In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives promised not to compromise on food standards in future trade negotiations, saying:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
They have not put this commitment into law. The Bill does nothing to prevent British farmers from being undercut in post-Brexit trade deals with countries with lower animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards. The Government argue that all current legal protections have been carried over by the EU (Withdrawal) Act as retained EU law, including bans on chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, but this can be overturned in secondary legislation without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.
Our membership of the EU kept our food standards high, but we are currently negotiating with other countries whose standards are substantially lower than those in the UK. These products include chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef from countries such as the US and Australia. Australia still uses farming methods that are currently illegal in the UK. Hormone-injected beef, for example, is currently banned under EU law due to concerns about public health as well as animal welfare, yet the US and Australia are reputed to be pushing for the UK to accept imports of hormone-injected beef. Chlorinated chicken masks salmonella and E. coli, and causes poor animal welfare conditions in barns and abattoirs. Negotiations are left wide open to pressure on Ministers to use their powers to relax standards. Without a clear and unequivocal guarantee in an Act of Parliament, the Tories’ manifesto promise is worthless. The US and other countries have made it clear that they will expect the Government to accept lower-standard foods currently banned in the UK and the EU such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef.
The temporary Trade and Agriculture Commission that the Government have established in response will produce only one advisory report and not a continuous assessment of individual trade deals. Its terms of reference should be widened so that it is able to review all trade deals, in a meaningful way, and its recommendations should be made subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I support Lords amendment 18, which would put the commission on a statutory and permanent basis.
Differential tariffs are not the answer, as they risk tariff wars. That would harm British farmers but still allow food produced to a low standard to be sold in the UK. I support our UK farmers, whose industry could face a final blow if such trade deals go ahead. More than 1 million people have signed a National Farmers Union petition calling on the Government to hold to those standards. That is why I support Lords amendment 16, to protect our farmers and consumers from lower animal welfare, environmental and public health standards. I urge the Government to commit to their 2019 manifesto pledge and to accept all six of the Lords amendments.