The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is “bitterly disappointed” with the outcome of the House of Commons Agriculture Bill debate where MPs rejected the proposed amendment to the bill that would ensure food imported from any potential trade deal would have to meet UK production standards.

Farmers, environmentalists and consumer groups are pressing the government to honour its manifesto pledge not to undermine food standards with low-quality imports in a post-Brexit trade policy.

A coalition of organisations, led by the National Farmers Union (NFU), failed to secure amendments in the Commons to the Agriculture Bill last week to protect UK farmers and producers from lower-quality imports from countries like the US.

Imports that are of particular concern to UK farmers and producers include US poultry products, including chlorinated chicken, eggs and hormone-injected beef.

As the bill moves to the Lords for a second reading, the NFU and environmental and consumer groups say they want the government to ensure that any future trade policy ensures that goods imported under a free trade agreement are produced to as high or higher standards of animal welfare, environmental protection, food hygiene and plant health, as are currently applied under UK law. The NFU is calling for a Trade, Food and Farming Standards Commission to review policy and develop solutions to promote free trade while holding all food imports to the UK’s high food standards.

MPs said last week, as they rejected amendments in the agriculture bill, that the standards of imported food were a matter for the trade bill, which has just begun its passage through parliament.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: “We are extremely deflated by the result of the House of Commons Agriculture Bill debate. MPs have decided that the Bill remains fit for purpose and no amendments or improvement is needed.

“This logic has bewildered the entire UK farming community considering how the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of local food production and food security.”

The UK Government has publicly indicated its intention to protect both the NHS and UK food standards as it starts its negotiations with the US on a possible trade deal, but yet it won’t back this commitment and provide the much-needed reassurance to do so by including it in the most critical piece of agricultural legislation for many years.

Mr. Ferguson continued: “The MPs decision leaves UK agriculture in a very uncertain position. The fear remains that down the line our market could be flooded with imports produced to standards which would be illegal here, undermining our farmers and putting the entire farm family structure at risk. It’s a kick in the teeth to our primary producers who take pride in upholding the highest environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards, and we rely on them now more than ever. It’s extremely concerning that the MPs vote concluded that it wasn’t essential to protect the hand that feeds them.”

“Putting our disappointment to the side, it has been overwhelming to see farming, environmental and animal welfare organisations coming together to lobby for one cause. It has meant a great deal to our members and consumers who value high-quality, trustworthy production. We’re not giving up on achieving these production amendments and are encouraged by those MPs, particularly our own local political representatives, who did argue strongly in favour of imports needing to meet UK standards. We will be discussing the matter with members of the House of Lords in the hope that they feel the bill needs to be amended. Next week the Trade Bill is coming to the House of Commons and this may present the appropriate opportunity to address the matter of import standards,” Mr. Ferguson concluded.