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Coronavirus has highlighted our food insecurity: the Agriculture Bill must not compromise standards

With the current crisis shining a light on long and fragile supply chains, food insecurity and hunger, it is time for a fundamental rethink, says Daniel Zeichner MP | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

The Government claims it won't compromise the UK’s food standards. So why has it refused to put that promise into the Agriculture Bill?

We are just about to make the biggest change to our food production system since the Second World War.

This affects all of us.

The return of the Agriculture Bill to the Commons today as the first major piece of legislation since the Coronavirus Act is of interest to more than just the farming community.

The scene has been set for a major showdown over our future approach to trade, wiith many in the Conservative Party looking to forge a new relationship with the United States in particular.

The Government claims it will not compromise the UK’s health, environmental and welfare standards. It has refused to put that promise into the Agriculture Bill, despite constant demands from Labour and a coalition of environmental and farming groups.

Labour will not support anything that risks high UK standards and puts jobs in the food industry at risk.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the National Farmers Union and others had been planning mass rallies and a powerful campaign to try to persuade the Conservative Party to do the right thing.

Senior Tory backbenchers issued a clear warning early in the Parliamentary process that they would expect to see firm guarantees in the legislation, and the Conservative chair of the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has tabled a strong amendment demanding that future imports meet UK standards.

Labour will not support anything that risks high UK standards and puts jobs in the food industry at risk.

But there is a further danger.

We believe the trilogy of the environment, agriculture and fisheries bills is a missed opportunity to really tackle the climate emergency. 

At the same time, progress on the Government’s National Food Strategy has been painfully slow. With the current crisis shining a light on long and fragile supply chains, food insecurity and hunger, it is time for a fundamental rethink.

Labour’s position is clear: the legislation should follow the food strategy, not the other way around, and should tackle the climate crisis directly.

Plans to switch taxpayer farming support to environmental schemes are welcome and needed, but must include support for sustainable food production and there can be no lowering of environmental, health or welfare standards.

This needs to be clearly spelled out in the legislation. Our mantra has been "put it in the bill" and will continue to be.

If the Government means what it says, then it can send a strong message to trade negotiators by setting it out in the Agriculture Bill today.

Failure to do so sends a very different message, and puts our high standards, as well as the future of our farming sector, at risk.

Daniel Zeichner is Labour MP for Cambridge and shadow minister for farming and rural affairs


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