There is much in the Agriculture Bill that I support, including the introduction of a farming payments system that provides public money for public goods, such as protecting the environment, improving animal welfare and supporting public access to the countryside.
However, I am concerned that the Bill lacks the legal guarantees needed to protect our farmers and the public against imported food that is produced to lower health, animal welfare and environmental standards. This omission leaves the door open to cheap, lower quality food imports to the UK, such as chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef, in future trade deals.
In January, a coalition of over 60 farming, animal welfare and environmental organisations, including the NFU, the National Trust, the RSPB and Greenpeace, wrote a joint letter to the Prime Minister calling for a commitment enshrined in law that UK food production standards will not be undermined in post-Brexit trade deals.
The UK Opposition moved an amendment to the Bill at Committee Stage that would require food imports to meet animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards that are at least as high as those required for food produced in the UK. It is disappointing that the UK Government voted against its inclusion in the Bill.
We are facing an environmental and climate emergency, yet this Bill falls short on protecting our environment and climate. At a time when food poverty and foodbank demand are rising rapidly, this Bill must do more to safeguard the nation’s food supply and strengthen support for sustainable food production.
I can assure you that I will seek to strengthen this Bill as it progresses through Parliament to ensure it delivers its aim of supporting British farmers whilst protecting our environment and animal welfare standards.