CIEH raises concerns over new Trade and Agriculture Commission

08 November 2021, Ross Matthewman

Following the launch of the UK Government’s new Trade and Agriculture Commission, CIEH has raised a number of concerns regarding the Commission’s membership and terms of reference.

Recently, the UK Government responded to the original Trade and Agriculture Commission report and appointed a new statutory body to advise parliamentarians on future trade deals and their relationship with current UK Law in a range of areas.

The stated role of the new Commission is “to inform parliamentarians and the public about how new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are consistent with UK laws on animal welfare, animal and plant health, and the environment.”

However, concerns have been raised across the board about the effectiveness of this new commission, especially regarding its membership and its own terms of reference. New questions are also being raised about whether the Commission will have an active role during future trade negotiations or whether it will simply be reporting well after events. 

Tim Lang, Professor Emeritus of Food Policy at City, University of London and Vice President of CIEH, said:

“Having reviewed the bones of the new Commission we are already concerned that its membership does not include any food safety experts, no public or environmental health experts, and no consumer body representation. This immediately limits the knowledge and expertise of the Commission.

The function of the Commission has also raised questions. Whilst the focus appears to be heavily on exports, the danger to food safety and standards in the UK is far more likely to come from imports. Food imports have a direct relevance for UK public health and the sensitive issue of what level food standards are set at.”

There has to be serious consideration as to whether this Commission has been created in the best interests of consumers and whether the right support will be available to our farmers as they decarbonise their practices whilst facing further competition from new markets.

It is imperative that the role of this Commission is monitored going forwards to ensure that it does its job of protecting consumers, upholds the UK’s high food standards, and is not simply used as a rubber-stamping exercise.” 

Chris Elliot OBE, Professor of Food Safety at Queen's University, Belfast, and Vice President of CIEH, Said:

“There is little doubt that our food standards could be at risk of dilution and that government trades these and other hugely important foundations of our food system. A number of excellent individuals have been appointed onto the Trade and Agriculture Commission but there are many gaps in expertise which I fear raises questions about the UK Government’s priorities.

I fear that the Commission will lack the teeth to preserve the integrity of the UK food standards and will not be able to stop trade deals that mean food produced to much lower welfare and environmental standards flood into our country. This could have devastating impacts on our farmers and would suggest an eagerness to offshore environmental impacts of food production to importing countries rather than investing in our own industry.”

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