Knowledge for better food systems

MPs overturn post-Brexit food standards protections

Members of the UK’s parliament have rejected amendments to the Agriculture Bill that were intended to ensure that food imported to the UK after 1 January 2021 meets domestic standards. Ministers are concerned that the amendments could prevent post-Brexit trade deals from being negotiated. Campaigners are concerned that, without the amendments, food imports could be lower quality and be linked to poorer animal welfare.

Media coverage included:

Reactions included:

  • WWF UK said “Disappointing. The lack of any legally binding commitment means our food and environmental standards could slip.”
  • Kath Dalmeny of Sustain said “It is perfectly possible to have high standards at home and sign trade deals with new trading partners who meet them. It's what consumers have repeatedly said they want, and would benefit rather than harm developing nations, with high standards opening up markets and improving conditions for their own producers and citizens.”
  • Sue Pritchard of the Food Farming & Countryside Commission said “Upholding and raising standards in the UK helps raise standards around the world. Enshrining food and welfare standards in law would be a powerful way to position the UK globally, but we need to go further.”
  • The Soil Association said “With Brexit on the horizon, bad trade deals between the UK and other nations could see a flood of cheap low-quality food imports, which could put many UK farmers out of business and pose a risk to our food standards… We may also yet see the Lords return the Bill to the Commons with new amendments, and are hopeful we can continue to influence the decisions that MP's take at that point.”
  • Minette Batters of the National Farmers’ Union said “The future of British food and farming is at stake. Without proper safeguards on future trade deals we risk seeing an increase in food imports that have been produced to standards that would be illegal here.”
  • Conservative MP Amanda Milling said after the vote “We have already committed to protecting our high standards. [The rejected] amendment would have created a large set of conditions that could jeopardise existing trade, and harm some of the world’s poorest economies… It is already the case that products imported into the UK have to meet the UK’s food safety standards – and it will continue to be illegal to import chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef into the UK.”
  • Robert Colvile of the Centre for Policy Studies said “it's a very good thing that the disastrous, protectionist, EU-copying, trade-destroying amendments to the Agriculture Bill failed… given they would have made it essentially impossible for us to sign trade deals, it's hardly a surprise that the Government was firmly and rightly opposed.”
  • Prior to the vote, Daniel Hannan of the Initiative for Free Trade said that the amendments, if passed, would “serve to push up prices, hurt farmers in developing countries, and make it almost impossible for Britain to agree trade deals.”

Read the full story here. See also the Foodsource building block What is food security?

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