Don’t allow trade deals to undermine our food standards, plead Norfolk farmers
- Credit: IAN BURT
The government’s ambitions for an “export-led and high-productivity recovery” from the coronavirus crisis must not be allowed to compromise the nation’s high food standards, said Norfolk farmers.
Ministers including South West Norfolk MP and international trade secretary Liz Truss have pledged that Britain’s environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards will not be undermined during the pursuit of new post-Brexit trade deals.
But farming leaders remain concerned about the threat of damaging competition from cheap food imports produced to lower standards than would be accepted here.
It follows the debate on the Agriculture Bill earlier this month, which provoked an angry reaction from farmers in East Anglia after a majority of MPs voted against an amendment which would have guaranteed that the UK’s standards would have to be met by any imported produce entering the country under post-Brexit trade deals.
It prompted renewed calls for the creation of trade, food and farming standards commission to review policy and promote free trade while holding all food imports to the UK’s high standards.
Tony Bambridge, managing director of B and C Farming at Marsham, is also Norfolk council delegate for the National Farmers’ Union.
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He said: “The fear that farmers have is this: When you come onto a British farm you will find that people care about health and safety, because they care about people. We want to care for the environment and we are putting ever-stronger controls on it. British people also care passionately about animals and even those who eat meat want to see those animals cared for in the best possible way.
“As a society, we have decided we are not going to use GM technology and we are going to reduce the number of pesticides we use, and if there is any threat or risk to them then we are going to take that out of the system.
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“That is what we have done, and all of that for a good reason. Without a standards commission on food, we are left to individual politicians to do a trade deal to decide what food comes into the country. If we are dealing with countries that do not have these same standards, then products could come into our markets that could fundamentally undermine a section of our trade. And if we have a section of our trade undermined on price, it does affect all the trade and all the businesses.
“That is what farmers don’t want. They don’t want to ruin that trust and they want it enshrined in law.
“Our politicians tell us they are not going to let the public down by allowing food of lower standards into our food chain. I am not saying I don’t believe Liz Truss when she says it won’t happen. The thing about having a trade standards commission is if Liz Truss changes her mind or if someone else takes over it would not matter, because it would be taken out of an individual’s gift. I think that is quite a robust system, particularly when it is such a complex area.”
READ MORE: Farmers demand clear answers from government over Trade Bill concernsMs Truss said international trade deals should be seen as an opportunity for Norfolk farmers, rather than a threat.
She said: “Coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced in decades. This government is working hard to ensure that we are best placed to achieve an export-led and high-productivity recovery. I want us to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.
“We will not undermine our high domestic environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.
“Now that we have left the EU, my team and I will be firm in any trade negotiation to ensure that future trade deals benefit farmers and consumers across the UK. I have always been a vocal supporter of the great British produce and in Norfolk we have the best of quality food and drink. Just think of the Norfolk Peer Potatoes, Traditional Norfolk Poultry, Bullards Gin, and Swannington Farm to Fork, the list really could be endless.
“That is why I am determined that British produce is protected but can also compete on the world stage. For example, food and farming exports to Japan have increased by over 14pc a year since 2017, and over a third of our malting grain exports go to Japan – good news for East Anglia grain growers as we begin ambitious trade talks with Japan.
“We will, however, always ensure that UK FTAs (Free Trade Agreements) are fair and reciprocal. British farmers will not face unbalanced competition.
“Our analysis shows that the agri-food sector will benefit from a comprehensive trade agreement – an agreement will also benefit all parts of the UK, including Norfolk.
“Trade deals around the globe do not threaten our agricultural producers. Instead they provide them with opportunities. In Norfolk we’re proud farmers and seafarers, so let us once more go out into the world.”