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Imported Agricultural Goods

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020

4. What her policy is on the compliance of imported agricultural goods with UK (a) animal welfare, (b) environmental and (c) food safety standards after the transition period. (900651)

As we set out in our manifesto, we are committed to upholding our high standards of environmental protection, food safety and animal welfare. Now we have left the EU, our high standards, including import requirements, continue to apply. We will not dilute our standards, or put the UK’s biosecurity at risk, in our future trade negotiations.

My constituents benefit from the glorious countryside of Northumberland and County Durham—landscapes shaped by small-scale farmers. Those farmers would be devastated by unfair competition from the American agro-industrial machine, with its lower animal welfare, food and environmental standards. The Secretary of State talks a good talk and reads a good brief, but she will not put anything into law, so will she now unequivocally condemn any Government who trade away our high food, environmental and animal welfare standards?

I can assure the hon. Member that we will not trade away our high standards of environmental protection, animal welfare or food safety. We will make sure that our trade negotiations work for our whole country, including the farmers she mentioned. I met farmers in Northumberland only a few days ago and had those very conversations.

On Monday, the Secretary of State heard from both Opposition MPs and MPs on her own Benches that she had to put our high environmental standards into law to prevent US agriculture from undercutting them in any trade negotiations. Now that a few days have passed since that debate, has she reflected on the fact that there is cross-party support for putting those promises into law and will she do the right thing and put them in the Agriculture Bill?

I reiterate what we said in a debate last week: our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards are already in law, including legislating to prevent the importation of chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef, and our manifesto commits us to continuing to defend robustly those standards in future trade negotiations.

I am afraid that is not a good enough answer from the Environment Secretary, because unless there is a specific clause in the Agriculture Bill that guarantees that there will be no undercutting of British farmers by imported US agriculture in particular—produce grown to lower animal welfare and environmental standards—no one will believe a word that the Environment Secretary has to say. The Trade Secretary is today publishing a document that will apparently lock those standards into law, so if it is good enough for the Trade Secretary, why is it not good enough for the Environment Secretary to put the same commitment into law?

As I have said, those commitments are already in law, and the Government will defend them in our trade negotiations. There is a cross-party consensus in this House that we value our high standards. We will continue with those high standards; we will not compromise them in trade negotiations.

How will the Secretary of State ensure that ractopamine-treated pork and turkey meat from the United States stays out of our food chains?

As I have said, we will ensure that all food coming into this country meets our high sanitary and phytosanitary standards and our high standards of food safety. We will not under any circumstances compromise biosecurity or human health in our trade negotiations.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s and the Government’s commitment to maintaining high food, welfare and health standards, but can she update the House on what plans there are for a food standards commission, as requested by the National Farmers Union of Scotland?

I have discussed that with the National Farmers Union, and there is real merit in its proposal. We continue to consider it, but I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that, whatever the mechanism, we will engage very closely with farmers and other stakeholders as we take forward our trade negotiations.

Can my right hon Friend put the House at ease and confirm that any trade agreement will have to be ratified under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and that this House will therefore have a full opportunity to scrutinise any effect of trade deals on our food standards?

I can; this House will be involved in scrutiny of our trade negotiations, and I look forward to having those debates with hon. Members.

13. It is absolutely right that we focus on high-quality standards in our trade deals with the rest of the world, but the reality is that 90% of Cumbrian farm exports are to the European single market. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that my farmers next January will not be facing crippling taxes and tariffs on their exports? (900663)

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government are clear that we are seeking a free trade agreement with the European Union without tariffs. That is something that the Prime Minister and his team will be working on in the months ahead.