9 June 2020

Food, Our Glorious Food

UK government must urgently ditch their plan to water down food standards to secure a trade deal with Donald Trump– or risk doing untold damage to food producers and opening a new constitutional crisis. Reports this week have indicated that the Tories are set to renege on previous commitments to maintain European food standards – opening the door to low-quality imports including chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef.

In January the then Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers had insisted that such imports would not be allowed, but unsurprisingly the Prime Minister has now done a U-turn in favour of putting the interests of the US before ours.

Over and over again his UK government promised our animal welfare and food standards wouldn’t be used as bargaining chips to negotiate a trade deal with the US, yet this is exactly what he is now doing. This follows Scottish MPs (including Conservative Banff and Buchan MP and Moray MP) rejecting an amendment which aimed to rule out foreign food imports which don’t meet UK welfare and environmental standards.

As the UK is leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Agricultural Bill provides the legislative framework for replacement agricultural support schemes. However, an amendment was tabled by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chairman Neil Parish for the bill to only allow the importation of agricultural goods if the standards are as high or higher than UK standards for animal welfare, environmental protection, food safety, hygiene and traceability. This amendment was defeated, with 277 votes for, versus 328 votes against.

The threat posed to Scottish farmers by this trade deal comes despite agriculture being wholly devolved. All parties, other than the Tories, have opposed this power grab on Holyrood – insisting that the Scottish Parliament have a formal role in approving trade deals affecting devolved issues.

Tory plans to flood the UK with hormone-injected beef, chlorinated chicken and other lower standard imports pose a huge threat to the Scottish food and drink industry. Yet again, Scotland's interests are being damaged by the Tories' Brexit obsession. If reports of this U-turn are accurate, it would completely betray the promises that were made and prove Boris Johnson is willing to sacrifice the interests of Scotland's farmers and producers to satisfy Donald Trump. Farmers and consumers deserve better than to have supermarket shelves flooded with low quality imports like chlorinated chicken.

But this decision shouldn’t be for the Tories at Westminster to take at all. Agriculture is entirely devolved to the Scottish Parliament – and imposing these lower standards on Scotland is an undemocratic power grab. It’s time for the Tories to think twice about this bargain basement deal with Donald Trump.

The best way to uphold and safeguard our food standards is to continue to ban products such as chlorinated chicken. Once you allow the principle that it’s OK to sell these controversial products in the UK, you’re effectively sanctioning the poor farming practices that our standards are meant to protect against. Our farmers deserve better, we all do.

Stewart Stevenson
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fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

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