Food Production Standards

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 10th September 2020.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to protect British food production standards in trade deals.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have a manifesto commitment that, in all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental, animal welfare and food standards. We have retained in law our existing standards of protection. We have laid before the House our negotiating objectives, stating that we will uphold those, and we most recently established the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Employment)

Many of my constituents, including Nimmi Soni, have written to me with their concerns about the Government’s commitment to protecting food standards. The Secretary of State is right that his party’s manifesto promised not to compromise on food standards in trade deals, but twice—twice—the Government have refused to support Labour amendments to put that into law. If over 70% of people do not want us selling food imported from countries with lower food standards, and more than 1 million people have signed a National Farmers Union petition for British food standards to be put into law, why are the Government refusing to do what the public want and expect? The country has a right to know.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In retained EU law, we have indeed put in place the existing prohibitions on the sale of, for instance, poultry washed with chlorine and beef treated with hormones. We have legal prohibitions and our own legal bans on certain practices. Those remain in place and will not change.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yesterday was Back British Farming Day, but while our farmers are at risk of being undercut in future trade deals, it will take more than just one day of wheatsheaf wearing to protect them. Will the Secretary of State support the amendment in the House of Lords to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on firmer footing, especially to offset the clear conflict of interest of Tony Abbott negotiating agricultural trade deals with Australia that could risk British farmers’ livelihoods further?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Tony Abbott is one of a number of people on the Board of Trade. Their role is to champion British exports overseas. They do not decide Government policy or the Government’s negotiating mandate; those negotiations are led by the Secretary of State for International Trade. We have set up a food and agriculture and trade standards commission. That has been done and it is already meeting. It does not need to be placed on a statutory footing.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Nancy Pelosi and several other American politicians have said that there will be no trade deal with the US if the UK reneges on treaties that it has signed up to, as the Government intend to do with the EU withdrawal agreement. Given that the UK Government dumped food standards from the Agriculture Bill to pursue a US deal that now appears dead, what options will the Secretary of State be looking at to restore those protections, and can we see guarantees on food standards for imports written into law?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There are a number of ways in which we secure standards on food imports. One is through the prohibitions on sale, as I have already mentioned, which include things such as poultry washed with chlorine or hormones in beef. There is the sanitary and phytosanitary chapter that exists in every trade deal that sets out our requirements for food safety and food standards of food coming in. Finally, of course, we use tariff policy to take account of certain practices in other countries.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

What advice has the Secretary of State asked for or been given about the liability of the UK Government for damages arising from their failure to ensure that our current standards are upheld in any future trade deal? Will the Government be prepared to compensate farmers and other food producers whose businesses suffer as a result? Will consumers whose health is affected similarly be entitled to compensation?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There will be no need for compensation as this Government will protect and uphold our food standards.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

Food standards and geographical protections go hand in hand, and despite the Secretary of State’s earlier answer to my hon. Friend Deidre Brock, this Government are giving up on food standards and trade deals and are abandoning the EU’s protections on protected geographical indications. Those actions threaten Scotland’s high-quality produce, including whisky. What reassurances can he give to the whisky workers in my constituency that their industry will be protected, and will the Government do a welcome U-turn and seek to rejoin the EU’s protected geographical indication scheme?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We will not rejoin the EU’s scheme, but the withdrawal agreement makes provision in the area of protected food names and PGI s, and there will be recognition of the existing ones that have been set out. In addition, we will be establishing our own independent PGI and protected food name scheme to take new applications after we leave.