Farmers cautiously welcome new pledge to safeguard UK standards

The government says it will protect food and farming standards in a new publication outlining the UK’s negotiating mandate for trade talks with the US
The government says it will protect food and farming standards in a new publication outlining the UK’s negotiating mandate for trade talks with the US

Farmers have cautiously welcomed a new government commitment to safeguarding UK food and farming standards in any US trade deal.

The Department for International Trade published on Tuesday (3 March) the UK’s approach to trade negotiations with the United States.

The report says that any agreement between the two countries 'will ensure high standards and protections for consumers and workers'.

It also says that a US-UK trade deal 'will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.'

While industry groups have welcomed the new promise, the NFU said the farming industry still needs a legal commitment.

It comes as Defra Secretary George Eustice recently refused to give a cast-iron guarantee that the UK will not import chlorinated chicken under any trade deal with the US.

Speaking at the NFU Conference last week, NFU President Minette Batters said any drop in UK food and farming standards would be "insane".

Responding to the government's new report, she said legislation must be in place to safeguard British farming from imports that have been produced using methods that would be illegal in the UK.

“There is no doubt that UK negotiators will come under pressure to find ways of allowing the US greater access to the UK market for food that does not meet our own standards," Mrs Batters said.

“If we are to ensure any country negotiating a trade deal with the UK is left in no doubt as to our government’s position on food production standards, it needs to be enshrined in law that all food imports will be held to the same standards.

“Farmers need to know that their businesses won’t be undercut by food imports that they would be unable to produce here legally."

The NFU president also said the public needs assurance that the food they buy has been produced to those same high standards.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) echoed this, saying a negotiated FTA that allowed unbridled access to the UK’s food market would do 'irreparable damage' to farmers.

CLA President Mark Bridgeman said: "These negotiations need a balanced approach that recognise the importance both countries attach to the agri-food sector while, at the same time, offering equitable market access that protects the UK’s high environmental and food safety standards.”

The government’s commitment not to compromise on UK standards is to be welcomed, the RSPCA said, adding that the US has 'polar opposite' animal welfare rules to Britain.

"The US trade deal is crucial," RSPCA Head of Public Affairs David Bowles explained, "It is the first we are negotiating since we regained our independent seat at the WTO after 47 years.

"What is agreed over the next few months will mean the difference between a country which can hold its head up, confident that it has safeguarded the UK farming industry and maintained high animal welfare standards on products on our supermarket shelves - or a country that has caved in and pulled the trigger on a race to the bottom.”