Labour backs our British farmers

Luke Pollard
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

There is a lot happening in parliament today. While the vote on the second national lockdown for England will be dominating the headlines, an important vote on food standards is also taking place. The agriculture bill does not contain any protections over Britain’s food and farming standards in future trade deals. So tonight Labour will oppose it.

Labour backs our British farmers and for the past year we have been arguing that our high food and farming standards should be put in law. The Prime Minister has whipped his MPs to vote against putting those very same standards into law not once, not twice, but on half a dozen occasions now.

This is about the food we eat. If future trade deals allow food produced to lower standards abroad to be sold in Britain it won’t only be British farmers that are undercut by this food, it will lower the standards of food we all eat. You have heard about chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, but those are just two of a very long list of foods of concern that could be on sale in Britain if ministers do not put our food and farming standards into law.

I am also very worried about farmers being forced out of business if food produced more cheaply is allowed to undercut them. In Britain we have spent decades improving the animal welfare and environmental standards in farming. There is still more to do, of course, but these high standards must be safeguarded.

If food produced to lower animal welfare standards abroad can be sold in Britain that will undercut our farmers because the cost of production is lower. The virus is already causing significant damage to famers, which are the backbone of rural economies, and trade deals with America and Australia could wipe out many farm businesses.

Thirdly, and this is where the politics matter, I want Labour to be the party of the countryside. The Tories have taken the countryside for granted for too long. It is not Tory MPs standing up for farmers in the Commons over food standards, it is Labour MPs – and that is being noticed in rural communities.

In 1997, Labour held nearly 180 rural seats. In 2019, we won just 17 of them. That must change and a key part of that is standing up for rural communities, standing up for our values and standing up for British farmers. Working with farmers and the National Farmers Union, we have won significant victories in recent days on the agriculture bill including around better scrutiny of trade deals and strengthening the weak trade and agriculture commission. This will help but, unless standards are guaranteed in law, the risk to our food standards and our farmers remains real.

My little sister is a farmer in Cornwall. I know what good quality food means and I know the effort taken to produce it. If the government is allowed to sign trade deals that allow food into Britain that would be illegal if our farmers produced it, then rural communities will be devastated and we will have exported responsibility for animal welfare and environmental standards.

This matters and that is why Labour will, again, be supporting our farmers. We will be voting to put Britain’s high food and farming standards in law and the Conservatives will, again, show the rural communities they represent that they are taking their votes for granted.

I know that Labour parties up and down the country in seats currently represented by the Conservatives have got involved with our campaign and today I urge you again to put pressure on your local Tory MP to vote to put our food and farming standards into law. Labour backs our British farmers and the Conservatives are taking the rural vote for granted.

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