Fears British farmers could face unfair competition from sub-standard imports post Brexit have been raised again, following media reports about a possible trade deal being negotiated with Australia.
Last weekend, international trade secretary Liam Fox revealed he hoped to have 40 trade arrangements with 70 non-EU countries in place by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020.
According to a report in The Times, Mr Fox has identified a deal with Australia as an early “win”, and informal discussions have been under way since 2016.
But, in return, Australia is expected to push hard for the UK to scrap an existing EU ban on its hormone-treated beef, something the Australians say is not justified by the scientific evidence and is only in place to protect the market.
Defra has repeatedly stressed the high standards adhered to by British farmers should not be undermined by imports from countries operating to lower standards.
But the Times report suggests Mr Fox may be “sympathetic” to the Australian demands as it would lead to cheaper food.
NFU chief livestock adviser John Royle said it was essential trade negotiations should ensure a level playing field for British producers.
The Farmers Union of Wales went further, with its president Glyn Roberts calling it “an outrage” if such hormone-treated beef ever found its way onto UK supermarket shelves, which could have further consequences.
“This would be the sort of slippery slope many of us fear, with potential adverse impacts not only for our own farmers, but also for our trading arrangements with the EU and the ability to have frictionless movement of produce between the UK and the EU.”