Lib Dems ‘appalled’ after Tory minister lauds NZ lamb chops

MPs have accused a Conservative minister of “insulting” British farmers after he praised the benefits of New Zealand lamb over meat produced in the UK.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the New Zealand and Australia trade bill on Monday 9 January, Lord Johnson of Lainston endorsed earlier comments by Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, who said studies had shown that New Zealand lamb eaten in London “has a smaller carbon footprint than Welsh lamb”.

Lord Johnson said: “As my noble friend Lord Hannan pointed out, having a New Zealand lamb chop on your plate in the House of Lords restaurant is better for the environment than having one that comes from another part of the UK.”

See also: Opinion: Mutual opportunities abound from UK-NZ trade deal

The Liberal Democrats later released statements criticising Lord Johnson, the Conservative minister for trade, saying his remarks were “an insult to British farmers”.

North Shropshire Lib Dem MP Helen Morgan said she was “appalled” to see the minister “lauding foreign produce over the incredibly high-quality food our farmers produce for our tables while protecting and enhancing our natural environment”.

Lord Johnson’s comments “serve only to undermine our farmers by failing to note the lower welfare standards for animals in New Zealand”, she added.

The Lib Dems say that, in power, they would ensure UK farming standards were guaranteed in trade deals.

The party is seeking a final parliamentary vote on the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, which the Conservatives have so far refused to offer.

Trade report

The Department for Trade said later that Lord Johnson’s comment were made in reference to a UK Board of Trade report (PDF) which found that imports of New Zealand lamb had less of an environmental impact than domestic lamb.

Lord Johnson said: “British lamb is among the best in the world thanks to the lengths UK farmers go to to ensure its high quality.

“International trade has many advantages, including in some cases reducing the impact on the environment by importing products which benefit from local economies of scale.

“As a trade minister I will continue to bang the drum for UK lamb as a leading British product and export.”