Will UK farming be sacrificed to secure trade deals?

Protecting food standards in future trade deals is ‘a ship that has sailed’ – according to a former chief economist to the National Farming Union.

During a political panel – organised by the Save British Farming campaign – on the future of British farming post-Brexit, Dr Sean Rickard warned that the UK government will sacrifice the agricultural sector in pursuit of trade deals and is preparing for a future increasingly reliant on food imports.

"Many farm businesses will not be with us in 10 years’ time"

But MPs will have another chance to enshrine food standards into UK law as the Agricultural Bill returns to the House of Commons on November 4.

“Unless we are prepared to accept US standards when it comes to food then there will be no trade deal with America,” argued Dr Rickard. “The Government know this and that is why they can never legislate to protect UK standards.

“If you look carefully at the UK Agricultural Bill, you will see a government preparing to shrink the agriculture industry and to focus on land management rather than food production. A government preparing this country to import a lot more of its food in the future and willing to accept that many farm businesses will not be with us in 10 years’ time.”

The SNP’s farming spokesperson at Westminster, Deidre Brock MP agreed, adding that the UK’s envisaged system of support to replace the Common Agricultural Policy does not prioritise food production.

“The upkeeping of a grouse moor is more in tune with the UK Agricultural Bill proposals than food production,” said Ms Brock.

Dr Rickard went on to accuse former Defra secretary Michael Gove of ‘running circles around the agricultural industry’ with the creation of bodies such as the Trade and Agriculture Commission a ‘distraction, to divert attention while they pushed the Agriculture Bill through.’

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Luke Pollard, accused the UK Government of ‘driving British farmers towards bankruptcy if they don’t change tack when it comes to food standards.’

"The danger is as we create new deals we further weaken the position of UK farmers"

“There is zero point in us having high standards if the net effect is to export our responsibility for our carbon, animal welfare and environmental protections to countries that have lower standards and in so doing destroying the business models of our communities.”

Former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron warned that future deals could create further unfairness in the marketplace. “There are already a small number of powerful retailers and processors and a large number of relatively not powerful producers. The danger is as we create new deals is we further weaken the position of UK farmers who are having to deal with being picked off by big retailers but also from underneath by cheap imports.”

Mr Farron also cautioned that the current Agricultural Bill could lead to the end of family farming: “There will be less production from UK farmers and what there is will take place on much larger farms, meaning much less attention to detail to animal welfare, environmental protections and things we care about such as biodiversity. We haven’t made a choice in this country to end family farming but that is what is about to happen if we make the wrong choice in the Agricultural Bill.”

Source: The Scottish Farmer