Environmental and animal welfare standards will not be lowered as part of future trade deals, the environment secretary has pledged.
Speaking at this week’s NFU conference, Michael Gove said that rather than lowering standards as part of any new trade deals, the UK should be aiming even higher.
His comments followed a warning from outgoing NFU president Meurig Raymond that UK standards should not be undermined by a bad trade deal during Brexit negotiations.
“Those who advocate a cheap food policy, of scouring the world for low cost food should bear in mind the price paid in traceability, in standards and in the off-shoring of environmental impact,” said Raymond.
Gove said the concerns of farmers and food producers had previously been given insufficient weight in the design and implementation of UK government policy. He said that strengthening the food and drink sector overall was integral to the government’s broader economic policy direction and that driving food and drink exports was the number one priority of the Department for International Trade.
Gove used his speech to promise a new approach to public procurement which would support British food producers. And he revealed that DEFRA had been working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education on policies to improve nutrition, health and wellbeing.
“Rather than feeding ourselves the chemically-adulterated, over-sugared, trans-fat rich processed foods that contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and massive additional pressure on the NHS, there is, rightly, a growing demand that we help more and more people adopt a healthier diet,” he told delegates.
Gove also announced a comprehensive review of the current on-farm inspection regime with the aim of reducing the regulatory burden on farmers.
The FDF welcomed the commitment for food and drink to be at the heart of government thinking, but warned that securing the right Brexit deal was vital to the sector realising its potential. “This means continued barrier-free and tariff-free trade across the island of Ireland and with the EU27,” said director general Ian Wright.