Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:45 pm, 13th May 2020

I wholeheartedly support new clause 1 and the other amendments seeking the same outcome: that there should be no lowering of standards on food safety, the environment and animal welfare as a result of any future trade deals, no undercutting of British farmers and no race to the bottom. Simon Hoare and I had more than a few differences of opinion when we first served on the Agriculture Bill Committee in the last Parliament—unlike him, I was allowed back for the second one too—but on this issue we are utterly on the same page. The same goes for Neil Parish, on whose Select Committee I served in the last Parliament. I thought that he made a very good speech.

As time is limited, all I will say is this: it has been made abundantly clear that no one—not the farmers, not the environmentalists, not the public, not the consumers and not even Tory MPs—trusts the Government’s verbal assurances on this. It is not enough for the Minister to say that it will not happen; we want it in writing, enshrined in law.

I also support amendments on better labelling, procurement, baseline regulation, and fairness and transparency in supply chains, and the Opposition amendment on food security, which calls for a statement to Parliament every year so that we can end the scandal of food poverty. During the current crisis, organisations such as Feeding Bristol have done a tremendous job in my home city, trying to ensure that everyone in lockdown can get the essential food supplies that they need, and that no one, including children who no longer attend school, goes hungry. The voluntary sector has been brilliant, but our children should not have to rely on charity.

I will focus on amendments 18 and 19, which are tabled in my name. I thank the Landworkers Alliance for its work with the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology, which I chair, and for all that it has done to promote the amendments. I have had many emails from constituents in recent days urging me to back my own amendments, which I am obviously more than happy to do. Agroecology is a cause whose time has come. This pandemic has brought home to many people how dysfunctional our relationship with the natural world has become, with overconsumption, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, a food system that is broken, and birds and wildlife disappearing from our countryside and gardens.

I urge Members to read a recent report, “Feeding the Nation: How Nature Friendly Farmers are Responding to Covid-19”, which includes a quote from a farmer from Northern Ireland. He says:

“The current crisis provides people with time to reflect on the importance of food and farming to all humanity…Our food can only be sustainable and bountiful if it’s produced in harmony with the environment and wildlife.”

The Bill goes some way towards creating a better approach to farm subsidies and rewarding nature-friendly farmers. Despite being an ardent remainer, I will not shed a tear for us leaving the common agricultural policy. I broadly support the public money for public goods approach, but my concern is that it will allow farmers to cherry-pick.

What we need is a whole-farm system approach, so that across the farm, not just on the margins, farmers are using agroecological methods, focusing on getting the best from the whole landscape. Such measures include protecting soil health through no-till farming, which not only boosts food production but helps to sequester carbon; using integrated pest management rather than toxic pesticides; and protecting habitats and promoting biodiversity, so that we see a return of nesting birds, pollinators and beneficial insects to our countryside.

I will finish with another quote from a farmer in that nature-friendly farming report. He says:

“This crisis has made it very clear that we have lost the resilience in our food and farming system, with value being placed on ‘cheap’. This has led to degraded soils, diminishing wildlife and imports of lower food safety and farming standards. We need to shift back to a more sustainable, mixed farming system for resilience across the board.”

That is what my amendments seek to achieve, and I hope that the Government will listen.