Concern is growing that with a no-deal Brexit back on the cards, the Government will give way and allow cheap food to be imported, in order to facilitate new trade deals after the Brexit transition period has ended. This could undermine the viability of many family farms in the UK, as well as subjecting consumers to food produced to low welfare standards, with the aid of drugs and pesticides that have been banned here.

Speaking exclusively to the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) [1], Stanley Johnson [2], father of the Prime Minister, gave strong support to our concerns in this area. In a podcast released this morning, Patrick Holden, SFT chief executive, interviews Stanley about these and related issues.

Patrick sets out his concerns,

“We are perhaps standing on the threshold of irreversible climate change and biodiversity loss and growing food insecurity as the world seems to descend into quite a dark period of its history… I wonder what your views are right now about the opportunities to make things better, to change our farming systems in such a way that we address climate change, we sequester carbon, we rebuild biodiversity and, another sensitive issue, in the trade negotiations, following Brexit, we make sure that we don’t end up importing food produced to lower standards.

In response Stanley says,

“We must not throw away the baby with the bathwater, as we have spent 30 years doing this whole array of European environmental legislation, including, by the way, on what you might call processing and production standards, which are absolutely fundamental to the ‘level playing field’ concept of free trade. And anybody who thinks, oh well we can have a free-trade agreement with the EU, but we don’t have to bother about harmonisation of processing and production standards is, you know, in cloud cuckoo land.”

Specifically, in relation to farm animal welfare, he pointed to the fact that the UK Government has not incorporated into UK the recognition, enshrined in EU law, that farm animals are sentient creatures. He added,

“I cannot believe that the EU will allow a free trade agreement if we are seen to be profiting from our legally independent status to have less than optimal animal welfare standards.”

In relation to the war on obesity, Stanley referred to the power of food manufacturers. He said,

“You should never underestimate the power of the industrial lobby. Once we are away from the anchor of the European regulations, I do have a certain fear that we’re not going to be able to keep these inimitable forces under control in the same way we were able to in Europe.”

On importing goods produced from rain forests and former rainforest land he said,

“We could say that unless we are sure a product has paid its full price in terms of its carbon emissions, we will impose a tax on that product – a global tax which you get exempted from if you can prove you are doing what is required.”

Patrick Holden welcomed this support and said,

“Stanley Johnson is rightly worried, the Government has already failed to incorporate a key aspect of EU animal welfare standards into UK legislation and is in danger of sacrificing our high food standards to get free trade deals with the US and others. This would be a historic mistake – bad for our health, nature, climate change and our country’s future food security. As we emerge from Covid-19, Britain should become the world leader in sustainable food and farming, not get dragged into a race to the bottom.”

Notes

[1] The Sustainable Trust is a Bristol-based charity working to make food production more sustainable globally. It was founded in 2011 by Patrick Holden CBE, former director of the Soil Association and the SFT’s current chief executive.

[2] Stanley Johnson is an author, land owner, environmentalist, former Conservative MEP, former adviser to the European Commission and father of the current UK Prime Minister. In 2015 he was awarded the RSPB medal and the WWF Leader of the Living Planet Award and is an Ambassador for Compassion in World Farming.

Contact

Megan Perry – 07761804341 – megan@sustainablefoodtrust.org

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