Farming industry vows to fight food standards defeat

Despite the bitter disappointment of Monday night’s vote on the UK Agriculture Bill in which Conservative MPs shot down proposals to give legislative backing to promises to maintain the country’s world-leading food and farming standards, the farming unions, food sector and consumer organisations promised the fight would go on.

With Amendment 16, which had gained a large majority in the House of Lords, voted down in the Commons, many fear that the door will now be thrown open to international trade deals which would encourage imports of cheap food likely to fall below the standards sought by consumers - and which would undercut the entire UK farming industry.

But although the Agriculture Bill is now set to enter the ‘ping-pong’ stage of passing between the Commons and the Lords at Westminster, it is unlikely that a carbon-copy amendment will be proposed a second time.

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However, in what could be a last-ditch attempt to secure at least some proper scrutiny of future trade deals, the amendment put forward by Lord Curry of Kirkharle in the House of Lords to strengthen the role of the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) in scrutinising and vetting future international trade deals could be redrafted and presented once again.

This amendment was not voted down on Monday night but excluded from the Commons debate under a century-old rule, as boosting the power of the TAC could involve increased expenditure.

But while the costs of making such a change were dismissed as being “minuscule” by Lord Curry, the Government claimed that such a move represented a ‘Money Resolution’, meaning that under an arcane ruling it could not be introduced by the Upper House and refused to allow discussion of the proposed measure.

Expressing his bitter disappointment at the rejection of the amendment, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said that alongside the million consumers who had supported the move in an on-line petition, the vast majority of his members were bitterly disappointed that the amendment had not been supported

“It is an ambition that has received unprecedented levels of public support and celebrity endorsement, which we welcome,” said McCornick.

He added that he would continue to advocate that Scottish and UK standards of production were to the forefront in the negotiation of new and other trade agreements. “I firmly believe that is what the public wish to see.”

Phil Stocker of the National Sheep Association said that the rejection of the clause meant there was now a very real risk that, despite the Government’s assurances, the UK’s standards could be undermined by lower standard imports.

The British Veterinary Association said that the rejection marked a missed opportunity to seal the UK’s position as world leaders in animal welfare, calling the vote “a severe blow” for animal welfare and a betrayal of the Government’s own manifesto commitment to maintain and improve on health and welfare standards.