MPs have called on the Government to introduce legislation into the Agriculture Bill to ensure imported food products are held to current British standards as part of any future trade deal.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published the report into its inquiry into the Bill, which is currently making its way through the legislative process.
The inquiry covered trade deals in response to concerns, both inside and outside the farming industry, about the potential threat of imports produced to lower standards than permitted in the UK under future deals with countries like the US.
Government Ministers, including Trade and Industry Secretary Liam Fox, Defra Secretary Michael Gove and Farming Minister George Eustice, have all insisted this will not happen, but have so far refused to commit to banning lower standard imports.
The EFRA Committee has tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill regarding trade stipulating that food products imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment.
In its report, the Committee calls on the Government to ‘put its money where its mouth is’ and accept the amendment. This is particularly necessary because similar amendments to the
Trade Bill have, so far, been voted down, it says.
EFRA chair Neil Parish MP (pictured) said: “The UK currently has exceptionally high environmental and food standards and an internationally recognised approach to animal welfare. This legacy cannot be ripped apart by the introduction of cheap, low-quality goods following our exit from the European Union.
“Imports produced to lower standards than ours pose a very real threat to UK agriculture. Without sufficient safeguards we could see British farmers significantly undermined while turning a blind eye to environmental degradation and poor animal welfare standards abroad.
“Our suggested amendment calls for agricultural goods to be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced are as high as, or higher than, current UK standards.”
The Committee also looked at fairness in the supply chain and concluded that the Groceries Code Adjudicator should oversee the proposed fair dealing obligations for first purchasers of agricultural products, rather than the Rural Payments Agency.
It recommended that there should be a multiannual financial framework to provide a long-term commitment to agriculture under the the transition from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to a new system based on public money for public goods.
The MPs also express concern at the extent to which powers have been delegated within the Bill. “This Bill lacks clarity and gives any future Secretary of State the opportunity to avoid scrutiny and make crucial decisions while going somewhat unchallenged. We would like to see sufficient opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny before any new systems or policies are rolled out,” Mr Parish said.