Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire 3:00 pm, 13th May 2020

It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. I draw attention to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I come from a long family of farmers, have interests in farming and food production, and represent a very successful rural constituency producing some of the finest food in the world, with absolutely top-class farmers and food producers.

I strongly welcome the Bill, and look forward to it going through today. It will free us from the constraints of the common agricultural policy, which held us back for many years—it will let us give freedom to farmers. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, time and again farmers said, “Get out of our hair!” The Bill will allow farmers to concentrate on what they are good at, which is producing food. I entirely echo the comments made by the Minister and others earlier in the debate about the tremendous efforts of farmers and food producers to cope with the extraordinary circumstances of corona.

The first thing I want to say is that there is no conflict between wanting to have freedom for farmers and wanting free trade around the world. I see a great opportunity for farming to benefit from any free trade deals. That is absolutely clear. There is a narrative out there that the sad price of free trade arrangements will be some sort of cost to the farming industry. I just do not buy that.

We have huge export opportunities—the Minister touched on exporting beef to the United States, which must be worth over £60 million over three years. When I was at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs we began to get beef on the bone back into Hong Kong, and there are enormous opportunities. For example, in the lamb industry, China and America are neck and neck as world leaders in lamb consumption. They each consume twice as much as France or Germany, so there are great opportunities for our exporters. Given the constraints we experienced under the common agricultural policy, I really see opportunities with new technologies—CRISPR gene editing and so on—to enable us to catch up.

There are some interesting figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Against a metric of 1 in 1961, the EU is still producing a given amount of food at 0.55; we are at 0.43; the world is 0.29; and the world leader is 0.03. That is the lesson—if we free up agriculture, people can take advantage of the benefits of free trade and technology.

Turning to the new clauses, I take exception to the proposals from my hon. Friends the Members for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). We agree on many issues regarding oversight, but I do not agree with this. We already have high standards, and the Minister has made it clear that we are not going to reduce those standards. The new clauses are unenforceable. Let us take the great vexed issue of chlorinated chicken. As my hon. Friend for Tiverton and Honiton said, people do not use very much chlorine—they use pathogen reduction treatments, which have been cleared by the US, the EU authorities and by Codex Alimentarius. When we look at the regulations, we see that stocking densities are similar to those that pertain in Europe. The outcomes on health grounds are better. Americans eat roughly twice as much chicken as Europeans, and their outcomes on campylobacter and salmonella are significantly better.

What would we do if this condition went through? It would completely block any hope of a US free trade deal, with catastrophic consequences for large parts of our economy. Would we go after the individual chicken plant? Would we go after the state? Would we go after the whole US nation, which would come straight back and say, “Sorry guys, our product is healthier.” It would be much better if we resumed our full seat on the Codex Alimentarius Commission on food standards, on the OIE on animal welfare, which is important to many citizens, and on the international plant protection convention on plant health, working with allies and pushing to improve world standards.

When I was at DEFRA I went to New Zealand and was struck by the fact that, freed up, it had reduced massively the number of sheep but increased the volume of meat exporting while conforming to religion protocols for minorities. Everything that it exported to the middle east was stunned before slaughter. We talk about standards a lot. What goes on in many of our slaughterhouses does not bear inspection. I challenge Members to look at videos—or, better, go along—and they will be horrified when they see what many of our livestock go through. Much of this volume of material is not required by minorities—it is absolutely fine to provide it for them—but we could copy New Zealand. We could work with it at a high level, pushing for higher standards. I am afraid I do not support the amendments, but I do support the Bill.