'Food standards are our battleground', says farming leader as general election looms
PUBLISHED: 16:17 01 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:17 01 November 2019
ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434
"Trade and standards are our battleground," declared the nation's leading farmer as she sought to galvanise her Norfolk colleagues ahead of the looming general election.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), travelled to Norfolk to address about 150 members at the county branch's 100th AGM, held at the John Innes Conference Centre on the Norwich Research Park.
She said it was a "huge privilege" to speak to them during their centenary celebration, and outlined the "seismic" issues their industry faces during "the biggest period of reform in living memory".
While labour availability and agricultural policy were critical Brexit issues, she said nothing would be more important during the coming campaign than the debate over trade and food standards.
She said she had been frustrated by ministers' stance of claiming they would improve Britain's animal welfare and environmental standards, while publishing a "catastrophic" no-deal tariff schedule which offered no tariff protection against food imports such as wheat, eggs and potatoes. She said that risked flooding UK markets with cheaper foods produced to lower standards which would be illegal here.
She said: "If we take eggs as a really good example, we are 90pc self-sufficient in eggs at the moment. 13bn eggs are produced per annum here in the UK. In a no-deal situation with no tariff protection we face importing eggs from those very cages that we banned here in 2012.
"I am more than frustrated at ministers' stance on standards. They keep standing on public platforms and saying they will not allow food produced to lower standards to come in. But mostly what they say is we are not going to lower our standards. We are going to have higher standards.
"It is an important point on food safety, absolutely. Chlorinated chicken is safe. Hormone-treated beef is safe. But it is illegal here. This is the point, and this is where poultry is continually such a good example. In the US there is no stocking density legislation, no welfare legislation at all - but we have it and you know the pressure we are under to grow to this better, slower-grown bird.
"We have got to be really careful in this area. It is the battleground for us. Standards is more important than budget, it is more important than anything else, and we have got to absolutely make sure our politicians really, really understand that."