Government makes weak concessions on trade and food standards

Over the weekend Secretaries of State Liz Truss (Trade) and George Eustice (Defra) made two announcements relevant to the Agriculture Bill and food standards. They are useful but not enough. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

Photo credit: Pixabay

The government has announced two concessions in response to the huge public and farmer pressure to protect our food, environment and animal welfare standards from being weakened by future trade deals. Whilst this in not a huge win it shows they are feeling the heat. Sustain and our alliance members have concerns about the concessions.

Secretary of State for Trade Liz Truss has announced that the current temporary Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) will be formed and run by the Department for International Trade (DIT), not Defra, on a statutory footing and longer term. The measure will, we are told, be in the new Trade Bill currently at its Report Stage in the House of Lords. Of concern:

  • We have not seen the detailed legal text yet, so do not know who will be on it or how it will work. There were already major gaps in the current Trade and Agriculture Commission membership on environmental, small farmer, animal welfare and public health expertise. 
  • The announcement also refers only to "animal welfare and agriculture" in terms of the reports it will put to parliament. What about food standards, antibiotics stewardship, food safety and the environment, including climate change and biodiversity?
  • This provides no new route for MPs to amend trade deals. 

There was also a new Agriculture Bill amendment by Defra Secretary George Eustice laid down late on Friday to “place a duty on the Government to report to Parliament on whether, or to what extent, commitments in new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) relating to agricultural goods are consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in relation to human, animal and plant life and health; animal welfare; and environmental protection. This report will be laid at the same time, or ahead of, any FTA laid before Parliament, demonstrating how we are meeting our commitments on standards.”

  • This is useful but in reality does not mean much more than an impact assessment to go before MPs during the usual scrutiny phase after a deal is done – they will have no new powers or duties to scrutinise or block. It gives no details on who they would consult to make this report.

So, overall, it is useful to see new concessions but far from enough to protect our standards. We will continue to push for the Amendment 16B which makes it a “Duty to seek equivalence on agri-food standards in relation to future trade".

Vicki HIrd, Head of Sustainable Farming for Sustain said:

"Ministers had finally got the message that they needed to act on standards in trade deals. The huge public and farmer pressure to protect our environment, animal welfare, food safety and livelihoods has clearly forced this step.” 

“However, any new statutory body needs to have independent members with expertise in these areas. Critically, parliamentarians need to be able to say no to deals if our standards are at risk. Any process of ministerial reporting to Parliament, with no clarity on who will be consulted and how Parliament can act on the report, is far from enough.”

If you are a farmer, sign our letter, and everyone do write write to your MPs to maintain the pressure as they need to know we want them to stand up for nature-friendly, higher welfare British food and farming.


02/11/2020
Food and Farming Policy

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Food and Farming Policy: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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