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Furious beet farmers up in arms over sugar imports plans

PUBLISHED: 16:15 07 October 2020 | UPDATED: 16:15 07 October 2020

East Anglian sugar beet growers supply British Sugar factories like this one at Bury St Edmunds with the raw ingredient to make their sugar  Picture: SU ANDERSON

East Anglian sugar beet growers supply British Sugar factories like this one at Bury St Edmunds with the raw ingredient to make their sugar Picture: SU ANDERSON

Government proposals to allow in tariff-free imports of raw cane sugar from around the world has come under fire from angry East Anglian sugar beet farmers.

Sugar beets is an important crop for many East Anglian farmers  Picture: SU ANDERSONSugar beets is an important crop for many East Anglian farmers Picture: SU ANDERSON

The government is consulting on its proposals to allow in 260,000 tonnes of the raw commodity tariff-free. Furious farmers warn the plans could threaten the future of the UK’s home-grown sector.

Euston Estate director Andrew Blenkiron – who grows 18,000 tonnes of sugar beet which has the potential to make more than 3m bags of sugar – branded the proposal “ridiculous”. It demonstrated “all that is bad about a truly free trade policy”, he added.

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“To allow imports with no tariffs is a real slap in the face to hard-working local beet farmers who not only grow the beet as an important part of the rotation on their farms with low environmental footprints including very low food miles, but also supporting very many local jobs,” he said.

Farmers fear jobs including those of farm workers, suppliers, hauliers and British Sugar factory workers at sites including Bury St Edmunds could be put at risk by the move.

The sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds processes a beet crop delivered by farmers  Picture: SU ANDERSONThe sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds processes a beet crop delivered by farmers Picture: SU ANDERSON

“The sugar produced from our beet not only meets the highest food safety standards in the world it is also grown to our Red Tractor standards that ensure protection of the environment – something that we can’t necessarily say for the cane produced sugar that is imported into this country,” said Mr Blenkiron.

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“It is a very important part of our rotation and contributes significantly to the profitability of the farm.”

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) warned the quota could undercut British growers with sugar grown to standards that would be illegal here, as well as threatening a “British success story”. It could also undermine the government’s commitment to developing countries, it added.

East Anglia's home-grown sugar industry could be under threat if government proposals on imports aren't stopped, farmers fear  Picture: SU ANDERSONEast Anglia's home-grown sugar industry could be under threat if government proposals on imports aren't stopped, farmers fear Picture: SU ANDERSON

NFU Sugar Board chairman Michael Sly said the quota could lead to growers choosing not to grow the crop any longer, threatening the future of the sector.

“The government’s proposals to introduce a huge tariff-free quota for raw cane sugar producers would undoubtedly have a significant impact on Britain’s 3,000 sugar beet growers. If it is introduced, it would see our farmers – who follow some of the most stringent regulations in the world – undercut by imported sugar produced in ways that would be illegal here,” he said.

“Tariff-free sugar imports from anywhere in the world would distort the market for British farmers and could force many growers to stop growing sugar beet completely, putting a successful British industry at risk. Years of efficiency gains and technological advances would be threatened. It would be an incredibly short-sighted move with grave ramifications.”

The UK currently provides some of the poorest countries in the world with preferential market access to promote development through trade. But the poorest cane producers in developing countries – largely in southern Africa – would also lose that preferential access, he warned.

Euston Estate's Andrew Blenkiron is up in arms about the government's sugar imports plans  Picture: TUDOR MORGAN-OWENEuston Estate's Andrew Blenkiron is up in arms about the government's sugar imports plans Picture: TUDOR MORGAN-OWEN

Red Tractor logos on sugar bags show that the crop is British-produced.


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