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Like all Conservative Members, I am proud to have stood on a manifesto commitment that, in all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. The Secretary of State for International Trade and I are working together to deliver that commitment.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but will he restate that he is still willing to stand by his party’s manifesto commitment to put that into law to prevent food from being imported into the United Kingdom that is produced in ways that would be illegal under current legislation? I am thinking particularly about chlorinated chicken.
Retained European law brings across a prohibition on treatments such as chlorine washes on chicken and, indeed, hormone treatments on beef. The Government have made it clear that those have been brought across and remain in place. We also stand by our manifesto commitment, which was to protect our food standards and animal welfare standards in trade agreements, but we did not ever say that we would legislate in the Agriculture Bill to do that.
Can the Secretary of State explain exactly how a dual tariff would prevent British consumers from having to accept imported food produced by causing animals unnecessary suffering, and how he will support British farmers striving to produce a high standard of food?
The hon. Lady makes reference to media speculation. I am sure hon. Members will understand that I cannot give a running commentary on our discussions on a future trade agreement or comment on such media speculation, but I will say that there are many ways, through a trade deal, that a country can agree with another country how to protect food standards—both food safety and animal welfare.
The public do not want our British farmers to be undercut by food produced to lower standards abroad. Research by Which? published today shows that eight out of 10 people are worried that trade deals will risk our high animal welfare standards. With the National Farmers Union petition now on 1 million names, it is clear that Ministers are on the wrong side of the argument here, so does the Environment Secretary need any more help convincing the International Trade Secretary to put the Conservative manifesto promise into law?
The International Trade Secretary and I are both absolutely committed to delivering our manifesto commitments, but we also have a manifesto commitment to expand the number of free trade agreements that we have, and it is also the case that the UK farming industry has offensive interests, particularly in dairy and in meat such as pork, lamb and beef, in other countries, particularly Asian markets. We want to expand the number of free trade agreements that we have to create opportunities for our industry but also to protect our standards, and that is exactly what we will do.
I think we all know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ministerial team are part of the eight out of 10 who are worried about animal welfare in trade agreements, but may I press the Secretary of State on a slightly different issue related to food standards—the outbreaks of covid-19 in food processing plants across the United Kingdom? This is serious. Any outbreak needs to be contained. Food standards matter, and standards for the people who work in those plants also matter. What assessment has the Environment Secretary made of whether meat processing plants and food factories are especially at risk, and what assessment has he made of the low level of statutory sick pay that forces many people to work in those plants instead of staying at home because they simply would not earn enough money to pay their bills if they did so?
I pay tribute to all those working in our food sector, including in manufacturing, who have worked very hard to keep food on our plates during these difficult times. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We have heard now of three outbreaks linked to meat plants. They have been picked up through the testing and tracing approach that has been adopted and we are reviewing the guidance. We suspect that these outbreaks might have been linked either to canteens or, potentially, to car-sharing arrangements in those plants. We will be revising guidance to ensure that businesses have the approach that they need to prevent further outbreaks in future.
The EU is clear that tariffs to counteract its green box subsidies will not be acceptable. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure that domestic food producers are not disadvantaged by matching those green box subsidies for farmers here?
As part of our agreement to leave the European Union, we have been working for a couple of years now jointly with the European Union on splitting the World Trade Organisation schedule, including what is called the aggregate market support boxes—the so-called green boxes and amber boxes—and the UK will have an appropriate share of that green box support in the WTO.