A government commission to ensure farmers aren’t undermined by substandard food imports will report its initial findings within weeks, it has emerged.
International trade secretary Liz Truss is launching the Trade and Agriculture Commission in London on Tuesday (28 July).
The commission has been established to advise the government to ensure new trade policies secure export opportunities for UK farmers and uphold high standards.
Farmers and consumer groups have repeatedly voiced concern that trade deals could result in imports of food produced using methods that are illegal in the UK. They include chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.
But the government has insisted it will not compromise the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.
Members of the commission – which met for the first time on Friday (24 July) – include representatives from the main UK farming unions, trade experts and the food sector.
Commission chairman Tim Smith told Farmers Weekly it would now meet fortnightly, with an interim report in September followed by a final report by the turn of the year.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the sector to contemplate what matters most to consumers here in the UK and outside the UK,” said Mr Smith.
Growers and livestock producers would benefit from being given advice and help on how to make themselves more competitive, he added.
“I know that sounds a bit patronising – it isn’t meant to be,” said Mr Smith.
The commission would look at what could be done differently and what could be done to standards to help British farmers become more effective world players, he said. “There just isn’t enough export or growth activity within the sector.”
Encouraging farmers to think laterally and innovatively is another priority.
It is likely the commission will examine ways to help farmers achieve this by streamlining the framework for environmental and animal welfare standards, he said.
“Animal welfare matters hugely to UK consumers and many outside the UK,” said Mr Smith, adding that it was important the food system was “fair for all”.
He said the commission expected UK food standards to be preserved – including the ban on imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef.
The commission is reporting directly to international trade secretary Liz Truss.
Ms Truss told Farmers Weekly it was important to point out that any trade agreement with another country would need parliamentary support.
“If parliament does not like a free-trade agreement, parliament can block it,” she said, adding that she wanted to negotiate a deal that was good for British agriculture.
“The Trade and Agriculture Commission will ensure the voices of the public and industry are heard, and that their interests are advanced and protected.
“It will advise the government on how Britain can remain a world-leader in animal welfare and environmental standards, and how we can seize new export opportunities for our farmers.
“This is about putting British farming at the heart of our trade policy and ensuring that our agriculture industry is amongst the most competitive and innovative in the world.”