Tractor protest planned as MPs prepare to vote on food standards in trade deals

Farmers demanding that food standards are upheld in post-Brexit trade deals are to make their voices heard during a tractor demonstration in central London.

The agricultural vehicles will assemble at New Covent Garden from 1pm on Monday as part of a protest planned by campaign group Save British Farming.

They will then head for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Parliament Square in Westminster as MPs prepare to vote on an amendment to the Agriculture Bill proposed by peers.

The House of Lords last month amended the Bill in a bid to block the import of foodstuffs produced abroad with lower animal welfare standards, amid warnings over chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef entering the UK market from the US.

The Government is expected to overturn the amendment in the Commons, and has consistently argued that existing protections are already in place and they have no intention of watering them down.

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said she wants to see a body of technical experts put together to analyse trade deals and assess the level of food protections in place before MPs go on to have a “final say” on the proposed agreement.

“At the moment we are talking about the complex issue of food safety – so, chlorination of chicken, chemical treatment of chicken, hormone-treated beef,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Chickens trade
Food standards have been a hotly-contested issue during the UK-US trade talks (Save British Farming/PA)

“The US could easily come here and say to our Government ‘Test it, it’s safe’. We would have to test it and it would be safe – scientifically it is safe.

“But the point is there are no federal laws in the US on how you keep your animals, on your stocking density, on your light.”

Labour is calling on ministers to put a “guarantee in law” that food standards will not be lowered as a result of the trade deals it is currently seeking with the US, Australia and others.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss is due to publish a written ministerial statement on the end of round two of the trade talks with Australia on Monday.

Ag Trade Standards Commission:

👉 Expertise to include food standards agency, animal welfare, sustainability, environment experts etc

👉 Report to Parliament on every trade agreement, accompanied by Ministerial statement

👉 Parliament, debate, scrutinise and have the final say

— minette batters (@Minette_Batters) October 11, 2020

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said: “The Government have said they back our British standards and farmers – it’s time to put their money where their mouth is.

“Ministers keep promising they’ll maintain high animal welfare and environmental standards after Brexit, but there’s still a serious threat that they will drop that promise to get the trade deals they’re so desperate to secure with Donald Trump and others.

“If the Government are serious about maintaining our high UK standards post-Brexit, they should get a guarantee in law, and support Labour’s amendment on Monday to safeguard our standards and back British farmers.

“To vote out their own manifesto commitment to protect food standards from their flagship food and Agriculture Bill is absurd.”

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