Signing a trade deal to allow the import of food that would be illegal to produce in the UK would be not only “morally bankrupt”, it would be “insane”, said Minette Batters at the NFU Conference this week.
In her opening speech, she said 2020 will be the most significant year for British farming and food in living memory. Now is the time for leadership, she added, as the UK has the opportunity to shape a trade, immigration and agricultural policy that will define it for decades to come.
Facing the challenges of climate change, declining biodiversity and improving animal welfare, however, will not be achieved by focusing on price and ignoring the “hidden cost” of how food is produced, she added.
“This year, the government must show global leadership, insist that UK farm standards are the benchmark for climate-friendly farming around the world, and that whoever wants to trade with us trades on our terms,” she stressed.
She reiterated concerns about chlorinated chicken, battery cage egg production, meat and bone meal in feed and prophylactic use of antibiotics – all of which is illegal in the UK, but permitted in some other countries.
“To sign up to a trade deal which results in opening our ports, shelves and fridges to food which would be illegal to produce here would not only be morally bankrupt… it would be the work of the insane,” she said.
“This goes wider than what’s good for farming. This is about what’s good for Britain.
“So when the Prime Minister or any other member of government is overseas discussing trade, our ask is that they start promoting British foods and the values we hold here about safety, quality and welfare.”
However, she acknowledged that it is “complicated” and will involve some trade-offs, which is why it is “absolutely vital” that a specialist body of experts is set up to oversee trade regulations, coupled with legislation to ensure those experts are listened to.
“This isn’t just about chlorinated chicken… This is about a wider principle – we must not tie the hands of British farmers to the highest rung of the standards ladder… whilst waving through food imports which may not even reach the bottom rung.”