More than half a million people have signed a petition demanding that the government protect the high standards of animal welfare and food production by British farmers in any post-Brexit trade deals.
It comes amid rumours that the government is poised to U-turn on promises to ban imports of controversial low-quality food, such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef, in order to ensure a trade deal with the US will go ahead.
In the past, former Defra minister Theresa Villiers has said the government “would not allow imports of chlorinated chicken”, while another former Defra minister, Michael Gove, has stated that “under no circumstances” would it be allowed.
But the Independent has reported that Downing Street has signalled that this is back on the table to ensure a deal with the US is achievable.
An amendment to ensure imported food must meet the same standards for welfare and quality as British farmers was voted down in the first hearing of the Agriculture Bill last month, but it is due to return for a second hearing next week (10 June) amid growing public awareness.
A petition by the NFU and backed by Jamie Oliver has exceeded 500,000 signatures after a powerful plea from the celebrity chef on Instagram earlier this week. Other high-profile names, including rugby referee Nigel Owens, and Countryfile presenter Tom Heap, have added their support.
In the petition, it states that: “Our government should ensure that all food eaten in the UK – whether in our homes, schools, hospitals, restaurants or from shops – is produced in a way that matches the high standards of production expected of UK farmers.”
NFU president Minette Batters said she applauded what Oliver had done to raise awareness of the campaign. “We are now at the eleventh hour. Winning this battle in the court of public opinion is where this now lies. I applaud what Jamie Oliver has done, he clearly cares passionately about this cause.
“It’s been really powerful what he’s done on social media and we plan on keeping this momentum going.”
Sustain’s food and farming lead Vicki Hird said: “The UK government needs to tell the US trade negotiators that we simply refuse to accept low standard, low animal welfare produce. UK consumers have made their opposition clear. The US uses five times the amount of antibiotics in farming as we do and they use many times more pesticides than we do."
The NFU said its petition will be used ahead of the next Ag Bill hearing, as well as general support from the public on the issue of food standards.
A spokesperson for the NFU said the union had seen various reports about the new proposal for a US trade deal but has not yet seen anything concrete from the government.
The petition to show support for food standards can be found here.