Amendment 236A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:00 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 11:00 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, what an interesting discussion we have had. I will start with Amendment 236A. We have already debated the topic of climate change extensively. Robust measures to address climate change are already in place through other legislation. The Government recognise the importance of reducing emissions. The clean growth strategy and the 25-year environment plan set out a range of specific commitments further to reduce emissions from agriculture, including through environmental land management, strengthening biosecurity, controlling endemic diseases in livestock and encouraging the use of low-emissions fertilisers. Defra is exploring a number of policy mechanisms to contribute to achieving net zero by 2050 from its sectors, including by reducing emissions from farming practices.

Clause 21 of the Environment Bill will also establish the Office for Environmental Protection, which will be responsible for matters relating to climate change where these are included in the environmental improvement plan—currently the 25-year environment plan—and in environmental law. The Government agree whole- heartedly with the aim of implementing a payment scheme for farmers and land managers, with an objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon.

Turning to Amendment 247, Clause 35(1) has been drafted to provide more flexibility to update the marketing standards than the existing EU rules, which allow for amendments to be made only in prescribed circumstances, such as improving the economic conditions for the production, marketing and quality of agricultural products, taking into account the expectations of consumers.

Keeping these restrictions would not give us the flexibility needed to tailor the standards to meet the demands of our domestic farmers, retailers and consumers, and would limit significantly our ability to improve and modernise the standards and to ensure that they are appropriate for the domestic agriculture sector. Before any changes are made to the marketing standards, we will engage with stakeholders and consult publicly to ensure that the needs of farmers, retailers and consumers are met. Marketing standards form part of food law and are covered by the duty to consult contained in Article 9 of EU Regulation 178/2002.

Turning to Amendments 248, 251, 252, 254 and 256, all food is subject to the general food law contained in Regulation 178/2002, and all food destined to be placed on the market must comply with Regulation 1169/2011 on food information to consumers—a point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Traceability of all products of animal origin is already required under existing legislation. This can be found in Article 18 of Regulation 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002, which lays down the general principles and requirements of food law. This will become retained EU law via the powers in the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018. There is no intention for these requirements to be reduced at all.

Clause 35(1) already allows the introduction of marketing standards for animal identification and traceability labelling. The Clause 35(2)(d) power in relation to labelling can be used to make rules on origin for marketing standards. There are more extensive labelling rules on origin in the food information regulations, which require the origin of meat to be indicated on the label.

All animals, whichever system they are kept in, are already protected by comprehensive and robust animal health, welfare and environmental legislation. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offence to cause any captive animal unnecessary suffering or to fail to meet the welfare needs of the animal. The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 set down more detailed rules for farmed livestock, further supported by species-specific welfare codes.

At the end of the transition period, all EU food safety, animal welfare, and environmental standards will be retained and form part of our domestic law, including all existing import requirements. Any changes to existing legislative standards would require new legislation to be brought before Parliament. The Government have absolutely no intention of watering down welfare standards and will continue to take action to improve these standards. We will not lower standards or put the UK’s biosecurity at risk as we negotiate new trade deals. The Government are committed to improving animal welfare standards and will be consulting on improvements to the regulations on animal transportation later this year.

Turning to Amendment 253A, general food labelling rules are set by the 1169/2011 regulations on the provision of food information to consumers. These already require, for example, nutrition information to be provided in specific formats and allergen and ingredients information to be provided to consumers. Following the transition period, and in accordance with the National Food Strategy, we have the opportunity to review these labelling rules to ensure that they best meet the needs of UK consumers and producers. When more reliable metrics on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impacts become available, which can be shown to drive better decisions by consumers, or more effectively drive the costs of negative externalities up the supply chain, we will certainly look at including them in the review.

