The latest round of amendments to the Agriculture Bill which aimed to protect British food and animal welfare standards in any post-Brexit trade deals has been rejected by MPs.
The amendments, which included giving the new Trade and Agriculture Commission the power to scrutinise any future trade deals, were defeated by 53 votes ((322 votes to 279) despite calls from organisations and charities to protect British standards.
The move comes after farming minister, Victoria Prentis, said the Government was “absolutely committed to high standards.” She also added that laws were already in place to safeguard British standards and these were “of more use than warm words.”
Government had also said that EU rules which ban the importing of chlorine-washed chicken and other products, such as hormone-treated beef, will be written into UK law after the post-Brexit transition period ends on the 31st December.
“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.”
Commenting on the news, 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.”
RSPCA chief executive, Chris Sherwood, added: “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.”
Gareth Morgan, head of farming and land use policy at the Soil Association, added: “We are very disappointed the House of Commons has rejected key amendments on import standards, climate change and pesticides in the Agriculture Bill, that has been proposed by the House of Lords.
“Putting these protections into law is vital to protect us against trade deals that could lower food production standards, threaten our environmental and climate change commitments, and undercut British farmers.
“We must go further to uphold the UK’s high standards for food and farming. We urge the House of Lords to hold their ground and send the amendments back to the Commons again to give MPs who voted against these changes a chance to rethink.”