Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 2:45 pm, 13th May 2020

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. Given covid-19, I want to pay my great tribute to all the health workers across the country, and also the food producers, farmers, deliverers and those who process the food to get it into our shops and to consumers. It has never been so important to have home production and good-quality food in this country. It is not only farmers and growers who want that; so do the supermarkets and other retailers and the consumers. We are all working together to deliver higher and higher standards, better welfare and better environmental conditions.

The whole raison d’être of the Bill is to move us in the direction of higher welfare and environmental standards, looking after our land and soils, holding back water and having better flood protection—all of this working together. But farming, and especially commercial farming, needs to be able to produce food and to do so competitively. As Government and Opposition Members have said, there has never been more of a need to deliver sustainable, good, affordable food in this country than there is today.

I very much support new clause 1 from my hon. Friend Simon Hoare and, naturally, new clause 2, which is in my name and the names of the EFRA Committee members. This is about having equivalence of production on imported food, so that it is WTO-compliant, and it is very much about getting very good trade deals in future. I want to see British lamb and more cheese go into America. I want to see everything being exported to America, and I am very happy to have imports from America in a new trade deal, but they cannot undercut our present production methods and animal welfare.

I will say this clearly to the Americans: if we look at American poultry production, we see that they use chlorine wash for about 25% or 30% of that—for the lower end of their production, where the chickens are more densely populated and there are much poorer welfare and environmental conditions—to literally clean it up so that is safe to eat, and of course, in doing that, they reduce the cost of production, but they also reduce the welfare of that poultry. I would say clearly to the Secretary of State for International Trade that she should spend her time going out and dealing with a trade deal that has equivalence and making sure that we export our very important animal and environmental welfare. And I would say to the Americans, “Why don’t you upgrade your production? Why don’t you reduce the density and population of your chickens? Why do you not reduce the amount of antibiotics that you are using, and then you will produce better chicken not only for America: it can also come into this country?”

Let us not be frightened of putting clauses into the Bill that protect us, with the great environmental and welfare standards that we want the whole Bill to have, and that farmers want to have. I think we all accept that the common agricultural policy has not been a huge success. Therefore, we can devise a better Agriculture—and food—Bill, and that is what we have to remember: agriculture is about food, and it has never been more important than now to have high-quality food. If I get the opportunity, I will most definitely push new clause 2 to a Division and I will most definitely support new clause 1. There are also Opposition new clauses that I am also prepared to look at, because I think we have to make this Bill good. It is no good being told, “Don’t put it in the Agriculture Bill; put it in the Trade Bill.” When we try to put it in the Trade Bill, it will be out of scope. We are being led down the garden path—we really are —and it is time for us to stand up and be counted.

I want great trade deals. I am not a little Englander who will defend our agriculture against all imports—quite the reverse. I think competition is good, but on a level playing field that allows us to produce great food and allows our consumers to have great food, and makes sure that we deliver good agriculture and environment for the future.