Trade Agreements: Environmental and Animal Welfare

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

What steps he is taking to ensure that agricultural products produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards than UK products will not be included in any future trade agreements.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Our current high standards, including on import requirements, will apply when we leave the EU. Some of them, such as the ban on the use of growth-promoting hormones, are already in domestic legislation. Others, such as the ban on chlorine washing of poultry, will be brought on to our statute book through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Countries seeking access to our markets in future will have to abide by our standards.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Ministers are naturally keen to raise welfare standards in this country, and to reduce the use of antibiotics and produce greater and better food than we already have, but if we are undermined by imports, that will put farmers out of business and reduce global animal welfare. Will Ministers therefore accept the amendment that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has tabled to ensure that imports are not allowed into this country if they do not meet our standards of production?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we had a good discussion on these matters in the Bill Committee, and I look forward to discussing his amendment on Report. Our view is that the types of measure that he has outlined would probably not be right, because it is sometimes possible to recognise equivalence, and our standards do not have to be identical in drafting regulations. However, there are a number of other approaches that some countries take, including scrutiny and oversight roles for Parliaments as trade deals are discussed.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I very much support the amendment from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I have also tabled new clause 1 on the same topic. It is estimated that by 2050, antibiotic resistance could cause up to 10 million deaths a year, and we know that 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are sold for animal use. We heard from the chief veterinary officer yesterday at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee about what we are doing to reduce antibiotics use here. Will the Minister resist it in US imports too?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Here in the UK, we have made huge progress in reducing the use of antibiotics. Poultry in particular has seen a 50% reduction in the use of antibiotics. US agriculture remains quite backward and some years behind in these matters, but we continue to work together to try to raise its game and approach.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

My hon. Friend’s good will on this issue is recognised, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s, but I re-emphasise the seriousness with which we on the Agriculture Bill Committee dealt with this issue. We cannot rely on good will. We need certainty for our food producers across the country on the face of a Bill—it could be the Trade Bill or the Agriculture Bill—that standards will be maintained and that they will not be priced out of the market.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend made his case powerfully in Committee. He will recall that, as a result, I undertook to give this issue further consideration and have further discussion with colleagues in government in time for Report.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The discussion in the Agriculture Bill Committee was very good, but unfortunately the Government chose not to accept our amendments, so I congratulate Neil Parish and the whole of the Select Committee on tabling theirs. I hope the Minister will confirm today that he will accept that amendment.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I have explained, I do not believe that that particular amendment is the right way to approach the issue, nor is the Agriculture Bill the right place for such an amendment, as this is a trade issue. Nevertheless, I gave an undertaking to have conversations and discussions with other Departments in time for Report.