The National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling for the government to establish a new commission to ensure UK food standards are not undermined by Brexit trade deals.
NFU President Minette Batters has written to the environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, asking her to establish a trade and standards commission to ensure the UK’s future trade policy does not undermine British farming’s high environmental and animal welfare standards.
There are fears among both farming and environmental groups that a rush to do trade deals with countries like the US will lead to imports of foods, including chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef, produced to lower welfare and environmental standards than is required in the UK.
At the NFU’s Conference in February, former Defra secretary Michael Gove agreed to the NFU’s request to introduce the commission but the body has yet to be established.
Batters said that British farmers, and the public, needed assurance that the UK’s high welfare and environmental standards would not be undermined by the UK’s post-Brexit trade policy.
“In recent weeks, we have consistently heard that the prospects of a trade deal between the UK and the USA can be negotiated quickly, and both the US government and the US food industry have been clear that they expect existing regulatory barriers relating to standards of production to be removed,” said Batters. “Alongside this, in the event of a no-deal the UK government plans to reduce import tariffs on nearly all imports of agricultural products, effectively removing the only protection that currently prevents food which has been produced to lower standards coming into the UK."
Batters added that even if the UK leaves the EU with a deal, there is a “very real risk” that farmers will have to compete with food imports that have been produced using methods and products that would be illegal on British farms. She said this would “not only be a betrayal of our values but of British farmers whose businesses would be undercut, as with lower standards comes lower costs of production”.
The NFU’s proposal for a trade and standards commission would bring together government officials, industry representatives, environmental and welfare groups, and experts in food and farming. It would produce a report making recommendations on how future trade policy should be developed while respecting and upholding UK standards of production.
There are also concerns that the Agriculture Bill, which would enshrine in law the principle of public money for public goods, will be scrapped in its current form. Farmers Guardian reported that the bill is set to fall this month because it has made no progress through Parliament since November last year and will need to be carried over into a new session if it is to pass.