Bedfordshire farmers are urging the public to sign a petition from the National Farmers Union (NFU) – and backed by Jaime Oliver – which has received over half a million signatures.
The petition urges the government to ensure that post-Brexit food imports meet UK production standards, after amendments to new farming legislation were voted down by the government. The legislation will be debated in the House of Lords
It comes as trade talks with the US begin, raising fears that food produced to the lower US welfare standards, could be allowed into the UK.
“It’s absolutely vital that farmers in Bedfordshire and the rest of the UK are not undercut by food coming into the country which would be illegal to produce here,” said the NFU’s Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire county advisor, Oliver Rubinstein.
“This is not just about chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef, it affects every aspect of our food system, including our ability to meet the farming sector’s target of net zero by 2040.
“It’s really heartening to see such overwhelming support for our petition – including from Jamie Oliver – and the way that this has been shared and signed so widely by the general public shows the strength of feeling in this issue.
“I’d urge any members of the public who signed the petition to also register as one of our ‘Back British Farming’ supporters if they can, to help raise the profile of this issue even further.”
The legislation, described by Farmers Weekly as ‘the most important to come before parliament in decades’ included an amendment tabled by Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, which sought to protect UK farmers from low-standard food imports.
According to Farmers Weekly, “The clause would have prevented future trade deals from allowing food into the UK not produced to the standards required of farmers and processors within the UK.
“But it was defeated by 328 to 277 votes – a majority of 51 – after failing to receive the support of the Conservative government, despite several previous commitments to safeguard our farming industry from cheap food imports, produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK.
“Despite priding themselves on being “the party of the countryside”, only 22 Conservatives voted to support Mr Parish’s defeated amendment, which included former Defra secretary Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet.”
Richard Fuller, MP for North East Bedfordshire, was among those voting to defeat the amendment.
“Since being elected as an MP, Richard has been very supportive of the farming sector in North East Beds. We have made our concerns clear to him about farmer constituents being undercut by lower standard imports and he has lobbied the government on these issues on our behalf,” said the NFU’s Oliver Rubinstein.
“The amendment put forward by Neil Parish MP was just one way of safeguarding UK standards and we will continue to ask for Richard’s support in ensuring that an independent Trade & Standards Commission is set up, along with other measures.”
Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin, who voted for the amendment, said, “British food, farming and animal welfare standards are among the best in the world which is why it’s so alarming that the Government has gone back on its word not to reduce food standards in a race to the bottom to get a desperate trade deal with Donald Trump.
“We can’t allow Britain’s hardworking farmers to be undercut by cheap, low-quality imports from abroad, which will devastate our domestic food production.
“Nobody voted for this and we can see the strength of feeling from the British public signing this petition, that many of us aren’t willing to sell out our farmers, especially when we need them getting food on our plates now more than ever.
“We need a Government willing to champion British food standards as a force for good in the world, to uphold our high standards for locally grown, high quality food, not packed with hormones or doused in chlorine and upholding high animal welfare standards.
“Whether homegrown or imported, at a time of climate crisis, we must choose to rebuild a better, greener, more sustainable and fairer Britain than we had before.”
The Bedford Independent contacted Richard Fuller MP for a comment, but he did not respond.
You can sign the petition here.