Farming News - MPs reject Ag bill amendment to protect UKs high animal welfare standards

MPs reject Ag bill amendment to protect UKs high animal welfare standards

14 May 2020
Frontdesk / Livestock

Ministers have rejected an amendment relating to food standards in future trade deals missing the opportunity to ensure our higher animal welfare standards are protected. MPs took the ‘historical’ vote on the amendments, the first ever law to be voted on by Westminster electronically - due to the current lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

CLA President Mark Bridgeman said:“It is deeply frustrating that calls to delay the start of the transition from direct payments has been ignored by the UK Government.

“It’s crucial, more than ever, that farming businesses are given the right information so they can plan for the future and adapt to the new system.

“The Environmental Land Management Scheme has the potential to be a world leading land management policy and it deserves to succeed – but if the transition starts before the details are fully understood then it puts farmers in a very difficult position.  Government should publish full details of how the new schemes will work in practice and how we will transition, as soon as possible.”

“We’re also disappointed that the trade amendments didn’t pass. It was notable that a wide coalition of farming organisations and environmentalists came together to make our concerns known.  We hope the Lords will allow for more time to closely scrutinise the risks to food production in this country of not having a level playing field with international competitors in the next stage of the Bill.”

“We owe it to British consumers to ensure that any food that we import under any potential trade deals meet the same high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection as is expected of UK food producers. Importing food produced to low animal welfare and environmental standards to undercut UK farmers is unacceptable.”

NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “NFU Cymru has been fighting hard on the standards issue for a long time now. We have been at the heart of a broad coalition of farming, consumer, environmental and animal welfare organisations from across the UK that has been making the case for upholding high standards in any future trade deals that the UK makes with third countries.  

“Unfortunately, without this amendment the bill lacks any formal requirement to uphold our farming production standards as we negotiate trade deals and in our general trade policy. 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, otherwise the very real risk is that we will see our farmers undermined by agri-food products produced to standards which would be illegal here.

“Although this amendment has not been successful today, I’m really grateful for the support we’ve had so far on the standards issue from MPs and politicians across the political spectrum. It’s also been really encouraging to have been able to unite such a wide coalition of organisations around this cause, something I know also resonates very strongly with the public who rightly expect that food standards will be maintained.”

“We cannot have a trade policy which requires our farmers to compete against food produced to lower standards.  Regrettably the bill will now leave the House of Commons without the amendments that we would like to have seen, so we will now focus our lobbying efforts on securing the amendments that we need to see at the House of Lords stages.”

David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs said: “Since the Brexit referendum result two years ago, the RSPCA has campaigned  extensively and lobbied MPs and Defra Ministers about provisions for animal welfare in the Agriculture Bill. Today’s vote was something the RSPCA and its supporters have been tentatively anticipating. 

“We’re very encouraged that the Bill includes the development of a scheme to provide financial rewards for farmers in England who improve their animal welfare practices, as well as the official recognition of animal welfare as a ‘public good’. These measures could improve the health and welfare of millions of farm animals and position England as a world leader for farm animal welfare.

“However, we can’t ignore that other key aspects that we hoped would be included have not been voted into law today. We’re disappointed that MPs did not vote to protect farmers in England and the rest of the UK from lower welfare imports despite the UK Government committing to this.  At a time when the UK is negotiating new trade deals with the USA, Australia and Japan, all of whom have lower legal requirements for farm animal welfare than the UK, any measures to raise our standards will be undermined if we are allowing in produce from animals reared to lower welfare standards, including in systems that would be illegal here. 

“With hundreds of millions of animals farmed for food each year, this Bill has missed an unique opportunity to ensure our higher animal welfare standards are protected.”

NFU Scotland Director of Policy Jonnie Hall said: “While the passing of this landmark Bill unamended was no surprise, it was still deeply disappointing.  The UK Agriculture Bill is a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation and it must safeguard the sustainability of domestic food production and the integrity of domestic food consumption.

”The Bill presents an opportunity to ensure that agri-food imports in the future are produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards as those required of farmers and crofters in Scotland and the UK. Anything less would undermine the highest standards to which the industry in Scotland works to, and the entire agri-food supply chains of the UK.

“Encouragement can be taken from those MPs who argued so strongly yesterday for amendments to the Bill and NFU Scotland will continue to press its case as part a 26-strong UK-wide alliance of agricultural, environmental, animal welfare and consumer groups as the Bill enters the Lords.”