Government must not sell out our farmers at the G7
Labour is calling on the Prime Minister to get behind British farmers once and for all: stand up for British jobs, enshrine our food and farming standards in law, and ensure all future trade deals do not endanger the sustainability of British agriculture.
This weekend the government is clearly hoping to announce agreement on a new free trade deal with Australia at the G7 Summit in Cornwall. British farmers are right to be fearful. Because after all their promises and manifesto commitments to preserve our high food standards, the Conservative government looks set to sell out our farmers in the same way their Brexit deal sold out British fishing.
Labour supports growing international trade, but the terms of this any other deal must safeguard our important food standards and support British farmers and fishing. It’s clear that the public do not support the import of food produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards that would undercut British farmers – but that’s exactly what the Prime Minister, in a desperate rush to cut a deal, is now risking.
We know that many of Australia’s food and farming standards are lower than our own. Australian agriculture is intensive, large-scale and lightly-regulated, with widespread use of practices and products that are banned in the UK: the ‘mulesing’ of young lambs (too unpleasant to detail here, it involves removing skin near the backside, often without anaesthetic), the use of growth-promoting hormones in cattle and chicken, much looser restrictions on pesticides including bee-killing neonicotinoids, and the confined transport of live animals for up to 48 hours without rest. Despite these practices, Ministers continue to claim that Australia has high standards - they don’t.
The Conservative government looks set to sell out our farmers in the same way their Brexit deal sold out British fishing
A surge in Australian food imports under a rushed trade deal will undercut our farmers, and increase the amount of food we eat produced in ways that are less safe for consumers, less humane for farm animals, and more damaging for the environment. It also sets a damaging precedent for our future trade deals with other major agricultural producers including the US, New Zealand, Brazil and Canada.
In the passage of the Agriculture and Trade Acts, Labour and the National Farmers Union secured a concession from the government that all future trade deals would be assessed by a new Trade and Agriculture Commission, to ensure that Britain’s high food and farming standards are not compromised by any provision in this new trade deal or any other.
Fast-forward to now, just days before a potentially damaging trade deal is agreed, and that body hasn’t even been properly set up yet. Instead the government has sought to narrow its remit from that originally promised, denying a voice to farmers, and they haven’t even responded to the series of important recommendations made by the interim Commission in March this year - including the establishment of a new national framework of food and farming standards against which trade deals could be judged.
The government must now deliver what was promised on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, so that the UK-Australia FTA is subject to proper scrutiny. If an Australian trade deal sells out our farmers by cutting tariffs on food produced to lower standards than are allowed in Britain, it won’t just be a broken manifesto promise - it will represent the biggest betrayal of British agriculture in modern history.
This weekend, Labour is calling on the Prime Minister to get behind British farmers once and for all: stand up for British jobs, enshrine our food and farming standards in law, and ensure all future trade deals, including with Australia, do not endanger the sustainability of British agriculture. The nation will be watching closely.
Daniel Zeichner is the Labour MP for Cambridge and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.