Campaigners hail fresh victory on imported food standards

Food and farming campaigners have won a victory in the battle over post-Brexit imports, with the government agreeing to a permanent body that will examine trade deals before they are signed. 

The agriculture industry has been worried that post-Brexit deals will allow the import of cheap food produced to lower standards than exist in the UK.

On Sunday the government said that a trade and agriculture commission, created this year with a six month remit, will become a permanent body with a statutory role advising on trade deals. 

The independent advisory group will produce a report to parliament on each new deal ahead of a 21-day scrutiny process, after a government U-turn in the face of industry lobbying.

The international trade secretary, Liz Truss, said the move was “about putting British farming at the heart of our trade agenda”.

“Our trade policy is deeply rooted in British values — democracy, the rule of law, human rights and a fierce commitment to high food and farming standards. Any deal that does not abide by those values or deliver for vital industries like agriculture will remain firmly on the shelf,” she added.

The National Farmers’ Union, other food and farming groups and celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver have been campaigning to ensure UK farmers are not undercut after Brexit by products from countries with lower food production, animal welfare and environmental standards.

Negotiations with the US, which wants access to the UK food market, are a key concern for the campaign, which secured 1m signatures on a petition.

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US farmers are allowed to use drugs, hormones and rearing techniques banned in the UK, including the notorious chlorinated chicken, which is treated with a wash to remove bacteria.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Ms Truss and the environment secretary George Eustice strongly rejected such products. “Chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef are already banned in the UK and we will not negotiate to remove that ban in a trade deal,” they wrote.

The government had last month rejected an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to strengthen the role of the commission, along with another that would have required imported food to meet UK production standards.

Campaigners had previously lobbied for the creation of the commission, which was intended to report on future trade and agriculture policy. After it was announced in June, the government backed away from seeking a rapid US trade deal, in a shift also seen as a victory for the farm lobby.

NFU president Minette Batters, who met with prime minister Boris Johnson in late October, said: “This significant commitment to primary legislation on food standards, both in the Agriculture Bill and Trade Bill, is exactly what we have been calling for. It is a landmark moment for the people of the UK, for our countryside and the future of the food on our plates.”

David Henig, of the European Centre for International Political Economy, said: “The campaign to protect UK food standards is strong and, like in virtually all countries with an independent trade policy, farmers will be a strong interest group and a US trade deal controversial.”

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The commission is chaired by the food safety expert Tim Smith, who formerly headed the Food Standards Agency and worked as group technical director at Tesco. Its members include representatives of the NFU, British Retail Consortium and Food and Drink Federation.



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