Industry leaders say they will continue to lobby politicians to ensure British farmers aren’t undermined by food imports produced to lower standards.
This comes after MPs debating the government’s Agriculture Bill rejected an amendment relating to food standards in future trade deals.
The Agriculture Bill has passed to the House of Lords after it cleared its third and final reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday (13 May).
During the debate, MPs rejected an amendment that industry leaders say could have kept out food imports produced using methods that are illegal in the UK.
The amendment was tabled by Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish, who is also chairman of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
‘Level playing field’
Speaking in the debate, he said it was time for MPs to “stand up and be counted” and ensure any food imports came into the country fairly.
“I want to have great trade deals – I am not a Little Englander that will defend our agriculture against all imports – quite the reverse.
“I think competition is good – but competition on a level playing field.”
The amendment was defeated by 328 votes to 277 and the Agriculture Bill later passed its third and final reading by 360 votes to 211.
NFU international trade director Nick von Westenholz said farmers had been promised a better future and MPs had decided the Agriculture Bill remained fit for purpose.
But he added: “We’ll be discussing with members of the House of Lords whether they feel as confident that the Bill is unimprovable.”
NFU Cymru president John Davies said it was regrettable that the Bill now lacked lacked any formal requirement to uphold production standards as the UK negotiated trade deals.
Mr Davies added: “We will now focus our lobbying efforts on securing the amendments that we need to see at the House of Lords stages.”
NFU Scotland policy director Jonnie Hall said the passing of the unamended Bill was no surprise, but was still deeply disappointing.
The Bill was a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation and must safeguard the sustainability of domestic food production and the integrity of domestic food consumption, he said.
Mr Hall added: NFU Scotland will continue to press its case as part a 26-strong UK-wide alliance of agricultural, environmental, animal welfare and consumer groups as the Bill enters the Lords.”