Thursday, August 22, 2019

Farm leader demands written guarantee on food standards

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

NFU president Minette Batters has called on the government to convene a special commission to help maintain food standards after the UK leaves the European Union.

Speaking at last month’s NFU conference, Ms Batters said a firm commitment from the government  was needed to ensure British farmers weren’t undermined after Brexit by a flood of food imports produced to standards that are illegal in the UK.

“The issue of maintaining our food standards is critical – which is why I am also asking for a high-level commission to be convened, bringing together government officials, industry representatives, civil society groups and experts in foor and farming,” she said. “This commission needs to be charged with producing a report before the end of the year.”

Trade deals

More than 1200 farming delegates attended the two-day conference at the Birmingham ICC conference centre on 19-20 February. This year’s annual event came a year after Ms Batters was elected the NFU’s first woman president in the union’s 110-year history.

She told listeners that the commission would need to make recommendations on how future trade deals between the UK and other countries should be scrutinised at a high level by parliament – and the government would need to act on those recommendations.

Highlighting a government pledge to maintain food standards, Ms Batters said: “I don’t want it written in blood – I want it written in ink.”

And she added: “It’s not just a role for government. Retailers, food service and all out-of-home eating has a role to play. We’re asking them to pledge to only buy food produced to British standards.”

Defra secretary Michael Gove delivered the conference keynote speech. He stopped short of saying the government would convene a commission – but said the idea had merit and promised to give it his full consideration.

The government’s Agriculture Bill created new powers to improve the functioning of the supply chain, to support farmers through extreme market disturbance, to safeguard producer organisations and provide new sources of income for farming business, said Mr Gove.

He continued: “We are in new discussion about how to go further to support the sustainability of food production and to protect our high standards that Minette rightly underlined were so important in a competitive trading environment.

“We have been clear – across government, from the Prime Minister down – that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use all the tools at our disposal to make sure the standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage.”