Farmers’ leaders have expressed disappointment at the passing of the UK Agriculture Bill in the Commons without the inclusion of a clause to protect producers from lower standard food imports.
Senior Conservative MPs Simon Hoare and Neil Parish led the push for the Agriculture Bill, which sets out new policy as the UK quits the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy, to require a level playing field between British farmers and those overseas in future trade agreements.
They had hoped to include a clause in the bill guaranteeing that post-Brexit food imports would match the UK’s high food and environmental standards. However their amendment was defeated by 277 votes to 328.
Both Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and NFU Scotland (NFUS) warn that British farmers are now at risk of being undermined by imports of food produced to standards that would not be allowed in this country.
Eleanor Kay, SLE’s policy adviser for agriculture, said: “This issue has united farming, consumer, environmental and animal welfare organisations and codifying the commitment in law would have strengthened the government’s hand in trade talks as a food standard which could not be deviated from.
“If this is not addressed, we face a very real prospect of British farming being undermined by imported food that can be produced to a standard which would be unacceptable and illegal in the UK. All we ask for is a level playing field.”
NFUS director of policy, Jonnie Hall, said the bill presented an opportunity to ensure all agri-food exports are produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards as those required of farmers in the UK.
He added: “Anything less would undermine the highest standards to which the industry in Scotland works, and the entire agri-food supply chains of the UK.”
Both organisations said they would continue to lobby for safeguards to be put in the bill ahead of it going through further scrutiny in the House of Lords.