More than one million people sign up to the NFU petition urging the government to protect food standards and British farmers

More than one million people have signed the NFU’s petition calling for the government to safeguard UK food standards.

Mrs Hallos said there had been strong support for the petition in Yorkshire.

The petition which has been running online has gathered “overwhelming” public support with more than 78,000 people also writing to their MPs urging them to support the introduction of an independent Trade, Food and Farming Standards Commission.

The issue of where our food comes from and how it is produced has come to the fore in recent months as the Agriculture Bill made its way through the House of Commons.

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Outlining the new ‘public money for public goods’ Environment Land Management scheme which will replace the EU subsidy system, it holds British farmers to high standards on welfare and the environment.

But while doing this, the Bill currently fails to safeguard these standards in any future trade deals. The result of this could be an increase in imported food produced to standards which would be illegal in the UK.

NFU West Riding County chairman, Rachel Hallos, said she has been overwhelmed by the level of support for the petition shown by people across Yorkshire.

“People have been signing the petition in their thousands, but more than that, in Yorkshire 4,700 people also contacted their MP directly. That’s amazing,” she said.

“Every farmer in the county is dedicated to producing the best quality food and a world-beating farmed landscape too.

“I know how much this level of public support means to them and on their behalf I would like to thank each and every person that decided to speak out on food standards.

“This is surely a message the government cannot now ignore.”

The NFU has been calling for an independent Trade, Food and Farming Standards Commission for some time and at its 2019 conference then Environment Secretary Michael Gove voiced his support for the advisory body. But despite Mr Gove putting this commitment in writing saying Defra would begin to work on it, no real progress has been made.

Earlier this year at the Oxford Farming Conference and the NFU Conference, NFU president, Minette Batters raised the issue again with Mr Gove’s successor, Theresa Villiers, and her successor, George Eustice.

But Mrs Batters said the number of signatories on the petition gave the Government a “clear signal” about how the British public felt about food standards and the introduction of the Commission would provide a “simple solution”.

“Trade policy is complicated, but what the public are telling us is quite simple. They care deeply about their food, where it comes from and how it is produced,” she said. “They do not want to see chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef on their supermarket shelves and nor do they want to see food imported which has been produced in lower welfare or environmental systems than is legally allowed in this country.

“Farmers, animal welfare groups, environmentalists and now the public have made their voices clear.

“There is a simple solution that we are presenting; the introduction of a Trade, Food and Farming Standards Commission. This would be an independent body that can review trade policy and ensure all of our food imports are held to the same standards expected of British farmers.”

Mrs Batters said the volume of support from the public had been “overwhelming”.

“The fact more than one million people have signed a petition urging the Government to put into law rules that prevent food being imported to the UK which is produced in ways that would be illegal here is a clear signal of how passionate the British public feel about this issue.”

She said it was “simply not credi-ble” for the Government to continue to “just pay lip service” to the issue.

“They must now give guarantees to the British people they have listened to their concerns and will make firm commitments to address them.”

There has been support for the petition from public faces within the food industry and supermarket chain Booths has also backed the campaign urging people to sign the NFU’s petition.

The retailer, which has three stores in Yorkshire and strong supply chain links with producers across the county, said the farmers and growers they worked with were the “backbone” of their business.

Harrogate-based COO, Nigel Murray, said the importance of our food and the people who grow, produce, pack and deliver it has been brought to the fore during the pandemic. But the people who had supported us through this time were being let down by the lack of safeguards in the Agricultural Bill.

“Our farmers and growers would not be operating on a level playing field,” he said.