Calls from the House of Lords to ensure food imports match domestic standards are unlikely to result in an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, Defra secretary George Eustice has said.
The comments were made during the Conservative Party Conference this week, as part of an ‘in conversation’ session between Mr Eustice and NFU president Minette Batters. Over 400 people tuned into the event, which was held virtually this year.
Noting the importance of consumer confidence, Mr Eustice went on to say: “I’m afraid we are unlikely to be accepting amendments to the Bill…
“But I know that what Liz Truss is giving some consideration to is how the work of this commission can feed into some of our thinking, giving them a more established, more formal role, but perhaps stopping short of statutory requirement.”
Food import standards have been the subject of intensive campaigning in recent months from farming, veterinary, animal welfare and environmental organisations alike – as well as consumers, chefs and celebrities.
As the UK attempts to negotiate trade deals post-Brexit, there is wide concern that failing to amend the Ag Bill could see cheap, low quality food imports arriving in the UK, undermining British farmers and having a knock-on impact on the nation’s health.
A petition led by the NFU received over a million signatures calling for the Bill to be amended, while a debate in the House of Lords last month saw peers back an amendment that would require imported food to match domestic standards.
Despite Mr Eustice’s comments, the NFU says it is continuing to support the amendment to the Bill, which would give parliament advice on how trade deals would impact British food and farming.
Minette Batters said: “When the Agriculture Bill returns to the Commons on Monday, I will be asking all MPs to remember the sheer amount of people who are calling for an amendment to help safeguard both farmers and the public from food imports that fail to meet our own standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.
“This is not just the NFU; this is coming from farmers across the UK, more than a million members of the public and now 266 Peers. The country has spoken, I hope the Commons now listens.”
Responding, a government spokesperson said: “It is illegal to import chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef into the UK, and it will continue to be illegal as the 2018 Withdrawal Act will transfer existing food safety provisions onto the UK statute book. Any changes would require legislation to be brought before Parliament, and the usual parliamentary processes would apply.
“We have been repeatedly clear that we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, and claims to the contrary are unhelpful scaremongering.
“The government is focused on getting trade deals that protect and advance the interests of our farmers and consumers. If a deal isn’t the right one, we will walk away.”