Suffolk farmer and TV presenter Jimmy Doherty has warned of dire consequences for British agriculture and the health of the nation, if the government does not stand by its promise to prevent food imports that would be illegal to produce here.
In a column for the Daily Mail, he says importing such food in order to secure a trade deal with the US ‘makes a mockery of everything British farmers have been trying to do for the past 20 years.’
His comments follow calls from various organisations, public figures and consumers, to amend the Agriculture Bill – now at the committee stage at the House of Lords – to prevent lower quality food imports from countries such as the US.
More, cheaper, faster
Jimmy describes his experience visiting a farm in California where he saw a feedlot containing tens of thousands of cattle without a single blade of grass to stand on or eat –compared to his 60-strong beef herd which go to the slaughterhouse with a passport enabling the consumer to trace it back to him.
Noting that in Britain we have one of the safest food systems in the world, he warns that we are ‘in danger of giving it up’ if we allow lower standard imports in order to secure trade deals.
‘American mass farming is different from ours,’ he writes. ‘Industry leaders produce food the way Henry Ford made cars or Coca-Cola makes Coke. They offer more, cheaper, and faster.
‘If this meat and grain comes to Britain unchecked, our farmers will have two options: lower their standards in an attempt to compete, or go bust because they won’t.
‘This will destroy farms that have existed for generations – and farming is not the kind of industry you can turn on and off. Once that deal is signed, there will be no going back.’
Many have argued that British consumers will be able to vote with their feet and choose British products over cheap imports, but Jimmy fears that a trade deal favouring the US will end detailed food labelling, meaning consumers could end up shopping blind.
And the consequences won’t just be economic…
On a past trip to Mexico, Jimmy says he saw a three-year-old boy having all of his teeth removed at a dental surgery, as a result of eating food full of high-fructose corn syrup from the US. While Mexico was once one of the healthiest nations in the world, a three-way trade deal with Canada and the US had devastating consequences for the country’s agriculture, causing a spike in leg amputations due to uncontrollable diabetes.
In the UK, we can currently be assured of quality and safety, even when choosing cheaper products, but if we allow imports of products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, it will be lower income households who suffer most.
Jimmy clarifies that he is not anti-trade, nor is he anti-American trade, but if a trade deal is made, imported products must match our high standards – as indeed, British farmers are already required to do when exporting to the US. While he says he has met ‘wonderful farmers’ in the US who are ‘dedicated to quality produce’, there are systems there ‘that simply wouldn’t match the way we do things’.
Furthermore, if we lower our own production standards to compete, the EU will reject our produce, he notes.
Jimmy describes British farms as ‘the beating heart of our local communities’ and ‘a cornerstone of our civilisation’.
‘During times of strife, whether it was the Second World War or now the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers are on the frontline, feeding the nation. They are key workers, like the NHS or the military. We must respect and protect them,’ he adds.
Concluding, Jimmy said the government must keep its promise to British farmers, not to allow them to be undercut by cheap imports.
‘If those promises are broken, it would be no less than a betrayal of our family farms, our nation’s health and hard-won consumer trust in the ‘open book’ farming which means that what we see in the field is what we get on our plates.
‘It would be a tragedy to lose it.’
A petition calling on the government to send the Agriculture Bill back to the House of Commons for amendment, has now passed one million signatures. Sign it here: https://www.campaigns.nfuonline.com/page/56262/petition/1