NFU19: Union demands Brexit guarantee on food standards

NFU president Minette Batters is calling on the government to convene a high-level commission to help guarantee that food imports meet British standards after Brexit.

Speaking at the NFU’s annual conference in Birmingham, Ms Batters will say: “I don’t want it written in blood. I want it written in ink.”

See also: Poll: How do you rate Minette Batters’ first year as NFU president?

Any food imports after Brexit must be produced to the same standards that are legally required of British farmers, Ms Batters will tell delegates at the Birmingham ICC.

The UK is due to leave the European Union on 29 March.

Ms Batters will say that a new commission of experts is needed to establish the principles that will ensure government upholds the high standards of British food production post-Brexit.

Clear recommendations

Her vision is that the commission will make clear recommendations on UK trade policy – and how food imports will be held to the standards already being met by British farmers.

Future trade deals ought to be scrutinised by Parliament and industry, she argues. Crucially, there must be a commitment that government will be required to act on these recommendations.

Speaking one year after being elected NFU president, Ms Batters will say: “I committed last February that I would do my utmost to champion British food and British farming.

“My mission has been to ensure that the country understands the importance of this strategically vital industry for our health and well-being, for our environment and for our food security.

‘Enormous challenge’

With little more than a month before Brexit, the scale of the challenge is enormous, Ms Batters will tell delegates on Tuesday (19 February).

“Around 200 million meals are eaten every day in Britain. And the population is growing. We are proud to produce much of that food.

“We are proud of our standards. We are proud that British people have access to affordable and quality British food regardless of their income.

“I have asked [Defra secretary Michael Gove] to commit to ensuring that any future new trade agreements will not undermine British food standards.

“Put simply, a commitment that after Brexit the food Britain imports will be produced to the same standards that are legally required of British farmers.

In writing

“And when I say standards, I mean all of the high standards British farmers observe – often at considerable expense – in protecting the environment, safeguarding animal welfare and providing safe food.

“Mr Gove has said that over his dead body would British standards be undermined. I don’t want it written in blood. I want it written in ink.

“The issue of maintaining our food standards is critical.

“Which is why I am asking for a high-level commission to be convened, bringing together government officials, industry representatives, civil society groups and experts in food and farming.

“This commission needs to be charged with producing a report before the end of the year.”

Clear action

The commission would need to make recommendations on how future trade deals should be scrutinised at a high level by parliament and industry, says Ms Batters

The government would need to act on those recommendations, she argues.

“Warm words are nice but we need firm commitments and clear actions.”

Ms Batters will also stress that a strong farming industry goes hand-in-hand with a strong environment.

Ms Batters will also give more detail about the NFU’s ambitious plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and for British farming to achieve net zero by 2040.

A drive to invest in productive efficiency, incentivise carbon capture from the atmosphere, and bioenergy to power carbon capture storage systems are all part of the strategy.