Fears farming laws are being watered down to help achieve post-Brexit trade deal with US

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a butchers. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a butchers. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA

The Tories have been accused of quietly watering down farming laws after Brexit that could help achieve a post-Brexit trade deal with America.

Friends of the Earth have raised concerns about a change in farming laws which will change the limits on antibiotics used on farm animals.

The EU presently sets a 'Maximum Residue Limit' which controls how much medicine, pesticide, and other products are used in an animal's carcass.

But the Daily Mail reports that after the Brexit transition period the UK will set these limits behind closed doors, not in the letter of the law.

The government has previously pledged to keep all EU MRLs, but in the future is expected to 'set appropriate MRLs' which are most appropriate.

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Campaigners fear this change could give 'a blank slate to set new, weaker standards and water down our environmental protections'.

At present antibiotics such as monensin - 'routinely' used in US cattle - is limited to 10 micogrammes per kilogram in beef fat, but this could change as a result of the law.

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Kierra Box of Friends of the Earth said: 'Ministers keep saying that the UK standards we have now will remain, but this shows that promise just doesn't wash.

'In fact, government have already deleted swathes of rules and restrictions, and are slipping through plans to set these 'administratively' in the future, which we know really means 'behind closed doors'.'

She added the EU's animal standards 'are all areas where we've enjoyed high standards and which are at risk of being weakened during trade negotiations with the US, Australia and wherever else we need to go, cap in hand'.

'Nobody who is across the detail of these plans has any faith that environmental standards are not at risk of being further weakened during trade negotiations with the US, Australia and wherever else we need to go, cap in hand.

'The simple fact is you can't weaken protections that are already gone.'

Tory grandee and former environment secretary John Gummer acknowledged there 'does seem to an alteration of the current law.'

'The policy seems to be moving from complete prohibition to future decision-making by ministers,' he said. 'This is an extremely important issue for people's health.'

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said: 'We are absolutely committed to maintaining the stringent controls on the medicines that can be used for all animals, including food-producing ones, following the end of the Transition Period.

'This means the ban on Monensin as a growth promoter and other controlled substances will remain in place, helping to protect the health of people, animals and the environment.'

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