For Alan West, a recently retired sheep farmer and agricultural lecturer based in South East England, concern is growing over Britain’s position on the standards of imported meat and the fate of the British farm industry.
Earlier this week, MPs rejected the latest attempt to require imported food to meet domestic legal standards from Jan. 1, 2021.
In the parliament, they struck down a House of Lords (upper house of parliament) amendment to the Agriculture Bill to force trade deals to meet Britain’s animal welfare and food safety rules. According to West, the possibility of the British market being “swamped by cheap, poor quality foreign imports” could be devastating for farmers.
The Agriculture Bill is designed to prepare the British farming industry for the new situation when Britain no longer has to follow the laws and rules of the European Union (EU) next year, and returned to the House of Commons (lower house of parliament) this week following amendments made by the House of Lords. But MPs voted to reject the amendment, which contained a change that would give MPs a veto over sections in trade deals relating to food imports. It would be required to comply with “relevant domestic standards”.
The British government said EU rules banning imports of chlorine-washed chicken and other products will be automatically written into British law once the post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31, according to the BBC.
In response to the amendment being rejected, Chief Executive of the National Sheep Association Phil Stocker said: “This amendment provided an opportunity to uphold and protect our animal welfare standards, some of the highest in the world.”
“With this being rejected by MPs, there is now the very real risk, despite government’s assurances, that the UK’s standards that our nation’s farmers are proud to work to, could be undermined by lower standard imports,” Stocker said.
MAJOR CONCERNS OVER U.S. IMPORTS
A major discussion in the parliament has been securing a post-Brexit U.S. trade deal. Due to Britain’s position, campaigners have warned that it could be forced to accept lower standards to secure that future U.S. trade deal. West said his biggest concern is a deal with the United States, above any other country.
“The concerns are about things like the use of growth promoters, both in beef production and milk production in the U.S., the use of a range of agri-chemicals that have been banned here,” West told Xinhua.
“It would reduce livestock production to significantly lower welfare standards than would be permissible here…So they could effectively put cheap beef, cheap poultry into our markets, produce the standards that we are not allowed to produce here and undercut our producers,” said West.
A saturated meat market could be devastating for British farm businesses already struggling with the transition of Britain out of the EU. Now farmers and relevant associations are calling on the government to fully consider the consequences of free trade agreements that could jeopardize the future of Britain’s domestic meat industry.
“What I’d like the government to consider when negotiating free trade deals, really is to honour the commitments on the promises they’ve made to producers to maintain standards. And to consider those standards when negotiating any trade deals,” West said.
West and other farmers are calling on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, a commission representing farmers, retailers and consumers in Britain, to be made a permanent body.
“It needs power, with some teeth and the ability to scrutinize trade deals to ensure that anything we’re going to import into the UK for any agricultural product will comply with our standards of production,” West said.