Keir Starmer calls on Tories to guarantee high food and farming standards after Brexit

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer - Credit: PA

Labour's Keir Starmer has called on Boris Johnson to guarantee high food and farming standards after Brexit by putting protections into law through the government's agriculture bill.

Ahead of a visit to National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters’ farm in Wiltshire, Starmer warned that without action to protect standards there was a “real risk” of lower quality food ending up on British plates.

His call comes amid growing concern that post-Brexit trade deals could allow imports of food produced in ways that would be illegal in the UK, undercutting British farmers and lowering standards for produce available to consumers.

The government has made repeated pledges that high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards will be maintained, and food such as chicken washed in chlorine and beef from cattle fed with hormones will not be allowed in the UK, but they have rebuffed attempts to include the protections in law. They argue existing laws already enshrine them and they have no intention of watering them down.

Sir Keir said: “No one wants lower quality food on our plates, but unless the prime minister shows some leadership and backs British farmers there is a real risk this could happen.”

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In his letter to the PM, he said: “I want our country to produce the best food in the world, where our farmers compete on the basis of quality and are not undermined by producers working to lower standards elsewhere.

“Britain should be a beacon of quality, high standards, ethical treatment of animals and environmental protections in all aspects of food production.”

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He said the Agriculture Bill offered the next opportunity to ensure high food and farming standards were put into law, and urged the PM to work with Labour to amend the Bill to guarantee them.

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard, who is also visiting Batters’ farm to show Labour’s support for the NFU “back British farming” campaign, added: “No deal with the US or anywhere else is worth trading away our high values.”

Labour says it also wants the new Trade and Agriculture Commission, set up following calls from the NFU, to be able to assess each trade deal against core standards and ensure “proper” parliamentary oversight.

NFU president Batters said: “It is great to have Sir Keir come out to visit my farm and understand more about both the challenges and opportunities that farmers face right now.

“As an apolitical organisation, we have always engaged with politicians from all parties on issues that are important to British farming. I have also met with Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey today to discuss these issues.

“This is a pivotal moment for British farming with landmark legislation in the Agriculture Bill reaching its final stages in parliament and the UK striking trade deals as an independent nation for the first time in decades.

“It is crucial that we engage with politicians at the highest level at this critical time and I will continue to seek a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the future of British farming.”

A government spokesperson said: “This government has been clear it will not sign a trade deal that will compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, and claims to the contrary are unhelpful scaremongering. We are a world leader in these areas and that will not change.

“Chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef are not permitted for import into the UK. This will be retained through the EU Withdrawal Act and enshrined in UK law at the end of the transition period.

“The government is focused on getting trade deals that protect and advance the interests of our farmers and consumers. If a deal isn’t the right one, we will walk away.”

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