Farming News - House of Commons holds it's first "virtual" vote on Agriculture Bill

House of Commons holds it's first "virtual" vote on Agriculture Bill

13 May 2020
Frontdesk / Arable / Livestock

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The Agriculture Bill returns for its final Report stages today (Wednesday) before heading to the House of Lords. It will result in the biggest reform and transformation of British agriculture and food production since 1945.

A huge coalition of farming, environmental and animal welfare organisations have written to all 650 MPs to urge them to ensure the new Agriculture Bill includes vital safeguards which ensures the food we import in any potential trade deals meet the same high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection as is expected of UK food producers.

The letter states: “Today’s debate comes at a time when, due to Brexit, we are fundamentally reassessing our trading relationship with partners in the EU and across the world. It also coincides with one of the most serious crises the world has faced in a generation in the form of the Coronavirus, and the ongoing challenges of climate change and biodiversity decline.

“We are urging you to take this last opportunity to ensure that the Bill secures vital safeguards for the high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection that the British public value so highly.

“The Bill should ensure that agri-food imports are produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare, and food safety standards as those required of producers in the UK.

“We are all agreed that a trade policy that undermines our farmers will mean a common goal of a more prosperous, sustainable and nature-friendly food and farming sector will be made much harder to achieve. And the UK will have missed an opportunity to set out its stall as being serious about tackling its global footprint.

“There are a number of amendments being brought forward which we believe the House should support. MPs must not miss this final opportunity. Amending the Bill to enshrine the importance of food trade, but only where high standards of production are met, will allow the UK to be a standard bearer for sustainable production and climate-friendly farming across the world.

“If UK farming is to face the future as a vital strategic sector, producing the food we eat and meeting the challenges of climate change, food security and the high expectations of the UK public in the way we treat our farmed animals and wildlife, the Bill must not undermine that very goal by allowing in food imports that fail to meet its high ideals.”

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn said, “Our domestic food system has been tested in ways that we haven’t seen since the second world war. It has exposed stresses, strains and failings in the system which need to be considered carefully. Consumers who have been experiencing empty shelves and panic buying will be more acutely aware of issues around food security than perhaps they have been for many years. It is likely global trade flows will be affected for some time to come as a result of the pandemic. Therefore, we ought to be considering how we should be proceeding with future policy to ensure our long-term food and environmental security.

“Those aspects of the Bill, around food security, the importance of food production, targeting active farmers and the operation of supply chains, should be strengthened to be equal with environmental priorities. This will give us a firm basis for a resilient food, farming and farmed environment policy for the future”

The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) feels the Government will be making a huge mistake if it pushes through this Bill in its current form. It was conceived, drafted and amended in a period before the first cases of the virus emerged here. It also takes no account of the UK’s already high dependence on imported food and fragile just-in-time delivery systems, the fact that food shortages are already developing in many parts of the world, that large amounts of food are being wasted due to the impact of covid-19 or that a significant number of food exporting countries are restricting sales to ensure sufficient supplies for their own populations, all of which is increasing global food prices.
 
SFT chief executive, Patrick Holden, “The first responsibility of any nation is to feed its people with adequate quantities of health-giving food. I was born in 1950 when food rationing was still in place and my parents’ generation never forgot the huge mistake the inter-war governments made by abandoning British farmers and placing their faith in imported food. Contrary to Defra’s claims that, freed from CAP regulations, farmers will be able to increase their productivity and produce food in a more sustainable way, this Bill will force tens of thousands of farmers into bankruptcy, force those that survive to become more, not less, intensive, and see us importing yet more of our daily nutritional needs from other countries, with more and more of that food brought in by air at high environmental cost.