UK MPs have rejected an amendment which would have ensured that food imports from future trade deals met current UK food safety and animal welfare standards by law, from 1 January 2021.
MPs in the House of Commons voted against an amendment from the House of Lords to the Agriculture Bill by 332 votes to 279 – a majority of 53 – backing government plans to reject the amendment.
The purpose of the Agriculture Bill is to prepare the UK’s farming industry for when the UK no longer follows EU laws and regulations once the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020. The Bill returned to the House of Commons on Monday, following amendments by the House of Lords.
The amendment in question would have provided UK MPs with a veto over sections in trade deals relating to food imports, which would be required to comply with “relevant domestic standards” regarding food safety and animal welfare.
Campaigners and supporting MPs argued this amendment was necessary to prevent countries such as the US from exporting products which did not meet UK food safety standards – such as chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef – in order to protect the British farming industry and consumers.
However, the government argued that EU rules which already ban the import of chlorine-washed chicken and similar products would be automatically written into UK law once the transition period ends, and thus it stated the amendment to enshrine current standards in law as part of the Agriculture Bill was ‘unnecessary’.
Farming minister Victoria Prentis stated that the government was “absolutely committed to high standards”, and that existing laws would protect these standards.
The Bill will now return to the House of Lords for further debate this week.
Concerns about post-Brexit food safety standards intensified in June, as a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson implied that a trade deal with the US could allow the import of certain products that are currently banned from sale into the UK, such as chlorine-dipped chicken and hormone-treated beef and pork.
Later that month, the UK government announced that it would establish a new Trade and Agriculture Commission to help safeguard food standards in any post-Brexit trade deals.
The establishment of the new commission followed a campaign from several of the UK’s main farming unions, which lobbied the government to ensure that trade agreements which result in lower food safety and animal welfare standards should be prevented.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020