MPs voted by 332 to 279 to reject the amendment proposing to enshrine food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards in UK law.
National Farmers Union president Minette Batters said: “Once again the Commons has debated the Agriculture Bill without any binding commitments on how to safeguard our farmers’ high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection in our trade policy.
“While I was very heartened to hear many MPs express support for safeguarding our food standards, it was particularly disappointing that they were unable to vote on Lord Curry’s amendment that would strengthen the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and with it the role of Parliament to have proper scrutiny of new trade deals.
“The future of British food and farming is at stake. 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. I hope the Agriculture Bill returning to the House of Lords gives a new opportunity for the Lords to put forward an amendment that will give the Commission more teeth and enable MPs to have their say; one that can be heard by the House of Commons, with a final vote to see those safeguards put in place.”
The National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland responded by stating: "Despite the UK Government’s assurances and its own manifesto commitment that it will not compromise our high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection, it did not back a new clause in last night’s debate in Parliament that would have enshrined these principles in law.
"Instead, it chose to overturn a large majority of support in the Lords for an amendment that would have upheld the requirement that future trade deals must not curtail our ability to grow our reputation for quality food and drink by undercutting domestic production with imports produced to standards that would be illegal or unacceptable here.
"The amendment would have not only provided safeguards for domestic producers but would have provided the government with enough flexibility to avoid unintended barriers to rolling over existing trade arrangements or ensuring imports from developing countries were not adversely affected.
"Having also secured significant support within the House of Lords for a further clause which would have ensured more appropriate governance and scrutiny of trade negotiations for MPs and the Department for International Trade’s Trade and Agriculture Commission, NFU Scotland was equally disappointed that this sensible and pragmatic amendment was not selected for a vote due to compatibility issues with the Bill’s agreed Money Resolution."
The response from farming unions followed the House of Lords tabling two amendments to the Agriculture Bill requiring Government commitment to high food standards in any trade deal and independent scrutiny of such deals. The Government voted against these changes in the House of Commons yesterday (12 October).
Stringent food import standards
NFU Scotland said it hoped the Lords could work on a redrafted amendment that would still require stringent food import standards.
NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said: “Farmers, crofters and growers in Scotland must be enabled by the current and future governments to reach a thriving export market in a manner which builds on our existing, world-leading standards of production.
“This ambition goes hand-in-glove with the UK Government’s own manifesto commitment not to compromise the UK’s standards of animal welfare and environmental protection. For this reason, NFU Scotland and the vast majority of our members are bitterly disappointed that the amendment was not supported. It is an ambition that has received unprecedented levels of public support and celebrity endorsement, which we welcome.
“I will continue to advocate at every turn to ensure that Scottish and UK standards of production are considered in the negotiation of new and other trade agreements. I firmly believe that is what the public wish to see.”
Chartered Institute of Environmental Health
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has been contacting MPs and peers, urging them to press the Government to keep its word on maintaining the UK’s high food standards as the Brexit transition period nears its end. The organisation is also continuing to lobby the Government to fully protect UK standards in the flagship Trade Bill currently making its way through parliament.
Gary McFarlane, CIEH Northern Ireland director, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Government and MPs have chosen to reject this important amendment that would have ensured all food imports meet the UK’s high domestic standards. The failure to guarantee UK standards will be maintained in future deal poses a serious threat to our environment, animal welfare, food safety, and, crucially, the public health of the nation.
"As trade talks with the US and other countries progress, without legal protections, there is a real risk that products like chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef could soon be making their way to British dinner plates. We are at a loss to understand why Ministers are ready to pay lip service to protecting our country’s cherished food standards but continually refuse to back up their commitments in legislation."
Sue Davies, head of consumer protection at Which?, said: “This is a disappointing setback and the government’s decision to reject this amendment to the Agriculture Bill will be a cause of concern for the British people who are overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining our existing food standards.
“The government has repeatedly committed to protecting food standards, however without cast-iron legislation these standards remain at risk of being undermined by future food imports and post-Brexit trade deals.
“It is essential that the government respects the views of the public and does not make any attempt to change laws to allow products that are currently banned into this country.”