Farming leaders criticise MPs’ ‘disappointing’ vote on imported food standards
PUBLISHED: 14:47 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:09 13 October 2020
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Farming leaders in East Anglia have criticised a “disappointing decision” by MPs who voted against new legal safeguards aimed at protecting food growers from “a flood of cheap imports”.
The House of Commons debated Lords amendments to the Agriculture Bill, including one which sought to guarantee that food products imported under post-Brexit trade deals were produced to the same quality, animal welfare and environmental standards required of British farmers.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman and Waveney MP Peter Aldous were among only 14 rebel Tory backbenchers who supported the Labour-backed amendment, while all other Norfolk and Suffolk MPs voted along party lines as it was defeated by 332 votes to 279.
READ MORE: MPs defeat bid to bolster legal safeguards against cheap food imports
The government argued that the amendment was unnecessary, as the nation’s current import and food safety standards are already enshrined in existing legislation, and the change could jeopardise trade deals with other countries in other climates where UK standards may not be appropriate.
But despite repeated promises from ministers that the UK’s high farming standards would not be undermined by any import deals, farming leaders are still worried that without a legally-binding commitment in the Agriculture Bill the door has been left open to substandard foods produced using methods which are illegal here, exposing East Anglian farmers to unfair competition.
Gary Ford, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “This was a disappointing decision but we’re grateful to the MPs who spoke out so strongly in support of our food and farming standards during the debate.
“We have come a long way in a short period. The million-strong petition [following an NFU campaign to protect UK food standards] shows that people care passionately about where their food comes from and they don’t want to see our world-leading environmental and animal welfare standards undermined in future trade deals.
“This isn’t the end of the road. The legislation now returns to the Lords and there is still time to amend it. We will continue to make the case for changes that would allow the government to pursue its trade policy, while giving Parliament greater scrutiny of trade agreements.”
Nick Sandford, acting regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East), said: “Time and again ministers have promised to protect British farmers from a flood of cheap imports produced to animal welfare and environmental standards far below our own. They must now make good on that promise and show that such trust is well placed to protect the vital farming industry in the East of England.
“Farmers across our region will be watching government’s every move very closely from hereon in. The CLA will do all it can to support government efforts to promote free trade – so long as their guarantee to uphold our standards and values is maintained permanently.”
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