I turn to Amendment 258. At the end of the transition period we can look at options for voluntary as well as mandatory approaches to labelling. They could include defining commonly used voluntary terms where they would be preferable and ensuring that they are used consistently in protecting consumers who seek to make those choices. Clause 35(2)(g) allows us to define new marketing terms covering method of farming, including slaughter. The Government have committed to a serious and rapid examination of the role of labelling, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred—I nearly said “my noble friend Lady Mallalieu”. Defra is currently writing the consultation and will launch it by December this year.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked about a UK ethical standard. We are not currently looking at an ethical standard that would compete with well-established ethical standards such as the RSPCA Red Tractor on organic standards with which we believe consumers are already familiar. Consumers are already protected in relation to these standards because any food with such labels must be produced to the stated standard.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked about a loophole relating to beef that is packaged in the UK being labelled as “British beef”. That loophole has been closed since the application of the beef marketing regulations. Regulation 1337/2013 provides for other meats as well. The origin of the meat has to be declared and has to relate to at least where it was raised and slaughtered. If it claims an origin, it has to be born, raised and slaughtered in that country.

I now turn to Amendment 250. Quick response codes can be a useful way of communicating information to consumers, and this is something that we can consider when amending the marketing standards in the future, after appropriate stakeholder engagement and consultation. Should it be deemed appropriate to introduce QR code labelling for marketing standards products, the Clause 35(1) power will allow for that.

On Amendment 253, the administration of maintaining marketing standards of imported wine products, including the digitisation of wine importation data and documentation, is included in the current scope of Clause 35(1). The scope to replace VI-1 forms with an electronic document is also covered under retained EU law, specifically Article 27 of the retained EU delegated EU Regulation 2018/273.

Turning to Amendment 255, I have to say that with three noble and learned Lords posing questions on this, I hope they will forgive me if I first study Hansard and look at the point carefully. The point I want to make is that the powers in Clause 35 have been extended at their request to Welsh Ministers and to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland and are set out in Schedules 5 and 6. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, talked about the White Paper and mutual recognition across the United Kingdom. On 16 July, the Government published a White Paper setting out how the UK internal market could operate following the transition period and launched a consultation on key aspects of our proposed approach. This will run for four weeks. We will be engaging closely with our devolved Administration colleagues and other stakeholders over the coming months and we will listen carefully to their views. The UK Government are fully committed to the Sewel convention and the associated practices for seeking consent set out in devolution guidance notes.

On the Government keeping the devolved Administrations informed about any early thinking on possible policy changes to marketing standards through discussions on the common agricultural policy framework, I can confirm absolutely that the aim is to ensure effective co-ordination and dialogue between all the Administrations on how any changes to legislation in one part of the UK may affect other parts. I do not have the time, but I would absolutely endorse not only as a unionist but as a practical person that an internal market within the United Kingdom is imperative and is in the mutual interests of everyone who lives in the United Kingdom.

Turning to the noble and learned Lord’s concern about consulting interested stakeholders, there is a duty to consult in existing legislation, Article 9 of Regulation 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002, which lays down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishes the European Food Safety Authority and lays down procedures in matters of food safety. It will be retained EU law via the powers of the EU withdrawal Act.

I have an issue—and at this time of night I hope it is not me—but it transpires that I have already replied to Amendment 263A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, because it was put down as being in the first group today as well as in this one. I have looked at this and it is most extraordinary: Amendment 263A is down in both. So I hope the noble Baroness will look again at my comments. The best thing I can say is that we absolutely recognise the importance of working with the devolved Administrations. A framework will focus on consensus-based decision-making but will also include dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms. This was with particular reference to the development of food information for consumers, fish labelling and a food compositional standards common UK framework.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked about agreements. As of 31 January 2020, when the UK left the EU, we had successfully concluded and signed trade continuity agreements with 48 countries. This accounts for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018, which represents 74% of the trade with countries with which we were seeking continuity before the withdrawal agreement was signed. The UK Government are setting up new domestic schemes that will provide protection for GIs after the transition period.

I should say, in referring to Amendment 263, that we fully expect all 88 geographical indications from the UK to remain protected in the EU after 31 December this year. GIs are very important to the UK and the Government, and we will establish robust GI schemes at the end of the transition period. What the UK is doing in negotiations with the EU is preserving its right to set its own GI rules in future. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, also asked about GIs in a US deal. The UK mandate for a US trade deal on GIs is to ,

“maintain effective protection of food and drink names in a way that reflects their geographical origins, getting the balance right for consumers to ensure they are not confused or misled about the origins of goods, and have access to a competitive range of products.”

I am being reminded of the time. I will look at all the questions that have been asked. I know there have been quite a number; it has been a varied debate. I hope, given the points that I have made, that the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, will feel able to withdraw her amendment tonight.