Farming and the future of the agriculture industry are subjects that I am incredibly passionate about. Before entering this place, I had been involved for my whole life in the farming sector, and I use this opportunity to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It is my view that for far too long our agriculture industry and the entrepreneurial spirit that the sector undoubtedly encompasses have been restrained and stifled by the workings of the common agricultural policy. Through the CAP, our agriculture industry has become less competitive through ill-thought-through subsidy schemes that have impeded productivity, stifled innovation and failed to protect the environment as much as we could have. Let me be clear: this is the fault not of the farmer, but of the system they have been constrained by. A change is required and this Bill goes a long way to shaking up the system and achieving that, which is great news.
I will use my time to talk about Lords amendment 16. This has rightly received much attention and I have given it immense thought as I want to ensure that our agriculture industry thrives and is truly sustainable long into the future. However, as we look to adopt new legislation, it is vital that we scrutinise the detail and the anticipated consequences.
Let us be clear about the current position: the Bill does not lower food safety standards. Of course, the amendment goes much further and obligates that any agri-environmental food import must be produced and processed under standards that are equivalent to the UK for animal health, plant health and environmental protection. We must ask ourselves: while the intentions are entirely laudable, in reality, what will the consequences be for the supply of food that we wish to import, such as the vast amounts of tea imported from Kenya, bananas from the Dominican Republic or coffee from Vietnam?
Let us take environmental standards, for example. If Vietnam and other developing countries, such as Ghana and Indonesia, that export coffee beans to the UK were expected to provide evidence that they meet UK carbon emissions targets, I can see that that would have a dramatic impact on the UK retail and hospitality sector, as I suspect that countries would not be able to meet such requirements. Equally, it would not make sense for the UK to require trading partners with certain climates and environmental conditions, which are very different from those here in the UK, to meet our specifications, such as the UK’s requirement for nitrate vulnerable zones, which are specifically adopted to UK conditions. It is vital that that level of detail must be explored and considered at this stage, to see whether it is practical to try to enforce this amendment to a domestic piece of legislation abroad and to see whether it is workable in law. I want to see a thriving agricultural sector.