The NFU is urging the government to back up its assurances to uphold British farming’s high production standards post-Brexit with firm actions.
At the NFU’s Conference in February, former Defra Secretary Michael Gove agreed to the NFU’s request to introduce a standards commission to ensure the UK’s future trade policy does not undermine British farming’s high environmental and animal welfare standards.
The body has yet to be established and NFU President Minette Batters has written to the Secretary of State for Defra, Theresa Villiers, asking her to put it in place.
Mrs Batters said: “British farmers, and indeed the British public, need assurance that the UK’s high welfare and environmental standards will not be undermined by the UK’s post-Brexit trade policy. A trade and standards commission will be fundamental in ensuring our food and farming values are upheld after we leave the EU, and I ask the Secretary of State to confirm her commitment to setting it up as a matter of priority.
“In recent weeks, we have consistently heard that the prospects of a trade deal between the UK and the USA can be negotiated quickly, and both the US government and the US food industry have been clear that they expect existing regulatory barriers relating to standards of production to be removed.
“Alongside this, in the event of a no-deal the UK Government plans to reduce import tariffs on nearly all imports of agricultural products, effectively removing the only protection that currently prevents food which has been produced to lower standards coming into the UK.
“British farmers are proud to produce to some of the highest standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety in the world. Yet, even if we leave the EU with a deal, there is a very real risk that we will have to compete with food imports that have been produced using methods and products that would be illegal on British farms.
“This would not only be a betrayal of our values but of British farmers whose businesses would be undercut, as with lower standards comes lower costs of production.
“While the government has consistently said it has no intention of allowing the UK’s high standards of production to be undermined in future trade deals, there has been little detail about how it will back up this commitment. We need a clear commitment from Defra that it will set up a trade and standards commission as quickly as possible to provide certainty for both farmers and the British public that our values of food production will be respected post-Brexit.”
The NFU’s proposal for a trade and standards commission would bring together government officials, industry representatives, environmental and welfare groups, and experts in food and farming. It would be charged with producing a report making recommendations on how future trade policy should be developed while respecting and upholding the UK’s high standards of production. The Government would need to act on these recommendations.