Britain’s farmers forced to compete with inferior imports in a trade deal with Australia fear going bust.
Small farms think poor meat and dairy would lower animal and environmental standards and ruin the UK countryside.
Animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA, warn the free-trade deal will mean the UK buying produce of cruel practices that are banned here.
There are concerns meat produced using growth hormones, battery hen eggs and chlorinated chicken may be on their way to our supermarkets.
A flood of cheaper produce may mean our farmers have to adopt lower standards just to compete. It is understood that Canada is also seeking access to the British market for its farmers.
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Most Canadian food production aligns with the US and includes practices such as genetic modification of crops and chlorine washes of chicken carcasses.
Importing cheaper food from the other side of the world also raises questions about the UK’s food security and sustainability as well as Government pledges to achieving zero carbon emissions.
Farmer David Exwood, 52, of Itchingfield, West Sussex, warned we are in danger of losing our quintessential farms where animals roam around in fields.
He said: “Do you really want to eat hormone treated beef? My cows have a much better life but take years to rear from calf to fork.
“But we simply won’t be able to compete as we won’t be comparing like-for-like standards and methods.
“The frustrating thing is I don’t think the savings from the cheaper imports will be passed on to the consumer either.”
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Tanya Steele, of World Wide Fund for Nature, said: “Before agreeing trade deals, the Government needs to set out core standards that will apply to all food sold in the UK.”
The Government hopes the Australia deal will lead to similar pacts with other countries. Trade Minister Greg Hands dismissed fears about the impact an agreement could have on UK farming.
He told MPs: “This will be a great deal for the UK and our farmers will continue to thrive.”
Q: How would it work?
A: Australia wants access to UK food market without tariffs or quotas to make it easier for big Australian farms to export to UK.
Q: What’s the problem?
A: Food is often produced at higher standards in UK and farmers fear cheap foreign imports will put them out of business.
Q: What are the major welfare concerns?
A: Around 70% of hens in Australia are in battery cages (banned in UK and EU since 2012), crammed into space no bigger than an A4 piece of paper.
Sow stalls were banned in UK in 1999. In Australia pigs can be kept in stalls for up to six weeks during pregnancy, unable to turn around or move.
Lambs in Australia are subjected to mulesing, their rears sliced off to create scar tissue resistant to “fly strike”.
Australian farmers use 16 times more antibiotics on poultry than UK, and almost three times as much on pigs.
Compassion in World Farming says beef from Australian cattle reared in intensive conditions should be banned.
Q: What does it mean for consumers?
A: Food and wine may be cheaper, but UK farmers don’t believe the savings from cheaper imports will be passed to consumers.