A committee of Members of the United Kingdom’s Parliament (MPs) is seeking assurances on food standards after Brexit.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee put forward an amendment regarding trade deals and food standards to a major piece of legislation.
The Agriculture Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in September and examines what is needed in the agricultural industry after the UK’s exit from the European Union in March 2019 – also known as Brexit. Members of the House of Commons are elected and it is the main place for law making.
The Committee called on the government to “put its money where its mouth is” and accept the amendment. It states that food imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment.
As part of the inquiry into the Agriculture Bill, the Committee heard from Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and George Eustice, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Nick Allen, chief executive officer of the British Meat Processors Association; David Brown, policy adviser at Horticultural Trades Association and David Christensen from Arla Foods also gave evidence.
Seventy-five items of written evidence were also analyzed from groups including the UK Pesticides Campaign, British Egg Industry Council, Dairy UK, The Food Foundation, National Farmers’ Union, National Pig Association, Sustain, British Poultry Council, Soil Association and consumer group Which?
Conservative MP Neil Parish, chair of the cross-party committee, said the UK has exceptionally high environmental and food standards and an internationally recognized approach to animal welfare.
“This legacy cannot be ripped apart by the introduction of cheap, low-quality goods following our exit from the European Union. Imports produced to lower standards than ours pose a very real threat to UK agriculture. Without sufficient safeguards we could see British farmers significantly undermined while turning a blind eye to environmental degradation and poor animal welfare standards abroad,” he said.
“Our suggested amendment calls for agricultural goods to be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced are as high as, or higher than, current UK standards.”
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesperson said ministers have clearly stated the UK will not lower standards when entering new trade agreements.
“Ministers have always been absolutely clear that we will not water down our high standards in pursuit of trade deals. Our food security is built on a strong domestic production base and access to safe, high quality imports from a diverse range of countries. When we seek access to foreign markets, we adopt and abide by the customs and rules in those markets. This is what countries will have to do when they seek access to our markets too,” according to the spokesperson.
Other areas prioritized by the EFRA Committee were the transition from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to a new system based on public money for public goods and fairness in the supply chain.
The Committee recommended there should be a multiannual financial framework to provide a long-term commitment to agriculture and the Groceries Code Adjudicator should oversee the proposed fair dealing obligations for first purchasers of agricultural products and not the Rural Payments Agency.
Parish said the Committee was concerned by the extent to which powers have been delegated.
“This bill lacks clarity and gives any future secretary of state the opportunity to avoid scrutiny and make crucial decisions while going somewhat unchallenged. We would like to see sufficient opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny before any new systems or policies are rolled out,” Parish said.
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