Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 5:00 pm, 13th May 2020

What we should be doing in this Parliament is protecting our farmers, our food security, our food standards, our climate, our environment, our public health and our workers, but the Bill falls short on all those counts. The reality is that Britain is gripped by a once-in-100-years pandemic that has taken the lives of 33,000 people, yet this reckless Government refuse to extend the transition period in which we are required to get a deal with the EU, and indeed with the US. This puts all our interests at risk.

Members will know that something like 44% of our trade goes to the EU—in Wales three quarters of our food goes there—and that the United States is a very tough negotiator. It is interested in low-price, often substandard food that may be forced on us unless we ensure in this Bill that we secure the highest standards possible to limit what can be negotiated. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has confirmed that chlorinated chicken must be part of a post-Brexit UK trade deal. We have heard talk about hormone-impregnated beef. Basically, we are at risk of importing food below the standards we currently enjoy and torpedoing the opportunity to have a meaningful EU trade deal, which is of much greater significance than the US trade deal—something like 60 times more. It is important that we ensure environmental standards are built into trade deals and into Bills such as this one. If we do not build those food and environmental standards into our law, and they are not subsequently in trade deals, then when we try to increase our environmental and food standards we will be taken to an international court by Trump and others, and we will be unable to move our standards upwards.

On climate change, there is great concern about nitrogen fertilisers producing nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas used in cattle feed for indoor intensive farming, particularly in the United States. We do not want that here. We should rule that out. We should put that into our trade deal and into the quality controls we put in the Bill. More trade further afield with the US will be bad for climate change in any case, and we know the US does not respect the Paris agreement. We need to use Bills such as this one to protect our food standards and ensure that those standards go into trade deals.

It is interesting that the Bill does not mention air quality, despite the fact that DEFRA argued that agriculture was a more important source of particulates for air pollution than diesel. We know that during the lockdown, PM2.5 and NOx have actually gone down: PM2.5 went down by 10% and NOx by 40%. We know that ammonia is a precursor of secondary particulate pollution; in other words, even though we are using our cars less, we still need to ask what we should do about delivering World Health Organisation standards, particularly as we now know there are significantly more covid deaths in areas with air pollution. That is a great big hole in the Agriculture Bill.

On migration, there are limits on the number of people who can come over here and pick our fruit and vegetables. The Agricultural Wages Board in Wales—it was abolished in England—should be extended to England to support rural workers’ wages. On protecting workers, it is critically important at this time that the workers in food production, abattoirs and food processing have proper PPE, testing and social distancing. We already know there are a massively disproportionate number of those people dying from covid. Again, the Government have neglected that situation.

In conclusion, we need to put food standards centre stage. I will be supporting the amendments. We need to ensure the EU deal is the right one, which means extending the transition period. We need to ensure that the environment and climate change are centre stage, and they need to be part of the trade deals. We need to protect our workers and all our interests in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.