The farming community has reacted angrily to Farming Minister Victoria Prentis’ failure to take part in a live Cereals webinar on Brexit and coronavirus this week.
Her absence was particularly noticeable as the argument around trade and standards reached a crescendo, with almost 900,000 people signing an NFU petition on the issue as the Agriculture Bill headed to the House of Lords.
NFU president Minette Batters pointed out grain imports had doubled over the past 10 years, but no information was available about how this product had been produced.
“Many farmers have been struggling to grow key crops since the ban of products like neonicotinoids and chlorothalonil, and now face a double whammy of a trade policy which allows food into the UK produced using the very products which are now illegal here,” she said.
“As we embark on new trading opportunities around the world, it is essential that a level playing field is established.”
Ms Prentis pre-recorded a short presentation for the Cereals session and some answers to questions submitted early.
She also agreed to take part in a 15-minute press conference scheduled after the trade media print deadline, but farmers on social media said her absence was a ‘disgrace’.
One of the pre-recorded questions answered by the Minister was about an amendment tabled to the Agriculture Bill which would allow the UK to break away from restrictive EU rules on gene editing.
Asked whether the Government would support the amendment, put together by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture, Ms Prentis said: “Whether or not this amendment forms part of the Agriculture Bill is still to be decided.
“On gene editing, we do not agree with EU rules and we have pushed for many years for the EU to come to the place we are in.”
Julian Sturdy, chairman of the APPG, told Farmers Guardian the group would urge the Government to take on the amendment to give Britain’s scientists, farmers, plant breeders and animal breeders the same access to new gene editing techniques as their counterparts around the world.