Call to action! The Repeal Bill jeopardises Britain’s high food standards
By Kath Dalmeny 07/09/2017
The first of the big Brexit Bills is now upon us. On Thursday September 7, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill (also known as the Repeal Bill) will have its second reading in Parliament. It will establish the new foundations of how UK law will in future be created, governed, scrutinised and enforced.
Now is the time to engage citizens, specialists and policy-makers to ensure that the Repeal Bill does not jeopardise Britain’s high food standards. A large proportion - perhaps 40 per cent - of the laws affected relate to food, farming, fishing, animal welfare, animal disease control, trading standards, consumer protection and the environment. So Sustain alliance members are justifiably alarmed at the many major omissions and worrying legal loopholes that the Repeal Bill already represents.
Sustain is also adding our collective voice to the many specialists concerned that the Repeal Bill will legislate for a power-grab by the Government, effectively excluding Parliament – and hence the citizens they represent – from scrutinising significant changes to the legislation that currently protects us. During August, Liam Fox illustrated why the Executive needs to be held to account in this way, with his casual dismissal of chlorine-dipped chicken – and by implication the high food standards that we hold dear – as a mere “detail”.
The Repeal Bill has been pitched by government as neatly transposing our current laws from where they sit in the EU onto the UK statute book, aiming to pave the way for a ‘smooth transition’ and avoid the uncertainties of a ‘cliff edge’ on Brexit Day, March 2019. However, we already know that the Repeal Bill contains new executive (Henry VIII) powers, unconstrained by a cut-off date or limitations on use, that would in principle allow Government to sweep aside food rules without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Simple changes to legal wording would reassure everyone that the Government would use such powers only for decent purposes, but they have so far resisted any such constraints.
The Repeal Bill will also remove many legal rights of people living in the UK, previously protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights that forms part of our membership of the EU. Further, vital principles of environmental protection, animal welfare and access to justice also look set to be lost – the precautionary principle, the principle that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage be rectified at source, that the polluter should pay, and access to justice; also that animals are sentient beings. There are also gaping holes where provision for appropriate institutions, governance and accountability should be – the bedrock of effective protections.
Decisive action needs to be taken to patch up such gargantuan holes in the Repeal Bill; and the need for action is now urgent. People’s voices and concerns must be heard.
Please Tweet: Don't let the Repeal Bill mean Bad Food Britain. Write to your MP now to protect good food standards! http://bit.ly/2xbEyBh @fixrepealbill
What is the Sustain alliance doing to respond?
Sustain will be continuing to brief many policy-makers and journalists over the coming months, to help clarify the jeopardies for the future of good food, farming and fishing. Some of those so far in touch want to hear about the principles; others to hear issue-specific stories of how people, animals and the environment will be affected. Below, we list some of the specialist briefings published by Sustain members and sister networks, which illustrate what a broad range of principles and protections are now at stake. For example:
Farm antibiotics: Controls governing unnecessary use of antibiotics on UK farms must be reliably preserved and urgently improved, says the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics.
Baby food standards: The Repeal Bill must guarantee continued high standards for baby food bought and sold in the UK, says the First Steps Nutrition Trust.
Additives in children’s food: The Repeal Bill must not allow a slip back to the bad old days of chemical-laced food for children, says Action on Additives.
Protected food names: The premium status of Britain’s high quality food producers must be upheld by the Repeal Bill to prevent loss of protected food names and their marketing and export opportunities, says Artisan Food Law and the Real Bread Campaign.
Animal welfare: The legal principle that animals are sentient beings must not be lost. Currently, the Repeal Bill fails to uphold the requirement that the UK government must “give full regard to the welfare requirements of animals” when making policy, says Compassion in World Farming.
Chemicals: The risk to environment and health protection is high, as the UK Government has not committed to the UK staying within highly sophisticated and world-leading EU systems for regulating risky chemicals, says ChemTrust.
Pesticides: Rules must be upheld in the Repeal Bill that govern pesticides, from safety levels of residues in food, to the licensing of chemicals allowed to be used on farms and in parks, says Pesticides Action Network.
Environmental protection: The Repeal Bill must not remove fundamental principles of environmental protection, and must make sure that UK law can be properly implemented and enforced, says the Greener UK alliance of 13 leading environmental organisations. And the Repeal Bill puts environmental protection at great risk, says Richard Benwell of Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, writing for Wildlife & Countryside Link.
Workers rights: The Repeal Bill must safeguard existing EU equality and human rights protections, says UNISON – the public service union.
Human rights: The Equality and Human Rights Commission has set out important principles that must be upheld by the Repeal Bill, covering issues such as rights of the child, equal pay, disability rights, holiday pay and measures to address human trafficking. Worker and human rights are also the subject of a briefing paper from Global Justice Now.
Parliamentary Scrutiny. The Hansard Society has published a new paper, Taking Back Control for Brexit and Beyond, setting out proposals for a new EU (Withdrawal) Order that would strengthen scrutiny and help overcome challenges associated with delegated legislation.
What Sustain is calling for in the Repeal Bill
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill or 'Repeal Bill' must effectively convert all existing European law relating to food, farming and fishing, including principles and rights, into domestic law on the statute books. This must include food safety and quality standards; consumer rights and protections; environmental protection; workers’ rights; measures to tackle trafficking and modern slavery; labour conditions and skills; sustainable international development; organic food and farming standards; animal welfare; animal and plant health; chemical and pesticide controls; poverty and inequality reduction; and access to justice. The Repeal Bill must:
Retain legal principles that underpin good environmental protection, such as the precautionary principle, the principle that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage be rectified at source, that the polluter should pay, and access to justice; also that animals are sentient beings.
Make provision for important citizen rights to be re-instated in UK law that will be lost through the repeal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Confirm that any substantive changes to UK policies and standards, before or after Brexit, must be made by primary legislation only, giving a full and proper role to parliamentary scrutiny, on behalf of UK citizens and, where relevant, scrutiny by devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Limit delegated powers, including Henry VIII powers, strictly to the purpose of faithful conversion, with a statement on the face of the bill that powers cannot be used for purposes beyond faithful conversion, and with a time limit or ‘sunset clause’ for the exercise of such powers.
Set out new arrangements for good food governance, to ensure the continued provision by suitable organisations of: monitoring, measuring, ensuring proper implementation, checking compliance, enforcing, reviewing and reporting, co-ordinating and publicising. These must have adequate resources, appropriate independence, relevant expertise and sufficient powers, to deal with, for example food safety, animal and plant health, pesticides, food traceability, food fraud and environmental protection.
Through the Repeal Bill process, the government must also commit to continued promotion of important strategies and plans on which the resilience of our food system depends, and policies and resources to implement them effectively, such as (but not limited to) strategies to protect pollinators, the strategy to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics in farming, and the strategy for protecting and improving soil.
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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.