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It is time to back British farming
In its manifesto for the 2019 General Election – just ten months ago – the Conservative Party pledged to “raise standards” in areas such as “animal welfare, agriculture and the environment.” 
But last week, the majority of Conservative MPs voted to reject an amendment to the Agriculture Bill (put forward by members of the House of Lords) that future agricultural and food imports would need to meet domestic standards in terms of animal health/welfare and food safety.

It was lost by 332 votes to 279, with just 14 Conservative MPs voting for the amendment.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, local MP George Eustice, has stated that the UK Government already has the “legal powers to protect our food standards and animal welfare so the amendment tabled was not necessary.” He added that there was a “clear commitment” from the Government to uphold such standards in future trade deals, but many want such assurances to be enshrined in law.

Rebels included former farmer and Devon MP Neil Parish, who chairs the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and appealed to his parliamentary colleagues to ensue the legislation was a “great beacon” on animal welfare and the environment “when negotiating future trade deals.” I feel he was right when he told MPs: “Would it not be right for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have the armour of having the backing of Parliament to say ‘I can’t negotiate away that particular part of the deal with you because it is written down in law’?”

It is most telling that representatives of the farming industry have been very critical of what happened in the House of Commons.

The NFU in Scotland said that the vast majority of their members were “bitterly disappointed” that the amendment had not been supported, which it described as “an ambition that has received unprecedented levels of public support.”

NFU President Minette Batters meanwhile expressed concern that the linked proposal for a Trade and Agriculture Commission (with guaranteed parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals) was not even considered because of some opaque parliamentary procedure. It remains her view that “the future of British food and farming is at stake” and that “without proper safeguards on future trade deals we risk seeing an increase in food imports that have been produced to standards that would be illegal here.”

It seems to me that the UK Government needs to revisit its position and legislate to back British farming.
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Published on 19th November 2020.

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