This week Virginia Crosbie, our MP, boldly asserted that, “The collective voice of Anglesey’s farmers has been heard loud and clear as the Agriculture Bill has progressed through Parliament.” This statement is so misleading that you have to wonder what sort of parallel universe our MP is living in.
Virginia says that the Agriculture Bill has incorporated into law the standards that currently prevail in the UK, “which means that no chlorinated chicken and no hormone-fed beef will hit our shelves”. If only it were that simple! In fact, the incorporation of current standards into UK law offers no future proofing of standards – no guarantee that future UK trade deals will uphold existing food and animal welfare standards.
In October Virginia Crosbie joined with her fellow Conservatives in voting against Labour amendments to the Bill that would have guaranteed exactly that. At the time NFU Cymru Deputy President said, “It is vital that Parliament has the opportunity to properly scrutinise all future trade deals and ensure that our high food production standards are protected. We are calling on all Welsh MPs to support amendments to the Agriculture Bill during Monday’s debate to achieve that.” Virginia Crosbie ignored that plea.
Although it has now been accepted that future trade deals will indeed be brought before Parliament for scrutiny, this in no way represents a guarantee that standards will be maintained. In fact it leaves the door open for the opposite to happen, which is why Virginia chose not to support the protective amendments.
So what do farmers in Wales themselves think of the Bill as passed?
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We have welcomed the inclusion in the Act of a requirement for a report to be presented to parliament focusing on the impacts future trade deals could have on agriculture. However, this is certainly not the red line preventing substandard food imports that farmers, environmentalists, animal rights campaigners and millions of members of the general public lobbied for.”
In the absence of such a red line, many battles lie ahead to maintain food and environmental standards. A US trade deal may be lower down the agenda now that Joe Biden has won the US election, but there is little doubt that in due course the hugely powerful US agribusiness lobby will once again be seeking to force the UK into scrapping regulations on pesticides, genetically modified crops, and the production of chicken and meat products.
In ten years’ time will Virginia Crosbie be able to repeat her claim that the Agriculture Bill has ensured “a better future for our farmers, our producers and our consumers”? We think not.