MPs have left open the option of allowing future imports of lower-standard food products after they rejected amendments to the trade bill designed to give parliament the power to veto trade deals.
The House of Lords put forward amendments that would have required future trade deals to be scrutinised by parliament as a way of maintaining a level playing field on UK standards, but the motion was defeated by 353 votes to 277.
The government has consistently restated a manifesto commitment to maintain UK standards for foods like chicken and beef, but has refused to make the commitment law despite pressure from farming and environmental groups and widespread public support for protecting UK standards around animal welfare, the environment and public health.
Campaigners said its refusal to accept changes to the trade bill undermined the government’s ambition to make the UK a global green leader. "Maintaining the UK’s world-class environmental and food protections means giving parliament a meaningful say over future trade deals, and we urge the government to put that into law,” said Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF-UK.
The government has created a trade and agriculture commission to provide impact reports for parliament to consider alongside trade agreements. One of its roles is to ensure that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined. However, the NFU warned that the work of the commission will be much weaker if MPs lack the power to vote on deals.
An amendment supported by campaign groups such as Sustain, which which would have added public health and health inequalities as criteria for expertise on the trade and agriculture commission, was also rejected.