British Farming’s high standards are at risk of being “ripped apart” unless new legislative safeguards guarantee the quality of imported food, a parliamentary watchdog has warned.
Domestic food production could be “significantly undermined” by the Government’s Agriculture Bill in its current form, according to a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
Following its inquiry into the Agriculture Bill, the committee demands that the Government “puts its money where its mouth is” and accepts an amendment that stipulates that food imported as part of any future trade deal “should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment”.
Neil Parish, the committee’s chairman and Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, said: “The UK currently has exceptionally high environmental and food standards and an internationally recognised approach to animal welfare. This legacy cannot be ripped apart by the introduction of cheap, low-quality goods following our exit from the European Union.
“Imports produced to lower standards than ours pose a very real threat to UK agriculture. Without sufficient safeguards we could see British farmers significantly undermined while turning a blind eye to environmental degradation and poor animal welfare standards abroad.”
MPs also want the Groceries Code Adjudicator to have powers to oversee ‘fair dealing’ obligations for first purchasers of agricultural products, rather than the Rural Payments Agency.
The committee also said it was disappointed that it had not been afforded the chance to scrutinise the Bill pre-legislatively.
Mr Parish added: “This Bill lacks clarity and gives any future Secretary of State the opportunity to avoid scrutiny and make crucial decisions while going somewhat unchallenged.
“We would like to see sufficient opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny before any new systems or policies are rolled out.”
Defra said all amendments proposed to the Bill will be considered as part of the parliamentary process. A spokesman added: “Ministers have always been absolutely clear that we will not water down our high standards in pursuit of trade deals.
“Our food security is built on a strong domestic production base and access to safe, high quality imports from a diverse range of countries.”