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'Cheap, nasty' trade deals threaten UK's high food growing standards, farmers' leader warns

PUBLISHED: 08:40 08 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:32 08 November 2019

UK food standards should not be threatened by cheap imports, NFU vice president Stuart Robert argues  Picture: JUPITERIMAGES

UK food standards should not be threatened by cheap imports, NFU vice president Stuart Robert argues Picture: JUPITERIMAGES

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Agricultural standards in the UK must not be sacrificed in favour of "cheap, nasty" post-Brexit trade deals, a farmers' leader warned as he addressed Suffolk farmers.

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSNFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

National Farmers' Union (NFU) vice president Stuart Roberts called for high British standards to be maintained - but said these should not be threatened by imports of cheap food produced to a much lower bar.

"We are in the middle of an election where we know certain politicians who will sacrifice those standards to do cheap, nasty trade deals with other parts of the world," he said.

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Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Suffolk branch of the NFU held in Stowmarket on November 5, Mr Roberts warned against "hard right, free trading politicians" undermining the UK industry.

"As an industry we have got to be much more robust about this," he said. "It's also about our values as a society."

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSNFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

The industry needed to lead the way on issues such as climate change, he argued, which was why the NFU had set out its net zero carbon by 2040 ambition for the sector.

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If the industry didn't see itself as a solution to these difficult problems then it had "a very, very dark future", he warned.

It was already making strides, with latest reports suggesting that use of antibiotics in UK farming had been cut drastically - and were now 53% lower than what they had been, he said.

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSNFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

But farmers needed to become better at "telling their story", and understanding where the public stands.

"We have to become much better at understanding where society's values are today," he said.

"When we came out with a target net zero by 2040 - an ambition that we wanted to be the solution to that (climate change) - it put us in a very different place than we were historically."

Issues around standards were coming more to the fore, and of importing cheap food into this country that would not be acceptable to produce here.

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSNFU vice president Stuart Roberts speaking to Suffolk branch members at their AGM Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

"It's an issue which is starting to resonate with consumers. We'll talk a lot more about that over the next year and I think it's something you'll hear more about," he said.

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