Douglas Ross has been accused of “misrepresenting” the National Farmers Union of Scotland’s position on US exports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.
National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) policy director Jonnie Hall said he was “fuming” after the Scottish Conservative leader quoted him to defend his stance on food standards.
The row erupted after Mr Ross claimed NFUS agreed with his assertion that no MPs had voted in favour of lowering the UK’s food quality standards.
Interviewed on BBC Scotland, Mr Ross claimed Mr Hall had confirmed to him that no MP had “ever voted to reduce” animal welfare and biosecurity measures in the UK to back up his argument that action was being taken to ensure the safety of imported food.
But Mr Hall claimed Mr Ross had taken an answer he had given at the Scottish Affairs Committee back in June “out of context” and had neglected to mention the NFUS’s concerns about food safety.
Mr Hall told BBC Scotland Drivetime: “Douglas Ross asked a very straightforward… did I believe that MPs had voted to reduce standards in the UK? To which I replied ‘no’, because they hadn’t actually voted to reduce.
“What they haven’t done is voted in favour of putting in a clause that would be a safety net and the two questions are very distinct and different.”
Mr Hall was referring to so-called clause 11, an amendment proposed to amend the Trade Bill, which would require food imports to meet UK food standards. The UK Government rejected clause 11.
When he heard Mr Ross’s interpretation of his words, Mr Hall said he was “fuming at the time”.
He added: “And I remain very concerned that an honest and straightforward answer to a question has been basically turned through 180 degrees and to misrepresent the situation, whereby I think people are being misled.”
Mr Ross must now publicly apologise to Scotland’s farmers for twisting their words, and to the Scottish public for trying to mislead them over this crucial issue.”
Dave Doogan MP
Mr Hall said Mr Ross’s point about MPs not voting to lower standards in the past was a “very, very different” issue to the NFU’s stance on the clause 11 proposals. The union was “perplexed” by Ross’s stance, he added.
SNP agriculture spokesman Dave Doogan MP said: “This is not just embarrassing for the Scottish Tory leader, it is yet another sign of the Tories’ sheer contempt for Scotland’s vital agriculture sector.
“The fact that NFU Scotland’s policy director has had to come out and call out Douglas Ross over his remarks and state that the Scottish Tory leader has misled the public is damning.
“Mr Ross must now publicly apologise to Scotland’s farmers for twisting their words, and to the Scottish public for trying to mislead them over this crucial issue.”