Sustain will chair a coalition of farming groups, public health practitioners, caterers and food and animal welfare experts, among others, forming a new panel to scrutinise the UK’s approach to food standards.
Concerns have been raised in recent months over a potential weakening of food import standards via trade deals. The ‘Future British Standards Coalition’, created to represent a full range of public interests, will meet across the next month to consider the best way to maintain and build on current standards.
The panel includes representatives from Sustain, the Tenant Farmers Association, the Public Sector 100, WWF, Pesticide Action Network UK, Compassion in World Farming, Landworkers' Alliance and the RSPCA. Trade academic Dr Emily Lydgate, crossbench peer Baroness Boycott and Conservative peer Lord Randall of Uxbridge will also sit on the panel. The coalition will be chaired by Sustain's CEO, Kath Dalmeny, and will issue a report with recommendations for government in October.
The UK government has so far resisted calls to commit in law to maintaining standards. It has instead created a Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) to advise ministers on trade policy, but this body will not report directly to parliament and will only issue one full report before disbanding around Christmas. Its membership and scope do not reflect the breadth of issues at stake.
The formation of the new panel comes just after peers passed an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would prevent a lowering of food import standards. Proposed by Lord Grantchester, the amendment passed with a majority of 95 votes. Public opinion remains against a lowering of these standards. A recent NFU-led petition calling for food standards to be written into law secured more than a million signatures.
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of the Sustain alliance and chair of the Future British Standards Coalition, said:
"British people have made it abundantly clear that they expect to keep the high food, environmental and animal welfare standards they currently enjoy and that have been repeatedly promised by Government ministers and the PM.
"The Future British Standards Coalition has the breadth of membership that we would like to see being consulted by government on these vital issues, and which so far have been excluded, with trade negotiations taking place largely in secret. Guaranteeing high food standards can help put healthy, fresh and nutritious food on our plates, deliver on our ambitions for restoring nature and addressing climate change and secure decent livelihoods for our farmers. We will be putting our case to the government for them to broaden their thinking on food standards and trade."
The Sustain alliance is also a co-signatory to a letter to the Prime Minister, with Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Joe Wicks, among others, calling on Boris Johnson to block sub-standard products from flooding into the UK under post-Brexit trade deals. Read the front-page story in the Daily Mail here.
Kath Dalmeny was interviewed by Farming Today on Tuesday 29 September. You'll find the full interview here, starting from 08.16 minutes in. Here are some extracts:
“The trouble is the Government really doesn’t want to be thinking about standards. It’s such a bone of contention in all trade negotiations, and at the moment the British Government are coming under immense pressure to accept the kind of products that a lot of the British people would be aghast if these were to be put on their plates."
"The National Farmers Union (fantastically) has been fighting on behalf of farmers all the way through this to try and maintain high standards. They were offered the opportunity to form a trade commission to advise on standards. But the devil is in the detail. Advise on standards? That doesn't mean control the standards. So unfortunately, all they get to do is to put in one report to government which may not actually affect anything that government does.”
Farming Today presenter Anna Hill: "Why would your coalition do any better?"
"Our coalition is standing outside all of this saying 'hang on a minute'. Things like environmental standards, pesticides, antibiotics, food safety, food quality for our children, labelling, protected characteristics, labour standards... All kinds of things are being ignored at the moment. And those are the kinds of things that British people really back."
"A million people (including me) signed the petition with the NFU, supported by Jamie Oliver, saying we really want to maintain high British standards. But of course, when it comes to actually listening to the British public, when it comes to the detail, the British public are blocked out of those negotiations, they happen in secret and there is no proper process to control them."
Presenter: Why are you convinced that the Commission won’t be able to do what you want it to do?
"The Commission has been told already that they are simply advisory. They’ve been asked to write a report. That report will be sent into government and whether or not its listened to is really a matter - unfortunately - for people like Tony Abbott, ex-prime minister of Australia, who is now properly advising government, and much more central to government. And he has already said that he considers things like environmental standards to be peripheral to trade negotiations."
"I think the Commission has been given the impression that it is going to have influence. But what we really need is these standards written into law, so that all governments need to show, now and in the future, how trade standards will serve our interests. And that means all of our interests, for example the farmers, the environment, the soil and our health. All of our voices need to be raised really loudly at the moment because otherwise we’ll be ignored."
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