Comment on the draft Agriculture Bill

The following letter was sent to Steve Baker on the 8th of June, on behalf of Wycombe Labour for a Green New Deal. It sets out concerns about the government's draft Agriculture Bill and the lack of standards of environmental protection applying to food and feed imports.

Dear Mr. Baker,

Re: Agriculture Bill 2019-21

I am writing to you on behalf of Wycombe Labour for a Green New Deal to voice my strong concerns about the lack of standards of environmental protection applying to food and feed imports in the draft Agriculture Bill 2019-21 (the “Bill”).

The 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto proudly states that “high standards of animal welfare are one of the hallmarks of a civilised society”. It goes on to pledge funding to ensure that our farmers “farm in a way that protects and enhances our natural environment, as well as safeguarding high standards of animal welfare”.

I would like to think that a member of any political party would stand shoulder to shoulder in agreement with these affirmations. Yet, the Bill, in its present form is at total odds with such sentiments.

As currently drafted, the Bill would not only compromise but effectively undercut our environmental protections, as well as our animal welfare and food standards by allowing the inflow of food from countries that do not come close to meeting the standards or protections that we hold in the UK.

In this respect, the USA is of particular interest given their relatively poor record on environmental protections and animal welfare standards and the need for the UK to establish a Free Trade Agreement (“FTA”) with them following our withdrawal from the European Union.

Indeed, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is one of the co-sponsors of the Bill, has gone on record only last year as saying that “in the US, legislation on animal welfare is woefully deficient” and that America’s “livestock sectors often suffer from poor husbandry, which leads to more prevalence of disease and a greater reliance on antibiotics”.

We simply cannot allow liberalised post-Brexit trade to expose the livelihoods of British farmers by forcing them to compete with agricultural products, such as many of those from the USA, that would be illegal were they produced in the UK. Moreover, we must use our position as one the world’s leaders to take a strong moral stance to promote animal welfare and environmental standards of food production across the world.

I would add that this view has been met with wide support from the British public, as evidenced by the petition of the National Farmers’ Union which, at the time of writing, is approaching one million signatures and includes my own.

At this stage, I sincerely hope that the issues that I highlight above are addressed with greater alacrity by the House of Lords during their second reading than was seen as the Bill passed through the House of Commons.

In terms of action, I would strongly urge you to:

1. reconsider your position on these matters and publicly adopt a stance that makes it clear that the Bill should reflect wording to the effect that the UK will not ratify an FTA with another nation unless that nation meets current UK environmental and food safety standards, and

2. actively lead calls to put in place a Trade, Food and Farming Standards Commission to review policy and develop solutions to promote free trade while holding all food imports to the UK’s high food and animal welfare standards.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Down

Acting coordinator, Wycombe Labour for a Green New Deal

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