Crucial moment for the Agriculture Bill threatens the recovery of nature

Last night’s vote on the Agriculture Bill in the House of Commons saw MPs vote against an amendment previously passed in the Lords to #SaveOurStandards, despite a rebellion of 14 Conservative MPs.

This gives the clearest signal yet that the Government do not intend to uphold their election manifesto commitment to not compromise the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations.

The Agriculture Bill will ping-pong between the Commons and the Lords over the next week.

This is bad news for consumers, British farmers and for nature’s recovery in the UK. It’s not just about the threat of chlorinated chicken. Lowering food standards affects wildlife’s ability to thrive in this country because the US, Australia and India allow chemicals to be used on farms that are banned in the UK. In order to compete, British farmers will end up having to go down the same route. This will seriously affect nature across the British countryside at a time when wildlife has already suffered huge declines.

If last night’s vote is sustained, it will result in a ‘race to the bottom’ in welfare and environmental practices and there’s every likelihood that many British farmers will start to use the chemicals used by these countries – but which are banned in the EU because of their impact on insect populations.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“The Agriculture Bill should be at the heart of ensuring that nature can recover in this country. We live in one of the most nature-depleted places on the planet and it’s vital that British farmers be encouraged to adopt nature-friendly farming across agricultural land which covers nearly three-quarters of the UK. It is not too late for the Government to enshrine their manifesto commitment to uphold high environmental standards in law.”

Another potential rebellion by backbench Tory MPs was avoided by the Government when the deputy speaker ruled out an amendment to strengthen the new Trade and Agriculture Commission. The Wildlife Trusts are disappointed by this because it would have ensured the independence, legitimacy and remit it needs to scrutinise trade agreements.

Editor’s Notes

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts wrote on this issue in the Mail on Sunday here.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised that the government would not compromise on the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations, and ministers have since repeated these assurances on several occasions. However, despite a rebellion of 14 Conservative MPs, last night MPs voted to reject an amendment — previously passed in the House of Lords — to enshrine this manifesto commitment in law. It is a clear signal that the Government do not intend to uphold their election manifesto commitment.

The amendment would have required the Secretary of State to make a statement to parliament affirming that any food or agricultural products imported under the agreement will have been produced to equivalent standards to those required of UK producers. It also gives MPs and Peers a vote on chapters of any new trade agreements which contain provisions relating to the import of food and agricultural products.

In order to increase the resilience and sustainability of UK food and farming, and achieve environmental and animal welfare goals, it is vital that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards. In some cases, imported products may have been produced in ways which would be illegal in the UK, creating unfair competition and limiting the capacity of UK farmers to deliver public goods such as healthy soil and climate change mitigation.

Another potential rebellion by backbench Tory MPs was avoided by the Government when the deputy speaker ruled out an amendment to strengthen the new Trade and Agriculture Commission. Amendment 18 would have given the Trade and Agriculture Commission the independence, legitimacy and remit it needs in order to scrutinise trade agreements. The Bill will now pass back to the Lords to continue ‘ping-pong’, which could last until the end of the week.

Full briefing here.