In relation to the vote on the Agriculture Bill earlier this week, I would like to say at the outset that I too am strongly committed to animal welfare, and ensuring that this is not undermined by future trade deals is a priority issue for me, particularly because I am the MP for a rural constituency and Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment. Our manifesto made clear commitments to ensuring that trade deals do not undermine our animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards and this has not changed as a result of last night’s vote. On this I sought specific assurances from the DEFRA Secretary of State, George Eustice.
The Amendment proposed in the House of Lords insisted agricultural imports under any trade deal would have to be produced to the UK’s environmental protection, animal welfare, food safety and plant health standards.
This sounds entirely reasonable but could have created serious unintended consequences – by creating a potentially vast set of new conditions which do not exist under any current EU or UK agreement. It would be extremely unlikely that trading partners would agree to all the requirements and in some cases it might not even be possible for them to do so. For example, if we had passed that amendment pretty much all food imports would be banned from nearly all developing countries if we were to sign a trade deal with them. The EU – which is instinctively protectionist – does not require all imports to have to meet precisely its environmental or animal welfare standards but campaigners who have contacted me do not suggest that our current EU standards are too low.
To ensure that animal welfare will be protected to the high standards that can be expected of us there are already existing protections in law and the Government has taken two further steps to ensure that British standards are not undercut.
First, it has set up an Independent Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise on food standards and ensure that animal welfare standards in food production are not undermined.
Second, the Government can apply tariffs to any food product that would otherwise flood the market and undercut British farmers on a bespoke basis depending on the country and the food type.
Finally, Parliament will have an opportunity to vote down trade deals that it does not like.
I am well aware that there have been reports that the UK risks importing chlorinated chicken from the USA or beef injected with hormones. I want to reassure you that legislation already exists to make this an impossibility. Regulation (EC) Nos. 852-855/2004 sets down specific rules on the hygiene of food of animal origin for food business operators. It provides that food businesses operators are not allowed to use any substance other than potable water to remove surface contamination from products of animal origin. The legislation relating to hormone injected beef is Regulation (EC) No. 74/2003/FC which bans the use of any artificial growth hormones. Both these European Regulations are retained as UK domestic law under s.3 Withdrawal Agreement 2020.
I reiterate again that I remain committed to the issue of animal welfare and supporting our Great British Farmers.