does not really want our food, not in massive quantities, although it is happy to import British specialities such as cheddar cheese.
“Do not get me wrong, I am not anti-trade – and I am certainly not anti-American trade.
“I have met wonderful farmers in the US who are dedicated to quality produce, but there are systems in place there that simply would not match the way we do things here.”
Mr Doherty also expressed his fears future trade deals with the US could see an end to detailed labelling, with consumers ‘shopping blind’, and warned the consequences will be more than economic.
He concluded: “Our Government has made promises and must keep them. It owes our farmers leadership and reassurance.
“If those promises are broken, it would be no less than a betrayal of our family farms, our nation’s health and hard-won consumer trust in the ’open book’ farming which means that what we see in the field is what we get on our plates.
“It would be a tragedy to lose it.”