Farmers’ Union of Wales President Glyn Roberts has welcomed the fact that key concerns raised by the FUW in correspondence with members of the House of Lords were echoed by members across the political spectrum yesterday as the Agriculture Bill received its second reading in the house.
The bill – considered to be the most important piece of UK legislation in relation to food and farming for more than 70 years – includes a clause that would ensure imported organic food from an overseas country is produced to standards equivalent to those applicable in the UK.
However, an attempt to introduce a similar clause requiring that any agricultural or food product imported into the UK under a trade agreement be produced to animal health and welfare, plant health and environmental protection standards equivalent to those in the UK was opposed by the UK Government and defeated during the third reading of the bill in the House of Commons on the 13th May 2020.
In a letter to members of the House of Lords, FUW President Glyn Roberts said “This has hugely angered farmers and consumers alike, not least given that the UK Government has committed to such a principle in numerous statements, and that maintaining UK standards and protecting consumers, farmers and food producers from sub-standard imports has cross-party support.
“Moreover, support for the introduction of such a clause has united agricultural bodies, environmental and animal welfare groups in an unprecedented manner.”
The letter goes on to emphasise that for many years the EU has sought to maintain high standards of production in EU countries and the equivalence of food entering the EU Single Market from countries with which it has struck trade deals.
“It would be a sad indictment of the Brexit process and those who made numerous promises regarding protecting our markets and standards after the Withdrawal Period if the UK Parliament were to deliberately or inadvertently allow a lowering of current standards and instigate a ‘race to the bottom’ at a time when animal welfare, climate change, environmental and food safety issues are at the top of agendas across the globe,” the letter stated.
Speaking after the reading, Mr Roberts said: “We very much welcome the fact that our concerns were reflected in speeches from across the political spectrum as well as from independent members of the House of Lords.”
Mr Roberts also raised farmers and consumers’ concerns in a recent meeting with DEFRA Secretary of State George Eustice, which he described as ‘positive’.
“Given how the coronavirus pandemic has made clear to consumers and politicians how supply chains and food security can be rapidly disrupted by global emergencies, any moves that undermine UK farmers and food producers – and therefore our food security – by favouring imports produced to lower standards would clearly be shortsighted given the recent exposure of our vulnerability to more serious pandemics or emergencies,” said Mr Roberts.