Thank you to everyone who has contacted me to raise concerns about food standards and trade agreements. I agree with you on this important issue.
As we leave the EU and seek to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we will need to agree new trade deals that benefit UK workers and businesses of all sizes. However, these agreements must serve our long-term interests. Crucially, they must protect our existing rights and standards, particularly in an area as important as food.
I am therefore concerned at the Government’s approach to this issue. Several of the countries the Department for International Trade has launched priority trade talks with use food production methods that are not currently permitted in the UK. Agricultural practices in the US, for example, include the use of hormones in beef and antibiotic growth promoters, as well as chemical washes for poultry production. In its negotiating objectives for a UK trade agreement, the US Government explicitly calls for the removal of measures that block the sale of goods produced using such practices.
The Government has said that it will not compromise on our food standards in its trade negotiations and that all imports will continue to have to comply with these high standards. However, when it has had the opportunity to put these commitments into law, it has refused to do so.
For example, in May 2020, I supported proposed amendments to the Agriculture Bill that sought to prevent the import of food under free trade agreements unless it had been produced to at least UK standards. In July, I further supported proposed amendments to the Trade Bill to achieve the same goal. I also supported a new clause that would have required the Government to assess how each trade agreement complied with standards – including food safety standards – set out in UK law.
Unfortunately, the Government opposed and defeated all of these amendments. I worry that this now leaves it free to negotiate trade agreements that will allow imported food on our supermarket shelves that would be illegal to produce here in the UK.
Nevertheless, I can assure you that my Labour colleagues and I will continue to do what I can to press the Government on this issue and to stop our food standards from being undermined. The British public do not want food produced to lower standards and we must protect our farmers and consumers.