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Establishment of a Food Standards Commission

Volume 679: debated on Tuesday 1 September 2020

The Petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that the UK Government has not put proper safeguards in place to protect food standards post the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union; notes that the Government has rejected cross party amendments to the Agricultural Bill that aimed to protect standards of imports and ensure that any imports would not be able to undercut UK producers; further notes that leaving the European Union without a deal on 31 December 2020 will mean trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, and that the most favoured nation status will mean that the UK cannot prevent the import of hormone injected beef or chlorinated chicken from the US; further notes that the consumer group Which? has stated that a US trade deal poses the biggest risk to food standards since the BSE crisis and notes that the current deals struck by the EU provide the necessary protections; further declares that an extension to the transition period would create a short term protection against low standard imports, and that a Food Standards Commission with the remit of ensuring quality and welfare standards of food and drink imports in any trade deals could provide longer term protections for our farmers and growers in Scotland and the wider UK.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to consider the establishment of a Food Standards Commission to monitor any trade deals involving food and drink products and to protect UK welfare standards and value our farmers and growers who produce in Scotland and the wider UK.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Alan Brown, Official Report, 18 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 1050.]


Petitions in the same terms were presented by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) [P002583] and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) [P002588].

Observations from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis):

Thank you very much for these petitions and raising the issue of the protection of food standards and the establishment of a Food Standards Commission.

This Government stood on a very clear manifesto commitment that in all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. Any trade deal the UK strikes must be fair to our farmers and we will continue to fight for the interests of our farming industry in all trade negotiations. The Government have also been clear that we will not be extending the transition period: we need to be able to design our own rules, in our best interests, without the constraints of following EU rules.

Legal protections for our standards will remain in place. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains our standards on environmental protections, animal welfare, animal and plant health and food safety at the end of the transition period. This provides a firm basis for maintaining the same high level of protection for both domestic and imported products. These requirements include prohibitions on the use of growth-promoting hormone treatments, and the sale of products derived from animals treated with them and set out that no products (other than potable water) are approved to decontaminate poultry carcasses. Any changes to legislation would require these to be brought to Parliament, and in the case of devolved competence, the devolved legislatures where the usual scrutiny procedures will apply.

The UK’s food standards for both domestic production and imports are overseen by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS). These agencies provide independent advice to the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. Risk impact assessments provided by the FSA and FSS use a science-driven approach and take account of animal welfare and environmental production standards, as well as other issues of consumer interest. After the end of the transition period, the FSA and FSS will continue to oversee food safety to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards.

Alongside this the UK will repatriate the functions of audit and inspections that are currently carried out by the European Commission to ensure that trading partners continue to meet our import conditions for food and feed safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare. This will provide a robust system that will work alongside border controls to maintain our high standards going forward. Carrying these provisions over into domestic legislation will ensure that trading partners have the necessary infrastructure and regulations in place to export safe food and animal products to the UK which either meet or exceed UK import conditions.

The Government have been clear that in our trade agreements we will not compromise on our standards. In leaving the EU, the UK regained sovereign control over decisions on standards and regulations. Any future trade agreements must respect this regulatory autonomy, so we can continue to protect the public, animal and plant life and health, reflecting our existing high standards. We want to negotiate an ambitious and comprehensive free trade deal with the US. We will not water down our standards nor put the UK’s biosecurity at risk as we negotiate this or any other new trade deals.

As an independent trading nation, the UK will recognise global rules on trade alongside ensuring that trade agreements live up to the values of farmers and consumers across the UK. World Trade Organization (WTO) rules allow for the adoption of measures on public policy grounds such as protecting human, animal and plant life or health, public morals and conservation. This is subject to caveats, including that these measures do not create obstacles or arbitrarily discriminate between Members and are not disguised restrictions on international trade.

In addition to the commitments of this Government and robust legal protections outlined, we are pleased to confirm that we have recently established a Trade and Agriculture Commission, to operate under Department for International Trade auspices.

In its advisory role, the Commission brings together stakeholders across the industry, using their expertise to advise on how best the UK can seize new export opportunities, while ensuring animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined. It will provide advice to inform our approach as we negotiate free trade deals and promote our agenda at the WTO and other international fora, and to advance and protect consumer interests and those of developing countries.

The membership covers a cross-section of representatives across agriculture, consumer, animal health, international development, hospitality, food SMEs and retail. There are representatives from all parts of the UK, including the farmers’ unions. The Commission’s Secretariat will also share updates from Commission meetings with the devolved Administrations on a regular basis.

At the end of its fixed six-month term, the Commission will submit an advisory report, to be presented to Parliament by the Department for International Trade, which:

A. Considers the policies that Government should adopt in free trade agreements to secure opportunities for UK farmers, ensure the sector remains competitive and to make sure that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined

B. Reflects consumer interests and those of developing countries.

C. Considers how the UK engages the WTO to build a coalition that helps advance higher animal welfare standards across the world.

D. Develops trade policy that identifies and opens up new export opportunities for the UK agricultural industry—in particular for small and medium-sized businesses—and that benefits the UK economy as a whole.

We are pleased that stakeholders have welcomed this announcement, and further details on the Commission’s membership and work can be found on the Department for International Trade’s webpages.

Thank you once again for these petitions and raising this important issue.