Several people have been in touch who appear to have been misled into thinking that Tuesday’s vote on the Agriculture Bill was somehow a vote against our high food standards. This is not the case. In fact, the amendment to the bill which was defeated was well meaning but I believe unnecessary as well as having some negative unintended consequences.
One example of misinformation is a campaign to scare consumers into believing that the UK could be flooded with chlorinated chicken and beef stuffed with hormones. These products are already banned and the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions into UK law in January after the transition period ends.
Voting any other way would have put up new trade barriers and prevented the Government from being able to agree fair and mutually beneficial trade deals. Forcing all our trading partners to produce to UK domestic standards would only result in fewer export opportunities for our own farmers. In addition, a vote any other way would have caused real challenges for many of the world’s poorest economies. I’m sure that most of my constituents would not support a law that could ban imports of tea, coffee and bananas into the UK, or that effectively bans food imports from developed nations which have a trade deal with us – but allows them from those that don’t.
Any trade negotiations the Government conducts will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards. In fact, all animal products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the EU and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now. These standards have been built up over many years and have the trust of the public and the world. I know the Government will not adjust those standards to secure trade deals. The standards will be based on science and decided by the UK alone. The UK already imports food from countries such as Canada, South Africa and Japan through preferences in existing free trade agreements – none of these agreements require those countries to follow domestic UK production standards.
I know how highly the British public value traditional family farming and the quality produce they provide. The UK Government will not undermine the position of family farms in any future trade negotiations. In fact, I know the Department for International Trade has been supporting family farms through the Coronavirus crisis by helping them gain access to invaluable export opportunities. Farming is a bedrock of our economy and environment, generating £112 billion a year and helping shape some of our finest habitats and landscapes. I am pleased that the Government has guaranteed the annual farm budget for each year of this Parliament and nearly £3 billion will top up the remaining EU funding to match the total funding for direct payments that was available for 2019.
I am pleased that the Government is engaging with the agricultural sector, including the National Farmers Union, as part of its trade discussions. The government has established the Trade and Agriculture Commission as well as trade advisory groups, ensuring that British farmers, businesses, and consumers will play a central role in the nation’s trade policy. It is encouraging that Ministers share my determination to ensure our future trade agreements will deliver benefits for our brilliant farmers and food producers.
The Commission will ensure close engagement with the agriculture industry to help inform, shape and guide agricultural trade policy. It will be independently chaired by food safety expert Tim Smith, a former Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency. Within a fixed term the Commission will consider trade policies that the Government should adopt to secure opportunities for UK farmers, producers and exporters. The Commission will also ensure the agriculture sector remains competitive and that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined.