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Farmers call for ‘level playing field’ after new Bill is passed

A supermarket shopper.
If the Agriculture Bill is unchanged, farmers’ leaders fear shops could be selling imported food that was not produced to UK standards

Farm leaders have expressed disappointment at the passing of the UK Agriculture Bill in the Commons without the inclusion of a clause to protect producers from lower-standard food imports.

Senior Conservative MPs Simon Hoare and Neil Parish led the push for the Agriculture Bill, which sets out new policy as the UK quits the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy, to require a level playing field between British farmers and those overseas in future trade agreements.

They had hoped to include a clause in the Bill to guarantee post-Brexit food imports would match the UK’s high food and environmental standards, however their amendment was defeated by 277 votes to 328.

Both Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and NFU Scotland (NFUS) have warned British farmers are now at risk of being undermined by imports of food produced to standards which would not be allowed in this country.

“This issue has united farming, consumer, environmental and animal welfare organisations and codifying the commitment in law would have strengthened the government’s hand in trade talks as a food standard which could not be deviated from,” said SLE policy adviser for agriculture Eleanor Kay.

“If this is not addressed, we face a very real prospect of British farming being undermined by imported food which can be produced to a standard which would be unacceptable and illegal in the UK. All we ask for is a level playing field.”

NFUS director of policy Jonnie Hall said the Bill presented an opportunity to ensure all agri-food exports are produced to at least equivalent environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards as those required of farmers in the UK.

He added: “Anything less would undermine the highest standards to which the industry in Scotland works to, and the entire agri-food supply chains of the UK.”

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