Fighting for food standards

It will take public outcry to prevent what now seems inevitable: the desecration of hard-won food and environmental standards, in a desperate scrabble to sell financial services.

Given the gravity of coronavirus, the murder of George Floyd, and the ensuing protests, it is no surprise that the Agriculture Bill (currently passing through parliament) has not attracted much attention.

But this legislation will shape farming, wildlife, scenery, water management, and the food we eat post-Brexit. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to divert £3 billion of taxpayers’ money from landowners’ pockets, to fight climate catastrophe, deliver a better environment and safer food, while providing a fair income for working farmers.

The much-quoted underlying idea of ‘public money for public goods’ sounds great – but the detail of how those goods will be quantified, delivered, rewarded and protected is almost completely lacking. My reading of the Bill is, essentially, ‘trust us’. But trust must be earned; those who demand it get only contempt.

Agriculture represents 0.7 per cent of GDP in the UK, with fishing just 0.1 per cent; we no longer rule the waves, and are desperate to access the global markets that we were told would welcome us with open arms, but now seem contemptuous of our floundering bluster.

An amendment, intended to guarantee that UK farmers will not be undercut by lower-standard imports, was voted down under the Conservative whip last month. Former Defra minister Theresa Villiers said in January: “We will not be importing chlorinated chicken”, while Michael Gove stated in 2017 that “under no circumstances” would it be allowed; this week, Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt tells us we should “trust the consumer” to decide, and “put our faith in government”. 

In most cases, the consumer will not know what they are eating, and for many, trust in our government – who count a pair of gloves as two when reporting on PPE provision – is plummeting.

We will have chlorinated chicken, hormone-injected beef and probably GM crops, and we will not regain much of our fishing. Mercifully, George Eustice seems less drawn to soundbites than his predecessors as Environment Secretary. Perhaps he will prove more trustworthy, but he will have a hard fight; 0.8 per cent of GDP will barely muster a whisper in trade talks.

It will take public outcry to prevent what now seems inevitable: the desecration of hard-won food and environmental standards, in a desperate scrabble to sell financial services.

I think I had better go and pick some artichokes to calm down.


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  1. Over 120,000 people have signed a Greenpeace petition to Boris Johnson on this subject, asking for standards to be upheld, and I’m sure Greenpeace would welcome Riverford customers swelling their numbers still further.

  2. As a Chef and Food writer I have been campaigning for weeks about the 327 Tory Mps who have voted to lower UK Food Standards. In the process of writing about this issue I discovered there are in fact 5 petitions fighting to keep our Food Standards high as we exit the EU.

    Once I realised there were 5 petitions I added links to the petitions on my blog post to encourage more signatures. Collectively there are 2,500,000 signatures so far but no vegetarian or vegan group seem to be raising this issue on social media? It is as if they think it wont affect non meat eaters, but it will. This push for an American trade deal is not just about chlorinated chicken it is about Monsanto who have been pushing to get Genetically modified crops into Europe and they see Brexit as their opportunity. Read more about the issue on my post and please sign the petitions.

    1. A very good point and one that we have raised too – this legislation affects everyone, whatever your dietary choices.

    2. Nov2020Update:
      I am continuing to campaign to raise awareness that 330 Tory MPs have voted to lower UK Food Standards via the backdoor to get a US trade deal. So far the combined campaigns have gathered 2,650,000 signatures & 260,000 emails and letters to MPs, but we need to continue until they understand that we are not going away. Every day I met or speak with people who are just not aware of the battle to defend UK Food Standards, so it is really important to continue sharing and retelling the story. If a child in a school canteen picks up an American apple that has 400 times the amount of Malathion pesticide than a UK apple how would they know if it is not labelled American? Profit margins for companies that provide schools dinners are very small so this is where the unsafe American food will begin to appear.

      So far I’m very disappointed that my appeals to the large Vegetarian & Vegan groups on social media continue to ignored, as if the issue does not concern them, which is both sad and ill-informed. I do want again to thank Wicked Leeks for highlighting the issue and for your efforts on social media.
      For anyone interested in signing the petitions there are links to the 5 main petitions on my post.


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