A debate on the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords has seen peers slam the breaks on potential imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, by voting in favour of a clause that would require food imports to meet domestic standards.
Farming and veterinary groups have long been calling for changes to the proposed Agriculture Bill, to ensure that future trade deals do not allow the import of food that would be illegal to produce in the UK.
An increasingly public campaign has seen over 1 million people sign an NFU petition calling for the bill to be amended, with many concerned about US imports in particular.
Yesterday (22nd September), the House of Lords debated and voted on several amendments that would require imports to meet high animal welfare standards, and one that would require the state to consider animal sentience in policy development.
An amendment on food standards was voted through, defeating the government by 95 votes.
Responding to the news, NFU president Minette Batters said: “It is fantastic that the House of Lords have voted for Lord Curry’s amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which would allow parliament to be provided with independent advice about the impact every trade deal will have on our food and farming standards.
“We believe the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission is crucial to providing proper parliamentary oversight of our future trade policy and it is encouraging to see peers support this view.
“Last night the House of Lords reflected the strength of feeling on this issue in the country at large. They were right to strengthen the Agriculture Bill to provide better scrutiny of future trade deals. I hope MPs will not ignore this strength of feeling when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.”
President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), James Russell, also welcomed the news:
“This result is a huge win for animal welfare and a decisive vote of confidence in the UK’s farming industry, which works incredibly hard to keep our globally renowned welfare standards high. We have long argued that the UK cannot commit to raising the bar domestically while allowing in goods that don’t meet the high standards that British consumers rightly want and expect.
“Hopes had been pinned on the House of Lords to hold the Government to account and question how allowing in lower quality imports could possibly enable them to honour their manifesto commitment to maintain and improve on animal health and welfare standards. As vets, we are delighted that peers delivered the right result last night and it is essential that the Government listens.”
Last week The Independent reported that peers were set to halt any watering down of food and animal welfare standards, with crossbench peer Lord Curry of Kirkharle quoted as saying: “We don’t want our food supply undermined by imported food from countries with poorer animal welfare standards, selling our food production down the river by negotiating cheap deals.”
Commenting on the food standards amends, a government spokesperson said:
“Our manifesto commitment could not be clearer – we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.
“It is illegal to import chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef into the UK and any changes would require new legislation to be brought before this Parliament.
“We remain focused on getting a deal that works in the best interests of our farmers and consumers.”
A Defra spokesperson added: “We will look closely at amendments passed at Report stage and consider how to respond when the Agriculture Bill returns to the House of Commons”.
The Bill is due for its third reading in the House of Lords on 1st October, before progressing to the consideration of amendments and finally Royal Assent.