Food and environmental groups call for minimum standards in trade deals

TFA suggests UK government entered negotiations for trade deals with Australia and New Zealand knowing they could damage UK agricultural industry
20 October 2022 , By Katie Coyne

A million people signed an NFU petition calling for the government to safeguard UK standards

A coalition of food and environmental groups have written to the international trade secretary demanding that future trade deals do not undermine standards in Britain.

Signatories to the letter to Kemi Badenoch, called on her to implement a set of “core” or “minimum” standards for food, environment and animal welfare to apply to any future trade deals.

These standards, the coalition argued, would create a “level playing field” to ensure Britain’s domestic industry is not disadvantaged, and show international leadership by raising the bar across these issues.

There are ten groups signed up to the letter including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Green Alliance, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and food and farming alliance Sustain.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is another signatory, and its president Minette Batters said: "No one wants to see high-welfare and sustainably produced home-grown food undermined by trade deals which fail to meet our own legal requirements on animal welfare and environmental protection. In 2020, more than a million people signed an NFU petition calling for the government to implement safeguards against this very real risk.

The letter to Badenoch pointed to a study from the WWF, that found core or minimum standards can be designed to avoid blocking progress on future trade deals. It also referenced research by Unchecked UK looking at Conservative voter attitudes to environmental issues. This found the majority of staunch Conservative voters were less likely to support MPs voting to weaken rules to protect rivers and the environment even if they believed it would result in cheaper utility or food bills.

It has been difficult, if not impossible, to understand how [environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards] are to be applied to imports.

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), another signatory, said Badenoch, the UK government, and the government’s Food Strategy, had all highlighted the importance of maintaining standards.  

However a TFA spokesperson added: “A Freedom of Information request by Plymouth MP and previous Shadow DEFRA Secretary of State, Luke Pollard, uncovered information pointing to the fact that the UK government entered into negotiations for the recently agreed trade deals with New Zealand and Australia in the full knowledge that what it was attempting to achieve would be damaging to our domestic agricultural industry. 

“Equally, it has been difficult, if not impossible, to understand how the environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards to which we hold domestic producers, are to be applied at our borders to the items we are accepting as imports. 

“In addition, the government has sought to push through these trade deals without adequate scrutiny from either Parliament or the wider public.”

The TFA added that it was part of legal action launched earlier this summer against the government under the Aarhus Convention. Led by another coalition of charities and NGOs, it is taking action over the government’s failure to give the public a say on post-Brexit trade deals, despite the risks to the environment.  

In response to Sustain signing the letter to Badenoch, Ciaran Donaghy, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Executive, CIEH said, “We are very supportive of the work being done by the Sustain alliance and are hoping to work closely with them going forward to ensure that robust food safety and standards are maintained and enhanced.

“As a coalition of national organisations working towards advancing policies that enhance public and environmental health, we at CIEH are closely aligned to their vision and values.”

In September 2022, following the trade deal with Australia, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said the UK government is entering into free trade agreements that will result in lowering food standards in the UK, potentially placing consumers at risk.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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