MPs reject amendments to Agriculture Bill

MPs reject amendments to Agriculture Bill

MPs have voted against the latest set of amendments to the post-Brexit Agriculture Bill which would have required all imported food to meet domestic legal standards from the 1st January.

The amendments were defeated by 332 votes to 279, despite calls from charities and organisations for Government to protect British food standards.

The Agriculture Bill was designed to prepare the UK farming industry for Brexit, and the latest amendments included a requirement for all agriculture and food imports to meet domestic standards, as well as giving the new Trade and Agriculture Commission the power to scrutinise any future trade deals. 

Farming minister Victoria Prentis said the Government was “absolutely committed to high standards” and that existing laws would safeguard them. She added that these were “of more use than warm words” in maintaining animal welfare, food standards and environmental protections.

According to the BBC, Government also said that EU rules banning imports of chlorine-washed chicken and other products will be automatically written into UK law once the post-Brexit transition period ends on the 31st December.

Reaction

Liberal Democrat spokesperson for environment, food and rural affairs, Tim Farron said: “The Conservatives have continually promised to back British farmers throughout the Brexit process, but their failure tonight to uphold our high food standards reveals just how hollow those promises were.

“Farmers across the country are incredibly worried about the future – they’re worried that the UK is about to be flooded with poor quality food undercutting their high-quality produce. The votes on the agricultural bill this evening brings us a step closer to that reality.

“The Liberal Democrats will continue to stand up for our farmers. If the Government doesn’t protect our food standards, they will only sow more uncertainty and worry for our farming industry.”

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), commented: “When it comes to standards and safeguards in food production, we are lucky to live in a part of the world that has some of the highest; and the British public are very clear they want that to continue. It is the responsibility of the powers-that-be to ensure there is adequate scrutiny of future trade deals so that the wishes and interests of the public are represented, and our high food standards are maintained.

“This should be achieved in the most transparent way possible and should involve rigorous and open parliamentary debate. This goes far deeper than protecting our home-based agricultural production it is about everyone’s confidence in the food we are eating.”

“If the Government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”

RSPCA chief executive, Chris Sherwood, said: “Tonight, the Government once again failed to make good their manifesto promise that they will not sell out the UK’s animal welfare for a quick trade deal. The decision of MPs to reject a crucial amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would have stopped lower welfare imports from being allowed into the UK is the strongest signal yet that the Government wants to leave the door open to deals which could see chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-treated beef, eggs from hens in barren battery cages and pork from pigs reared in sow stalls flooding our supermarket shelves. The vote also shows a disregard for the British public, 83% of whom said they did not want lower standard imports coming in from the US when we leave the EU.  It is now up to the Lords to represent the conscience of the public and stand up for our farm standards.

“The Government must act now to prove they are not preparing to ride roughshod over the opinion of the British people, the hard-won animal welfare standards in this country and the livelihoods of British farmers. In the absence of a cast-iron law to prohibit lower standard imports, the Government must guarantee three things: mandatory labelling so British consumers know exactly how their food is produced; a tariff system which makes it unviable to import food produced to lower standards; and making the Trade and Agriculture Commission open ended to ensure our own higher welfare standards are not compromised.”

James Russell, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: “This result is a severe blow for animal welfare and a betrayal of the Government’s own manifesto commitment to maintain and improve on health and welfare standards.

“After such a strong show of support in the Lords, it is bitterly disappointing that the majority of MPs have chosen to ignore the groundswell of public and professional feeling and have voted against a clause that would have safeguarded our own renowned standards and offered crucial protections to the reputation and livelihood of the UK’s farming industry. 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.

“If the Government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”

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