Thank you to everyone who has contacted me recently about food standards and trade agreements.
I agree with you on this important issue. As we seek to agree new trade deals, we must ensure that they 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, including the US, Australia and New Zealand, use food production methods that are not currently permitted in the UK. While 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, it has largely resisted efforts to put these commitments into law.
As you know, the House of Lords passed several amendments to the Trade Bill that would provide some protection for our food standards. These included an amendment that sought to ensure international agreements the Government negotiates do not undermine domestic standards on a range of issues, as well as amendments to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) on a statutory footing and require the Government to consult it when reporting on how trade agreements are consistent with UK laws on human, animal or plant life or health, animal welfare and the environment. The Lords also ensured that these amendments expanded the TAC’s remit to cover the impact of food on public health. In addition, the Lords introduced amendments to ensure greater parliamentary scrutiny of trade agreements.
I supported these amendments when the House of Commons considered them on 19 January. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the amendments to ensure trade deals do not undermine domestic standards and to provide proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. And while the amendments putting the TAC on a statutory footing remained in the Bill, the Government removed the public health aspects of these amendments.
Nevertheless, I can assure you that I will continue to do what I can to stop our food standards from being undermined, including looking closely at any further amendments to the Trade Bill from the House of Lords. The British public do not want food produced to lower standards and we must protect our farmers and consumers.