DUMFRIES and Galloway MP Alister Jack was amongst the majority of MPs voting against amendments to the controversial Agriculture Bill this week.
Amendments put forward by the House of Lords sought to uphold current food safety and animal welfare standards by enshrining them in UK law. Changes to the bill — rejected by 332 votes to 279 — would have also seen a ban on importing food from countries with lower standards than the UK in future trade deals.
Whilst those rejecting amendments argued that the proposed changes threaten both British farmers and future UK trade deals, a range of voices from farmers’ unions and the food and drink industries expressed concern that failing to uphold standards could undercut domestic produce and open the door to the import of products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef.
But Scottish Secretary Mr Jack dismissed these claims as “nonsense,” adding: “The amendment that had some rebellion to it would have meant that we couldn’t have rolled over the current trade deals the EU has with other countries, which we are rolling over into UK law, and it was a more protectionist amendment than the EU have at the moment.
“Chlorinated chicken, hormone-induced beef – all these things are already illegal in British law, but what we mustn’t do is bring through amendments that stop us rolling over the existing EU trade deals that farmers rely so heavily upon and that’s why we voted down those amendments.”
Meanwhile, Dumfriesshire MP David Mundell, was among 38 politicians who didn’t take part in the vote.
He said that, if present in the Commons on Monday night, he would have joined the 14 Tory rebels who voted against the Government: “Had I been present I would have voted with my colleague Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, to put the requirements to maintain high food standards and animal welfare explicitly in the Agriculture Bill,” he said.
Mr Mundell added that he formed his position after “carefully listening to the debates in recent weeks and the concerns of many within the farming and wider community, locally and nationally.
He added: “It is a finely balanced argument and I understand Government concerns that too many conditions in legislation can tie the hands of trade deal negotiators.
“However, I feel that the growing level of public concern and the fact maintaining standards is a clear red line for the Government made a difference in this case.”
Reacting to the result, Dumfriesshire farmer Andrew McCornick, who is president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland, said NFU and its members were “bitterly disappointed,” adding that alterations proposed by the Lords had received “unprecedented levels of public support and celebrity endorsement, which we welcome.”
A petition launched by NFU as part of the Jamie Oliver-backed ‘Save Our Standards’ campaign in support of the amendements yielded more than one million signatures prior to the vote.
Andrew said: “Farmers and growers in Dumfries and Galloway must be enabled by the current and future governments to reach a thriving export market in a manner which builds on our existing, world-leading standards of production.
“I will continue to advocate at every turn to ensure that Scottish and UK standards of production are considered in the negotiation of new and other trade agreements. I firmly believe that is what the public wish to see.”