There has been a lot said in the press and online over the past week about my votes in the House of Commons on Lords amendments to the UK Agriculture Bill.
I would like to explain to Advertiser readers that, despite some reports on social media and claims from political opponents, I did not vote to lower food standards.
The UK Agriculture Bill does not lower food or animal welfare standards. Furthermore, Lords Amendment 16, which was voted down, would not have provided any additional protection of food, animal welfare or environmental standards.
There are already laws in place to ensure food that is imported to the UK is of an acceptable standard with regards to risk to human, animal and plant life.
For example, we hear a lot about ‘chlorine-washed chicken’ and ‘hormone injected beef’. Both were already banned under EU law and that legislation has been rolled over into UK law under the EU Withdrawal Act 2020.
It would require another act of parliament to be passed to change that. That is not easy to do and nobody is proposing to do it.
I am often asked, if the UK Government is so committed to animal welfare and food standards, what harm can be done by stating that commitment in plain text on the Agriculture Bill?
The answer to that, quite simply, is that the Agriculture Bill is not the appropriate place to set criteria for trade agreements. Legislation already exists – and it is not good practice to make the same law twice in two different acts.
The Lords amendment could also have significantly limited our ability to strike trade deals with the US, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the EU, and many others.
That would have had a detrimental impact on British farmers who want to export more produce into these markets – including Scottish beef.
Access to these markets will be reciprocal, and if another country wants to sell its produce in the UK, then those products must meet our own exacting standards.
As if often stated, the UK has some of the highest production quality, safety, and welfare standards in the world. If we banned all imports from countries that do not meet such standards then, by definition, almost all food imports would be banned.
That would include everyday items like tea, coffee, and many fruit and vegetables which cannot be grown here in the UK.
It would also include Danish bacon because Denmark allows the use of sow stalls which are banned in the UK.
French farmers use chemicals on sugar beet crops which are illegal in the UK, so anything from France containing sugar could then be banned.
Further, under World Trade Organisation rules, while we can discriminate against imports that may pose a risk, we cannot discriminate against production methods in other countries. That means that no other country can influence UK production standards either.
I accept that the UK Government has, at times, struggled to get its message across on food standards in the face of what I would term scaremongering in the media.
I hope this article helps to clear up some of the confusion.
I have been talking to a lot of local farmers and NFU Scotland representatives in the past week and my door remains ope