MP defends stance on Agriculture Bill amendment aimed at protecting UK farmers against low-standard imports
PUBLISHED: 11:27 12 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:27 12 June 2020
A Suffolk Conservative MP has defended the government’s controversial stance on food standards as the Agriculture Bill makes its way through parliament.
An attempt by rebel Tory MP Neil Parish seeking to protect UK farmers from lower-standard food imports was defeated by the Conservative government – which has a thumping majority in the House of Commons.
But Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill has drawn fire from the town’s constituency Labour Party members for voting with the government and against what they described as “this vital amendment”.
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They have written a formal letter to her calling on her to defend her actions.
“There is no point having world-leading standards in the UK if we do not expect trade partners to reciprocate,” they said.
“Allowing preferential access to food imports produced to lower standards will put many of our farmers at a competitive disadvantage and out of business.
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“Not only will this export jobs in farming and food production, it will export the impact of this production, turning a blind eye to poor animal welfare standards abroad and encouraging environmental degradation there. We will be exporting control, not taking it back.”
As under-secretary for health and MP for a predominantly rural area, the livelihoods of the farming community should be one of her primary concerns, they argued, particularly during the current pandemic.
Ms Churchill said she “fully appreciated” that “there are some in the sector, and more widely, who have concerns about the future of our food standards”.
However, she added: “The amendment referenced in the letter (NC2) would, if passed, have significant unintended consequences which go beyond our current standards on food imports.
“The supply of certain products would be severely disrupted and goods that meet our current import standards would be blocked, including goods we currently import from the EU.”
Neil Parish’s clause could also have affected UK exports such as potatoes, she said, adding that her party had made a manifesto commitment not to compromise on the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in its Brexit trade talks.
“From my regular conversations with local farmers and food producers, I know they want a level playing field and some certainty over the coming months. My focus is on supporting the industry as we transition and ensuring our food and animal welfare standards remain as high as they are. British consumers want high welfare produce and if our trading partners want access into the UK market, they should expect to meet those standards,” she said.
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