Trade Secretary Liz Truss writes to NFU President Minette Batters pledging to set up a commission to protect UK food standards and farmers

The Government has pledged to set up an independent trade and agriculture commission.

The NFU has been lobbying for an independent trade commission on food standards.

The pledge comes following pressure from the public, conservation, farming and animal charities to protect the UK’s high welfare and food production standards.

International Trade Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, wrote a letter to NFU President, Minette Batters, saying the Government agreed to the establishment of the commission, which she also said, would be time-limited and whose findings would be advisory.

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Mrs Batters described the move as “a hugely important development”.

The Trade Secretary wrote to NFU President Minette Batters pledging a commission for food standards

It comes barely two weeks after an online petition by the NFU calling for the Government to safeguard UK food standards passed a million signatories.

Speaking at the time, Mrs Batters said it gave the Government a “clear signal” about how the British public felt about food standards, adding that the introduction of the commission would provide a “simple solution”.

In her letter, Ms Truss sought to reassure farmers that trade deals must not compromise on high standards of food safety and animal welfare.

The Government agrees with the establishment of a trade and agriculture commission, which is time-limited and whose findings are advisory, she said.

Ms Truss said the commission should focus on policies the Government should adopt in free trade agreements so UK farmers do not face unfair competition, and high animal welfare and production standards are not undermined.

It should look at reflecting consumer interests, and those of developing countries, how to work with the World Trade Organisation to help push higher animal welfare standards across the world, and how to develop trade policy that opens up new export opportunities for UK agricultural industry, she said.

The farming organisation has been calling for an independent Trade, Food and Farming Standards Commission for some time and Mrs Batters said she was “very pleased” the Government is taking concrete action to safeguard the UK’s high food and farming standards.

“This is something we first called for over 18 months ago,” she said.

In 2019 the then Environment Secretary Michael Gove put his support for the Commission in writing saying Defra would start working on it but until now no real progress had been made.

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

The Government’s commission pledge comes amidst ongoing fears post-Brexit trade deals could undermine the UK’s food, animal welfare and environmental standards.

Organisations from the NFU to conservation groups have warned against allowing imports of food that would be illegal to produce here, citing concerns farmers and standards could be undermined by products such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.

Both such products, which have welfare implications for the animals, are banned in the UK, with legislation from the EU moving on to the British statute book.

The petition which is still running on the NFU website 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.

Speaking at the time the petition reached the million milestone, Mrs Batters said: “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.”

Following Ms Truss’s announcement she said: “We look forward to working with Government and other stakeholders in the days ahead on the commission’s terms of reference, to ensure that its work is genuinely valuable.

“In particular, it will be vital that Parliament is able to properly consider the commission’s recommendations and can ensure Government implements them effectively.”

She added that the NFU would continue to scrutinise trade negotiations with the US and other countries to make sure future trade deals work for British farmers and consumers, and said it is vital that Parliament has a strengthened role in that as well.

The Agricultural Bill which went through the House of Commons with no amendment to protect food standards, is currently proceeding to the House of Lords Committee stage.