Widespread fears that food produced in the UK will be undermined by cheap imports that fail to meet equivalent standards dominated farmers’ concerns at NFU Scotland’s conference.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing admitted the industry faced a “very tough fight” to protect it from a flurry of imports that would jeopardise agriculture, and the meat sector in particular.
In response to an appeal by Angus farmer and tourism entrepreneur Caroline Miller for help in combating the threat from cheap imports, Mr Ewing said it was “crystal clear” that the United States would press for total access to markets for all agricultural produce, and there was no sign the UK Government would act to protect UK producers from cheap imports.
He pointed out that trade was not a devolved issue and insisted political pressure was the only way to persuade the UK Government to insist on equivalent standards for imports.
“Michael Gove repeatedly said there would be legislation to ensure food would be importable only on evidence being provided that it had been produced in accordance with the same environmental traceability and welfare standards,” he said.
“Now that Brexit has taken place, that seems to have changed.”
Mr Ewing added there would shortly be a meeting at Stormont of the devolved governments, and he said it “wouldn’t be a surprise” if there was a common approach between Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland demanding proper standards for imports of food.
“Otherwise food security is imperilled and UK agriculture, particularly the meat sector, will be undermined,” he said.
“We’d be allowing a situation to develop where we have all the high-cost rules and environmental standards but creating a situation where we’re allowing all of that to be destroyed by beef coming in with no traceability whatsoever.”