Protecting food standards must be ‘paramount’ for next government: farmers

Environmental protection, food safety and animal welfare standards must be “paramount” for any future government, farming leaders have warned.

The National Farmers’ Union issued a stark warning against a no-deal Brexit as the organisation launched its election manifesto, with president Minette Batters warning it would be “economically and socially catastrophic”.

And the NFU is concerned that post-Brexit trade deals could “open the floodgates” to food from places such as the US which is not produced to the same standards as those legally required of British farmers.

This could undermine standards in the UK or drive British producers out of business, the farming organisation warned.

Ms Batters said Prime Minister Boris Johnson and members of his Cabinet had talked about having higher standards domestically.

But it felt “insane” to have those conversations while potentially allowing imports of food produced to low standards, such as chickens produced in dense conditions and chlorine washed, which does not happen in the UK.

She said: “We should be proud of our standards on animal welfare, environmental protection and the phenomenal levels of food safety that we have driven.

“That should be absolutely paramount for any government and any government that steps back from those values should really be held to account in the court of public opinion.

“This isn’t just about farmers, this is about each and every citizen, this is about the political decisions you make with the food you put on your plate.”

She warned that the NFU would “name and shame any politician” that tried to jeopardise those standards.

The farming body also wants to see a deal that maintains market access to the EU that is as “free and frictionless” as possible, for the 62% of food and drink exports that go to Europe.

NFU Cymru president and sheep farmer John Davies said that “unequivocally” Europe is the UK food and farming sector’s best and nearest market, and it was essential to maintain current levels of access.

?He said: “It’s absolutely vital that the trade and standards that we have and hold so dear here in the UK are respected.”

He added: “We mustn’t have our products undermined by products of an inferior standard, whether that be animal welfare, environmental or any of the other vital standards we have.”

A deal with Europe must be prioritised over trade agreements with other countries, the NFU said.

In its manifesto, the NFU also set out demands to maintain its access to seasonal and permanent workers and ensure current levels of funding for farming are maintained and delivered over seven-year planning periods.

Broadband delivery, increased efforts to tackle rural crime such as fly-tipping and hare-coursing and support for NFU ambitions to cut the sector’s emissions to net zero by 2040 are all among the organisation’s asks.