The Bill – the first of its kind to be voted on by MPs electronically – was passed on 13 May. The amendment would have guaranteed imports would have to meet the UK’s high standards for environment, animal welfare and food safety.
Despite support from farming and environmental bodies, as well as senior Conservative party members Neil Parish and Simon Hoare, a move to secure a “level playing field” for UK producers once the country leaves the EU was beaten by 328 votes against to 277 for.
National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland’s director of policy Jonnie Hall said that while it was unsurprising that the amended Bill did not pass, it was still disappointing.
“The UK Agriculture Bill is a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation and it must safeguard the sustainability of domestic food production and the integrity of domestic food consumption,” said Hall.
Pressing for food standards
“Encouragement can be taken from those MPs who argued so strongly yesterday for amendments to the Bill and NFU Scotland will continue to press its case as part a 26-strong UK-wide alliance of agricultural, environmental, animal welfare and consumer groups as the Bill enters the Lords.”
Dominic Watkins, head of food at law firm DWF, warned that any perceived reduction in standards for foods entering the UK market would not be positive and will be difficult for the UK public to accept.
“It would also give a competitive advantage to any produce that is able to avoid the higher and more costly standards that are currently required by UK law,” he added.
Members of the NFU – along with a number of environmental and animal welfare organisations –wrote to all 650 MPs, urging them to ensure the new Agriculture Bill guaranteed that food imported into the UK in any potential trade deals met the same high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection as is expected of UK food producers.
The letter to MPs asked them to speak up for British food and farming in the House of Commons debate on 13 May.
Support from the house
A number of amendments were brought forward, which the organisations said the House should support.
The letter followed a session of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee into the Coronavirus pandemic last week, at which NFU president Minette Batters and other food representatives called on the Government to back British food.
The Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove told a recent committee in the House of Lords that the UK would maintain its own standards of animal welfare, not “because it would win brownie points from the EU” but because they were right for the UK.
In the latest move to support British food, the letter called for agri-food imports that were produced to have at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare, and food safety standards as those required of producers in the UK.
The letter stated: “Today’s debate comes at a time when, due to Brexit, we are fundamentally reassessing our trading relationship with partners in the EU and across the world. It also coincides with one of the most serious crises the world has faced in a generation in the form of the coronavirus, and the ongoing challenges of climate change and biodiversity decline
“We are all agreed that a trade policy that undermines our farmers will mean a common goal of a more prosperous, sustainable and nature-friendly food and farming sector will be made much harder to achieve. And the UK will have missed an opportunity to set out its stall as being serious about tackling its global footprint.”
The letter sent to all 650 MPs was signed by
- Minette Batters, president, National Farmers Union
- Beccy Speight, chief executive, RSPB
- Chris Sherwood, chief executive, RSPCA
- Miriam Turner and Hugh Knowles, co-chief executives, Friends of the Earth
- Mark Bridgeman, president, CLA
- Hilary McGrady, director-general, National Trust
- Helen Browning, chief executive, Soil Association
- Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy, Which?
- Patrick Holden, chief executive, Sustainable Food Trust
- Shaun Spiers, chair, Greener UK and executive director, Green Alliance
- Craig Bennett, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts
- Richard Benwell, chief executive, Wildlife and Countryside Link
- Kath Dalmeny, chief executive, Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming
- John Davies, president, NFU Cymru
- Caroline Drummond, chief executive, LEAF
- George Dunn, chief executive, Tenant Farmers Association
- Ivor Ferguson, president, Ulster Farmers Union
- Jyoti Fernandes, chair, Landworkers Alliance
- Martin Lines, UK chair, Nature-Friendly Farming Network
- Andrew McCornick, president, NFU Scotland
- Darren Moorcroft, chief executive, Woodland Trust
- Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns, WWF-UK
- Doug Parr, chief scientist, Greenpeace
- James Thornton, chief executive, ClientEarth
- James Robinson, conservation director, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
- Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive, Scottish Land & Estates